Sat, Jul 12, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Making film memorable

Pianist and composer Sherry Shieh will discuss film music and provide live demonstrations of musical scores for popular films tomorrow at New Taipei City’s historic Yang San-lang Art Museum

By Dana Ter  /  Contributing Reporter

Composer-pianist Sherry Shieh.

Photo courtesy of Godfrey Zwygart

Award-winning composer-pianist Sherry Shieh (謝世嫻) is a huge film buff. Chatting over tea near Taipei 101, the Taiwanese musician says that one of her favorite movies is The Exorcist.

Unlike other horror movies, where eerie music is used to foreshadow a scary scene, The Exorcist has “no music in the scariest parts, so your imagination goes wild,” she says.

From creating ambience to expressing emotions, music is an integral yet often overlooked aspect of film. For Shieh, a musical score can distinguish a good movie from a truly memorable one.

Shieh, who composes music for film, will discuss the importance of film music and provide a live demonstration tomorrow at 5:30pm at the historic and picturesque Yang San-lang Art Museum (楊三郎美術館) in New Taipei City.

Music from four films will make up the Shieh’s program: The Pianist, Legend of 1900, The Best Offer and La Vie En Rose.

Shieh says she chose these films to show her own musical range. In The Pianist, there are only three scenes throughout the film that contain music. By contrast, the musical scores for Legend of 1900 and The Best Offer, both of which are written by Ennio Morricone, consist of a single song, recycled for most scenes.


Trained as a concert pianist since age five, Shieh was set on a PhD track in musical arts at Boston University when she decided to take a break. While traveling through Italy, she stumbled across Chigiana Musical Academy in Siena and enrolled in a film course taught by Luis Bacalov, a world-renowned composer who wrote the scores for Quentin Tarrantino’s Kill Bill and Michael Radford’s Il Postino (The Postman).

“I was a real rookie,” Shieh says. “People were composing on computers and keyboards but I was writing on sheets of paper so it was surprising that Bacalov took me under his wing.”

Event details:

What: Let’s Talk About Film Music

When: Tomorrow at 5:30pm

Where: Yang San-lang Art Museum (楊三郎美術館), 7, Bo-ai St, New Taipei City (新北市永和區博愛街7號)

Admission: NT$300 per person at the door and includes light refreshments

On the net:

Shieh quickly learned how to compose music for the screen, eventually rewriting the musical score from the Italian horror film Scacchi, originally composed by Bacalov, and performed it for her final concert at the academy.

“There was one minute of silence after I played and, finally, Bacalov said one word, ‘perfect,’ and left the room,” Shieh says.

Her classmates told her later that reworking Scacchi was a risky venture, but the gamble paid off since her performance won her the Emma Constable Award.


Shieh says working on film music has been a humbling and rewarding experience.

“Classical performers are used to being the star of the show, but everything you do for film music has to serve the story,” Shieh says.

She adds that she enjoys the interaction that comes from collaborating with filmmakers, scriptwriters, actors and directors — all of which she wasn’t able to experience while practicing piano alone at home.

In addition to film, Shieh is currently working on online gaming music commissioned by major orchestras in Taiwan and Los Angeles. But she likes to balance the work by composing her own music. In her latest album Tango with Chopin (2014), the odd numbers on the track are her own compositions while the even numbers are by Chopin.

Shieh says there is something inherently freeing about composing music, whether it’s for film, online games or her own album.

“Composing music is like making a film or writing a book because we’re all trying to tell a story that will influence other people,” Shieh said.

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