Composer Q&A

Robert Miller is a prolific composer of film, concert, and commercial music, with six CLIO awards under his belt. We caught up with him at his New York studio and chatted with him about his collaboration on Cinderella Moon. Be sure to listen to music samples from his original score for the film.

Q: Was there any time you didn’t love music?

RM: Absolutely not. There are home movies my family have showing me at age one-and-a-half sitting at a toy piano and pointing to other instruments! In high school, I’d go to Yankee Stadium, but I’d bring my music assignments with me. I wasn’t an introverted music nerd — I had lots of friends. But I was also a part of a clique of serious musicians.

Q: You studied with renowned composer Aaron Copland. What did you learn from him that you brought with you to the Cinderella Moon score?

RM: Economy. The idea that there’s an air of inevitability about your musical composition. Don’t waste anything, but don’t overblow an idea.

Q: When you score a film, what’s one of the important things you consider?

RM: A film score is a collection of puzzle pieces, so while I’m composing, I’m always trying to figure out how themes are going to fit inside each other and balance each other out. I also look for a quality my musician friends and I call “happy/sad.” It means a score that makes you feel all the emotions at once. It’s the quality I look for in a theme that has heart.

Q: Tell us about how you came up with themes for each character and how the music expressed that.

RM: For Mei Mei’s theme, I wanted to convey sweetness, sadness, and hope — a kind of yearning quality. The King is supposed to project confidence and determination, so there were lots of drums, for example, in his theme. In the climax of the film, both of those themes reach a kind of compromise or conclusion.

In the Stepmother’s and Merchant’s Son’s themes, I wanted to provide some comic relief. And every time Mei Mei’s magic slippers or the magical goldfish appear, you hear a flute or harp, giving it a fairytale feel.

Q: How did you approach writing a score for a film set in a fairytale ancient China?

RM: I researched traditional Chinese music and created a demo for director Richard Bowen that I’d loaded up with sample recordings of traditional Chinese instruments. I also learned a variety of traditional Chinese musical styles and incorporated them into my themes.

I asked my friends who knew about classical Chinese music what they thought. I got the ultimate compliment when they were impressed that a westerner could tackle the unique meter of traditional Chinese music!