Interview| The Painter and the Piano with Mark Chait

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Friday, April 15, 2016 

under Culture by Enjoy Team

We recently had a short interview with Mark Chait, the famous Emmy- and Telly-award winning composer, musician and film-scorer from Cape Town, just before he was set to perform his inaugural Shanghai rendition of the international series "The Painter and the Piano." We discussed the power of music in films, the growth of film-scoring in Asia, why he set up his studio in Shanghai and what inspired him to write his first book.


EnjoyShanghai: Can you describe the music you compose?


Mark Chait: Music is emotion. It is the mathematical equation that I use to understand the power of music that exists to create emotion. The music that I deliver and create in the film is what creates the impact of the emotion. In other words, when I write the score for my movies or television or emerging media, what music really does is add the emotional value. When you watch film and clips of video, it doesn’t have any emotional impact until I add the music, which is the emotional level. Stephen Spielberg says that 50% of his success is because of his composer, John Williams.


ES: Do you think the music in film can fill out the plot, make it easier for audiences to be swept up in the story?


Mark: That is correct. I work closely with the director to get his vision. It is true that the music in the film can make the whole plot feel fuller. As it says in my book, every instrument of the orchestra represents different emotional spectrums, in other words, when I use a piano and a violin and an oboe, it all has a different emotionality with it. The movie score is really the story teller, and this is what takes you on a journey. In other words, music breathes life into a movie.


ES: Is there anything you insist on, stylistically, in all your work?

Mark: The answer to that is authenticity. [Authenticity] has the power to convey different emotions all at the same time. For example, hope in a painful moment. You can portray fear in a moment of happiness, you can only do this in music, where you have different emotions portrayed at the same time.


ES: Which film soundtrack, yours or not, do you like best?


Mark: From my soundtracks, Esther’s Diary is one of the favourites of mine. The reason is because it conveys the true feeling of the film that couldn’t be conveyed with the dialogue alone. The music definitely gives you the feeling that you are there in this incredibly wonderful story, it’s sad, it’s hopeful, it’s true and the music is what brings you right into the film, with your emotion.

My favourite film of all time is Lawrence of Arabia, because the soundtrack is what created the fear in the armies and the oncoming danger, without ever having to show you these. The music told the story and gave you the feeling that there was a large army coming, even though it was never on the screen. The sound of the film always makes the audience feel exactly what the director wants you to feel. Also the theme of Lawrence of Arabia is absolutely sublime.


ES: What made you decide to move to China?


Mark: My book is all about this journey from Cape Town across the world to Hollywood and now to China. I feel that the universe has always propelled me to where the art of moviemaking and film scores is at the forefront. Several years ago, I was invited to score a very large multimedia theatrical performance, and I think it was just my destiny that I could continue to meet very creative and inspired people who help bridge the gap between Hollywood and China, and the local talent.


ES: Why did you choose Shanghai to establish your studio in China?


Mark: I was approached by the DeTao Group to start to develop a mentorship program for young Chinese composers and musicians who wanted to increase their skills to a Hollywood level. It was then that it made complete sense to launch a Hollywood-style film scoring studio. This happens to be the first of its kind in China and Asia.


ES: Besides composing and creating new works, what other works do you do?


Mark: I’m also a concert pianist and have performed for audiences all over the world. I also enjoy discovering new talents that I love to integrate into my performances.


ES: Why did you decide to publish your book, The Power of Music: From Cape Town to Shanghai. Memoirs of a Hollywood Film Composer?


Mark: The answer to that is, honestly, I never thought about publishing a book. My life was always about music, and moving pictures. After I met the editor of Oriental Publishing one day, we both got excited about the idea of a book. It wasn’t just about just talking about my story and showing the reader how powerful music is and how it affects us in every moment, it’s how you use the music to change the outlook on life. For me that’s very special.


ES: How can you express your feelings about music in words?


Mark: Music and words work magnificently together and that’s what you call a song! I wrote the Power of One for the Pokémon Movie and it was sung by this very wonderful legendary signer Donna Summer. This shows how music and words together can be so powerful. The song was even used by US election candidates in the past to create impact in their campaigns. But… words and music are vibration. Words are just written vibration that when you think them or speak them, they still result in the vibration. The impact is the same. Mozart had a wonderful example of this in Opera. He said “When you put all the words together on stage and all the characters are speaking at the same time, it makes no sense. It only makes sense when you add music,” and that’s what Mozart famously did in his operas.


ES: About the show, “The Painter and the Piano,” where you accompany an artist in an unrehearsed collaboration, did the idea come from you?


Mark: Yes, I created the Painter and the Piano and have been performing this in the West for many years with famous Western artists. Tonight is the debut performance in Asia and I’m excited to collaborate with Atman One.


ES: What is your opinion about cross-border cooperation?


Mark: International creative collaboration is what I’m all about. I see myself as the citizen of the world, my book will tell you the story, many of the themes in the films I’ve worked on, and they all touch on this theme about cross-border collaboration. And I think this comes naturally to me.