Composition Faculty Member Creates Score and More

New documentary fosters collaborations across departments.

A panel discussion took place after the screening of the film.
Ricardo Lorenz, composition professor, poses with Alexandra Hidalgo, director of the documentary.

When Ricardo Lorenz was approached last summer about writing the score for a locally produced documentary, his initial thought was to say no.

Then he reconsidered. He recognized the opportunity to collaborate with Alexandra Hidalgo, a university colleague and assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures. He also saw the chance to contribute to a timely national conversation on the immigration experience. 

“I realized I identified with the stories told through the film,” says Venzuelan-born Lorenz, chair of music composition at the MSU College of Music. “Every immigrant has an interesting story, whether it’s one of privilege or not. Ultimately, underneath lies a story of sadness about the loss of your home that you leave behind.”

Lorenz’s score for Hidalgo’s Vanishing Borders was his first ever for film. While primarily a composer of acoustic and chamber music, he agreed to try a different form of composing because of the common bond he shared with Hidalgo as a Venezuelan immigrant. 

Full Theme Cl & Harp, by Ricardo Lorenz:

Full theme Piano, by Ricardo Lorenz:

Lorenz says he felt an immediate connection with the film that documents the lives of four immigrant women living in New York City. But even more than the story telling, Lorenz says he was energized by the idea of creating musical responses to the narratives and to involve MSU graduate students and local young professional musicians in the process. 

The resulting score features six acoustical instruments: harp, flute, marimba, clarinet, guitar, and piano. Lorenz and his students play the themes, one for each instrument, sometimes as solos, sometimes combined—all in response to the different moods displayed by the women in the film.

“The music has life beyond the documentary,” says Lorenz. “And while the music was triggered by the film, it has a different dimension, something that is in response to images and stories.”

In November, Lorenz joined Hidalgo and Tama Hamilton-Wray, assistant professor in the MSU Residential College of Arts and Humanities, in a panel discussion after the film’s first public screening on campus. The panel, he says, further reinforced the value of cross-department collaborations like Vanishing Borders that evolve spontaneously and engage multiple disciplines—in this case the College of Music; the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures; the College of Arts and Letters Department of English Film Studies; the Center for Gender in Global Context; and the Women’s Resource Center. 

“These kinds of grassroots collaborations teach our students to think out of the box and to see all the opportunities,” says Lorenz. “If we can learn to take advantage of working across disciplines, to see that we’re part of a much bigger whole, the university becomes an even stronger place to get an education.”

Vanishing Borders was supported by a grant from the MSU Humanities and Arts Research Program. MSU student and local musicians involved in the project included Sam Davies, clarinet; Marissa Olin, flute; Deidreanna Potter, harp; Alex Smith, marimba and percussion, and Alex Mejia, guitar. 

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