Brookhaven composer scores MAC fellowship

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 20, 2008

Some artists can go their entire lives, quietly working withtheir passions and never receiving appreciation – let alone reward- for their creative endeavors.

That being said, Brookhaven’s Blake Scafidel can count himselfamong the lucky ones.

The people of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Byram appreciateScafidel’s musical abilities every Sunday as he leads worship. Andthe Mississippi Arts Commission recently rewarded him with a $4,000fellowship.

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It was not Scafidel’s ability to lead a congregation in song orhis long-built skills as a pianist that gained him the monetaryapproval of MAC. It was his side business – his musical desiresince childhood – of composing film scores.

“This was the first time I’ve ever taken my compositions and putthem out for any kind of public review,” Scafidel said of thesubmission of three of his compositions to MAC for review. “Thiswas a real intimidating thing for me to do, and I really didn’tthink I was going to get it. I just threw it out there, and acouple of months later I got the letter and it was great.”

Scafidel’s most recent work in composing movie music wasactually for a church drama production, “The Living Lord’s Supper,”but he has managed to get his foot in the door of the filmindustry.

He’s currently working to score an independent film being shotin New Orleans called “A Quiet Hope,” which features a guestappearance from actor John Goodman. A second independent film,”Victor,” is on Scafidel’s plate for the future.

Scoring movies is a lengthy, precise and complicated process,bordering on the edge of musical mathematics. To do it, Scafidelmust not only be a piano player, but a composer, director, audioengineer and computer specialist.

Scafidel creates his compositions in his personal studio using aMac Pro computer with a Quad-Core processor packing 16 gigabytes ofmemory (the average memory for new computers is between one and twogigbytes). The computer is “loaded down,” he said, with high-endaudio editing software like Pro Tools, an advanced mixing programwidely used in the entertainment industry, as well as sizeablesoftware libraries full of different instrumental sounds.

Using a keyboard, Scafidel simulates strings, horns, percussion- any instrument he desires – and plays entire movements into ProTools one piece at a time.

“All the instruments are on a single track – I just layer themone at a time,” he said. “I usually start with one pass to playthrough the framework, the skeleton of the song. Then I go back andtweak it, trying to make the instruments as close to a realsounding orchestra as I can.”

The process gets even more in-depth when Scafidel sets his workto a film.

“A lot of it, especially if it’s for a motion picture, you’llactually be looking at the video while you record,” he said. “Itgets a little more complicated. You have to fit the music intoscenes that need a special, musical punch.”

The process may be tricky, but the Scafidel is quite familiarwith his task. Movie scores have been a passion for him sincechildhood, he said – even more than the movie itself.

It all started years ago with an internationally known tunecalled “The Imperial March” created by American composer JohnWilliams – Scaifdel’s childhood idol.

The militaristic, gloomy music became the trademark sound forapproaching doom when it was played throughout the “Star Wars”trilogy as the entrance music for Darth Vader.

“It’s a real pronounced sound when he comes on the screen – thatstuck with me,” Scafidel said. “I loved the real climactic momentswhere the specific them came out. When I was a kid and went to see’Star Wars,’ I just couldn’t get away from it.”

Scafidel bought the ‘Star Wars’ soundtrack instead of the movieand began his musical journey. He grew up playing the piano -studying under the direction of Brookhaven’s P.S. Barnett andMartha Bowling – and participating in a host of talent shows andrecitals, even earning to opportunity to perform on local TV. Hestudied classical music at Copiah-Lincoln Community College andMississippi College.

Still, Scafidel said he couldn’t quite find the right musicaldirection. He always struggled with composing, he said, and itwasn’t until the early 1990s – when computer-powered composingbecame available – that he found his niche.

In the start, Scafidel said the quality of the digitalinstrument sounds was the hang-up – now, it’s processing power.

“The software library is so big, the company that makes itrecommends you have four different sections of orchestra on adifferent computer,” he said.

Scafidel said one of his favorite composers – Hans Zimmer – usesabout 16 separate computers to run his editing software.

Scafidel is not quite up to Zimmer’s speed, but he is growinghis personal studio. Most of the MAC fellowship money he receivedis being spent on upgrades to software and equipment to streamlinehis composing efforts.

“Little by little I’m trying to upgrade some of my studio andlibrary,” he said. “I’ve upgraded some sounds, purchased a libraryof choral voices and I’m revamping my studio.”

He’s always desired to be a big-time Hollywood composer, buteven if Scafidel makes it big, he’ll probably end up doing theLord’s work instead.

“I’m probably going to gravitate more toward doing scores forChristian films,” he said. “The recent films ‘Facing the Giants’and ‘Fireproof’ were actually made by a group from a church inAtlanta, and the worship leader actually wrote the scores for themovies. I’m a little envious there – I would love for the church totake on that kind of project.”

Scafidel also does video editing and wedding videography as partof his self-employment. His work can be seen and heard online