We talk creative


Published on 19 Mar 2015 by Guillaume

‘Swimming with Sharks’ is one of the movies I’ve watched the most. Amongst all the personal interests I can find in this movie, I have to say the soundtrack written by Tom Hiel is the element I can’t stop feeling touched by. Tom’s music is expressing something deep, many movie scores sound so empty compared to his work.
I’ve decided to contact this talented composer, not knowing if I would be able to get in touch with him. I’ve got a really quick and genuine answer. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to ask him a few questions:

Tom Hiel

– Tom, how did you get to start playing piano and how would you describe your journey with this instrument?

I started piano when I was 4 years old after begging my mother for a lesson. My older siblings were all getting lessons and I would watch.

Finally my mother sat me down at the piano and showed me middle C and what it looked like on paper and where it was on the piano. We continued with a few other notes, until she got a phone call. I proceeded to pull over some music on the stand and started figuring out all the notes. The piece was the First Movement of the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I figured out the first bar and started playing it and my mother suddenly came back into the room startled as she thought someone else must have sat down.

From then on I took lessons with a local piano teacher and learned basic pieces by Bach and Mozart.

At a later age (11-12 years old ) I took up the revolutionary etude by Chopin on my own. Also I started writing my own pieces. My mother had gotten me an orchestration book from the University of Minnesota.
I proceeded to write a piece for piano and orchestra. A movement for a piano concerto. The style mimicked Grieg, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff. I won a First place prize for Composition for the piece in my home state of Minnesota.
I kept studying piano and composition throughout High School and College. But at the University of Minnesota, I had tested into the Honors Mathematics Program at the University of Minnesota. So I pursued a degree in Mathematics at the University while continuing private lessons in piano and composition.

During college I started improvising and trying to play piano without sheet music in front of me. And it was sort of difficult. So I kept on and started writing simple songs for the piano. And recording them for fun. A friend gave them to a local DJ who called and asked if I had a studio quality recording of these. My uncle set me up with a friend of his who recorded me on a small Steinway at a church way out west of Minneapolis. The station, Cities 97, KTCZ in Minneapolis, played the tape on their New Age spotlight hour, late Sunday nights. I went on to raise funds for a full length CD, entitled “Please…” which is currently available on iTunes. Through relentless self promotion and help from several connections, the CD went on to receive national airplay.

A year later, I also started recording some synthesizer pieces I had written which every critic had called “cinematic” – soaring melodies on top of stacked repetitive loops. I released an album’s worth of material as a cassette only release entitled “Geometry”. This release led to my pursuit of film scoring. After several short films, I did my first feature film called “The Dark Side of Genius”. “Swimming With Sharks” was second feature.

I’ve released 2 more albums of solo piano “The Road Home” and “Across the Water” and one Holiday EP called “Thanksgiving”. Also the Lifescapes label from Target released “Sierra Sunrise”, an album for piano, winds and strings.

– What is mostly inspiring you?

I like to write pieces that showcase some sort of emotion. That makes a person think.

– You’ve worked on several movie scores, is the process any different than when you work on your own albums?

The process is much different working on a movie, because the film dictates what the music should be, whereas with an album, one can write anything 🙂

– What are your best memories as a musician?

3 memories come to mind. Recording “Please” at Studio M in St. Paul Minnesota on a 9 ft Steinway. Studio M in St. Paul is the NPR studio there and the studio is huge. And the control room had a huge Neve console.

And then, much late, as the supervising orchestrator for Mark Mothersbaugh on Rugrats Go Wild, going to London and recording the score with a 90 piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. That studio has so much history, it was a thrill to be there!

Also recording in Prague with a 40 piece orchestra, for my own movie “A Plumm Summer” was a delight.

– What are you currently working on?

I’m currently recording piece for a new solo piano album called “Resonance” and waiting to hear back on two film projects!

– What is your dream for the future as a composer?

I’d love to have the budget to record a piano project at Abbey Road 🙂 Also I’m exploring the use of video with my piano pieces. Simple abstractions that play beautifully with the piano. I think I need to explore that much further.

Official website http://www.tomhiel.com

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