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Playing the Oscars

Playing the Oscars
USC Thornton faculty violinist Endre Granat

With two hosts, twice the normal number of nominations for best picture, and even a Las Vegas-style musical number, the 82nd annual Academy Awards was a high-wattage ceremony – and as with years past, music underscored the spectacle.

This year’s Academy Awards featured music that sounded effortless, but the musicians behind it couldn’t be more rigorous. The orchestra featured veteran musicians like USC Thornton faculty violinist Endre Granat, who served as concertmaster for the eighth time.

“It’s always different. Never the same. It’s definitely the most amazing process,” said Granat, reflecting on the many Academy Awards he has served as concertmaster. As in symphony orchestras, aside from serving as the first violin, the concertmaster sets the tone for the entire orchestra.

For Hollywood orchestras, the job requirement is daunting. You must be perfect the first time, every time.

“The very nature of the Hollywood session musician is the ability to read music. So we don’t rehearse, we record,” Granat said.

This year, all of the music for the Oscars telecast was pre-recorded, so the sessions for the musicians were very similar to that of a film recording.

“The Academy Awards is three and a half hours long, and there is music running continuously through it,” Granat continued. “There’s no time to rehearse. It’s amazing pressure on every single one of us, because the music has to be recorded and you can’t waste time.”

Meeting that expectation of perfection is one of the skills that Granat prides himself on imparting to his students at USC Thornton.

“It’s a practical thing,” Granat said. “Playing in a Hollywood orchestra is as difficult as being concertmaster for the Berlin Philharmonic. I am so proud every time I see a student of mine has been capable of reaching that level of excellence.”

One recent USC Thornton alumni making his first inroads into the elite world of film scoring sessions is trumpeter Rob Schaer MM ’05, DMA ’08, who played in the Academy Awards orchestra for the first time this year.

“There’s so much music – almost 145 cues – but we’re having a blast,” Schaer said. “This is my first time playing in the orchestra. I did my first major motion picture last year, so I feel very lucky to be involved.”

Schaer’s career as a freelance musician is not limited to film and television work. In May, he joins the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a two-week tour. He attributes his success in large part to his time studying at USC Thornton.

“I’m a substitute in the Philharmonic, which came through two professors I studied with at Thornton who both play in the orchestra, Boyde Hood and Don Green,” Schaer said. “They were definitely a big part of me being asked to substitute.”

While Schaer straddles the worlds between Hollywood orchestras and the L.A. Philharmonic, his burgeoning career is a testament to the versatile musicians that USC Thornton prides itself on.

“The Thornton School is an amazing school because, unlike most of the schools that specialize in one thing or the other, we have amongst our graduates virtuosos, teachers, educators, orchestra musicians and everything in between,” Granat said. “Thornton, by and large, is always going to be a main supplier of studio musicians.”

After so many years playing the Academy Awards, does Granat have any horror stories about performing during the live broadcast?

“Yes,” he said with a laugh. “But if I tell you, I’ll never work in Hollywood again.”

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