Trading in a doll’s violin for a grand piano, Frank Noah reflects on his musical journey and ambitions.
How did you start playing music?
I started playing music at the age of five. When I was four, my sister had an American Girl Doll named Emily. I only remember the name because I was told this story, but the detail doesn’t matter. What matters is that Emily had a little violin. One day, my mom came into my sister’s room and found me lying on her bed playing the doll violin, which was about my size. So, when I turned five, I got my first rental violin and began taking group lessons. Then group piano lessons the year after that. Now I practice music every day.
How long do you practice every day?
I play and compose, loosely, for at least an hour and a half a day. After that, my hands get tired so I write music on my computer. I probably don’t officially practice as much as I should.
Does composing just happen when you’re in the mood, or do you have a schedule for yourself?
I do have spurts around 10:30 AM. That’s when I think I’m most creative. But it’s not like I sit down at 10:30 every morning and compose for an hour. I compose when I have free time—well, I never have free time, but I make time for this. Sometimes I’ll sit down at the piano and play something and I’ll think, Oh man, that’s really good...I want that on paper! So then I have to go up to the computer and think, Okay, how do I remember that? Then, how do I capture and orchestrate that? I find that if I come home from something that was interesting, I write better. I know that sounds weird but like last Thursday, I hiked Mount Eisenhower and it was so cool that I got home and had more creativity.
So some creativity comes from external sources rather than internally?
Yeah, it’s not always from me. Well, sometimes it is. It’s just inconsistent. Some days I create this whole new song, and then other days I think, If I finagle with this song long enough, I may get a piece out of it. And it either happens or it doesn’t.
That sounds like it takes up a lot of time. Do you pursue other interests?
It does, but yeah, I like to watch television shows, and it isn’t one of those things where I’m aimlessly searching for something to watch. I watch things that contain music. It seems like Netflix and movies are kind of the main media outlet for it, like that’s how and where modern music and composition exist. So I think it’s important to keep exposing myself to those channels. If I want to get into film scores or something like that, I need to keep watching movies to understand how the scores work.
Is composing film scores your ultimate goal?
I think so. At this point, it’s difficult to narrow down what aspect of composition I want to focus on. It seems important to keep all my doors open. I don’t want to just purely focus on film scores and then find out it’s not right for me, or look up and find something big has changed in the media industry and all I know is scoring. If you look at the industry nowadays, a lot of film scores are pop tunes or folk or indie music. The classical era, when John Williams and others wrote these epic scores for films, seems to be ending. I think the market and appeal is dwindling too, so I’m a little nervous. I mean, film scoring is still what I’m studying to do. But we’ll see.
What other areas of composing are you thinking about?
I recently considered going for a doctorate in composition and becoming a college professor. It would mean a steady income. Plus, they expect you to do concerts and stuff, so you’re still a composer. You keep writing music and they pay for it. It’s like being part of a research facility at a university.
Was composition your first choice for your career?
I think it was my first choice. I had other options, but they just paled in comparison in terms of my personal enjoyment so I decided to go for it. My grandfather also convinced me I was doing the right thing. I went up to Maine during my junior year of high school and I was sitting on the couch with him. That’s what he likes to do, just sit on the couch and watch the news. So, one day we were sitting there and he randomly turned and asked me what I was going to do in college. I told him I was thinking about music and he just said, “Good. Do what you love. That’s all that matters.” In my head, I was thinking, this is an old man who has lived life, who has actually done things—like he was a doctor in the war—and he’s telling me to do what I love. To do music. So that’s what I decided.
Interview by Clay Anderson