While composing the score for the PBS documentary “John Muir in the New World,” Garth Neustadter MUS ’12 asked himself how the 19th-century naturalist and preservation advocate would have directed the film.
On Tuesday, Neustadter joined the documentary’s actual filmmaker, Emmy Award-winner Catherine Tatge, as well as Char Miller, director of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, and Yale School of Music Dean Robert Blocker in a panel to consider the joint issues of “Music, Media, & the Environment.” After Neustadter presented a condensed 15-minute clip of the film, members of the panel answered questions and discussed the creative process behind the making of the documentary, for which Neustadter won a 2011 Emmy award for his original score.
“It occurred to me that if Muir were directing the film, he may have preferred listening to the sound of trees,” Neustadter said. “I wanted to highlight the sections where music was not being used in addition to the places it was.”
The event, held at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ Kroon Hall, was hosted by Blocker and Peter Crane, dean of the environment school.
Tatge, who described herself as a “city person,” said that making a documentary on Muir, an iconic nature lover, was particularly challenging.
“I think this film was really transformational for me,” Tatge said. “I have done films about the human spirit, love, hate and the question of God — but like so many people I am disconnected from nature. That’s what was so transformative about making this film. It really put me in touch.”
Tatge met Neustadter through their alma mater, Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc. Knowing she wanted an original score for her documentary, Tatge called the dean of the school’s music conservatory to see if he had any recommendations.
With an extensive background in music composition, including a first-prize win in the 2007 Turner Classic Movies Young Film Composers Competition, Neustadster said working with Tatge presented a unique opportunity, as composers often join the film process late in postproduction.
“I felt that the music was able to be incorporated much more organically and naturally with the edits,” Neustadter said. “[With this film] often the editor would actually ‘cut’ the film to the music, which is very unusual.”
Neustadter cited the “rustic, undefined quality” of 20th-century modernist composer Charles Ives as a particular influence. As Muir was born in Scotland, Neustadter said he also tried to incorporate Scottish themes into the score, which was recorded in Woolsey Hall last year with members of the Yale Philharmonia, a graduate ensemble orchestra.
Neustadter said that in his time studying composition at Yale, he has found support in developing his own style.
“One of the things that attracted me to Yale was how open they were in the composition department to embracing different styles,” Neustadter said. “As teachers, rather than telling me how to compose, they help me find my own voice. That should be the goal for teachers.”
Currently, Neustadter is at work finishing a full orchestra score for a restoration of the 1925 silent film “The Circle.” He said he is also is collaborating with fellow composer Daniel Wohl MUS ’12 in composing the score for “Tar,” a feature-length film starring James Franco, Mila Kunis and Jessica Chastain.