Joey Newman and the Young Musicians Foundation

Composer Joey Newman

Joey Newman is a third-generation film and television composer, from the most legendary family in town. (The Newman clan includes Alfred—who scored over 200 films, beginning in the early days of talkies—singer/songwriter and composer Randy Newman, Thomas, David, and Joey’s grandfather Lionel—to name just a few.) He currently writes the music for the ABC comedy The Middle.

Newman serves on the music advisory board for the Young Musicians Foundation, a Los Angeles pre-professional music organization that is home to the Debut Orchestra. I recently spoke to the film composer about the YMF’s role, the future of symphonic music, and film music’s place in the lives of YMF graduates.

I’ve known about the YMF for many years, from my own family’s involvement. When I came back from college in ’98, the Newman family was honored by the ASMAC Golden Score award. I realized that the YMF Debut was the orchestra that performed that night, and they performed a piece of mine—every Newman had a piece played. I’ve known about them since then. There’s a Lionel Newman [my grandfather] conducting scholarship at BMI that’s also related to the YMF. I performed at their 2010 gala, which was great, because my grandmother, Lionel’s widow—she passed away in 2010, but that was one of the last concerts she went to. She sat next to John Williams.

With the YMF being a very classically oriented institution, I think they’re trying to get better in touch with the younger generation. I had done this video game, Lineage, and they wanted to know if I could perform that score to picture at their last gala. Just to try to get the audience, which is mostly, I think, a classical audience, into more of the video game world, and film and television world.

I think kids that go to USC and Colburn, and come from all these different places in Los Angeles, are probably thinking that most likely they’re going to end up in some sort of orchestra, wherever that might be—or they’re going to stay in town and do studio work. Just by nature of being in this city, you’re going to do one or the other.

I think the exposure that the YMF gives the students to these people, in particular, and by all these great concerts that they’ll play…and its prestige among the community at large, you probably can get a good spot somewhere. I’m really impressed, honestly, at the level of these students. Their reading chops are prime. It does not sound like your general student orchestra. It just gives a testament to their audition and being picked and all these kinds of things, to do stuff like this. It’s like the New World Symphony down in Florida…These training ground orchestras, they’re very handpicked. It’s the reason why they’re so good. I think it’s just a ticket to the big time.

If you’re going to be a violinist, and your goal is to be a session violinist and that’s it, and get your money and go home, then most likely you’ll end up in some symphony, somewhere. But the point of these things is not only to keep these orchestras alive, to make them a viable option, but at some point, something’s going to give somewhere. Whether it’s the American Federation of Musicians giving, and things change, things fall. If this kind of stuff doesn’t continue, then I’m going to be really concerned about what the next generation of orchestral musicians is going to look like. And whether they’re going to play out in the orchestras, nobody will know. I hope to God that we’ll have continued orchestral stuff, but certainly it’s gonna be smaller and smaller, and who knows where these kids will go.

I imagine if you’re trained from an early age on the violin, from like 4, you have no clue what to do with your life outside of playing violin. So you just go along the normal path, and then maybe you go and do something more interesting—and you’re in a quartet or a band, or you write your own music, or something. I think the real big question is about the future of classical music in general. I don’t know. Certainly these kinds of organizations struggle to get funding. No doubt about it. I think that’s why in particular doing a film and television oriented program is one of the key ways to attract another kind of audience, because outside of that, to hear Beethoven over and over again is not really that interesting to folks. Especially a younger generation that isn’t as hip to classical music, or as interested. I’m just hoping that, based on a lot of these kids that I’ve met in this orchestra, I can see that a lot of them will get into the studio scene, because the higher-end folks will definitely be picked up by younger contractors. But outside of that, who knows how long it will last?