AS A young boy from District Six playing truant from school, Trevor Jones spent a lot of time in the cinema. Decades later, he suspects that those hours spent in the company of an alcoholic projectionist with a habit of dozing off on the job, led to his fulfilling career as a Hollywood film composer.
Inevitably the projectionist would allow the rods to burn down and the image on screen would fade, and so Jones developed an understanding of the relationship between the image and sound. “Film needs sound to give it that realism, and make it palatable,” he says, adding that music is a direct emotional line to the audience and that it helps to bring out the meaning in films.
His days of playing truant soon passed and Jones won a scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Music in London where he studied composition, orchestration, conducting, piano and organ. From there he went on to work at the BBC as a classical music reviewer. He also became the first composer to attend the National Film School in England.
Together with Music Exchange he will share stories from his rich career during a master class at the South African College of Music at UCT today and tomorrow from 10am to 5pm.
Jones has composed scores for films like Labyrinth, Brassed Off, The Last of the Mohicans, Cliffhanger, Notting Hill, From Hell and Around the World in 80 Days. His career has seen him work with directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Sir Ridley Scott, as well as performers David Bowie, U2, Sting, Britney Spears and Elvis Costello.
But he has never forgotten his beginnings and how as a teenager he left behind the world he knew to go in search of Hollywood. “I was a Kaapse skollie,” he laughs. “I only discovered consommé on the boat.” With little more than the clothes he was wearing, his adventure in England began. “The only way forwards was upwards,” he recalls.
“I wanted to be a film composer, and for a kid from District Six that was like wanting to be an astronaut. In hindsight it really was like aiming for the moon, but people did get to the moon – and I did get to Hollywood!”
At this point in his life he is focusing on giving back. He firmly believes that if it wasn’t for the opportunities he was given he could still be sitting on Chapel Street. “I’m not digging roads, building structures, or finding a cure for cancer. I’m in the entertainment world and that for me is such a privilege,” he says. “I’ve been so fortunate. I do feel I’ve had a very charmed life.” But he stresses that often it’s hard work that breeds success and that’s the message he hopes to pass on to the younger generation. “Yes, I’ve been lucky, but I did work extremely hard. What you put in you get out – investing in the bank of life.”
That desire to pass on what he’s learnt is one of the reasons he’s so excited by Music Exchange which brings together music industry figures to share their experiences and encourage others. This week’s master class gives him an opportunity to extend that dialogue.
Rather than spending the time “pontificating about the essence of film music”, how to write a score and elaborating on his own creative process, Jones aims to tailor the class to his audience. “My master classes are about the people that attend them. I want to know why you’ve come and what issues you need to address.”
During the course of answering questions he’s certain the structures in Hollywood, the technicalities of creating soundtracks and copyright laws will all “trickle out”, but his main focus is finding out what the group needs. “Depending on the questions, it could be deadly boring, hysterically funny, or a mine of information. I hope it’s the latter two,” he smiles. Either way, it’ll cover the glamour and glitz as much as the nuts and bolts of the industry.
Jones is spending more time working in Cape Town, explaining that for years he’s felt “deracinated”, but he’s beginning to feel rooted again. He believes film can give a huge injection to the local economy. He explains that once Hollywood was semi-desert. “Look at it now. It’s the fifth largest economy in the world. Why? Film!”
“We just need to be unblinkered and unfettered in the way we look at ourselves and our environment.” He adds that his generation need to rid themselves of the baggage that is holding them back and start taking pride in themselves and our future.
l To book for the master class, call 083 448 4475.