Marvin Hamlisch The Teacher: A Master Class

I think Arts education is so  important.  It’s as important as studying math and English. I think it is part of being a human being. It rounds you out as a person.”

Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012) — Visits to Orange County High School of The Arts in Santa Ana, CA and to Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. (During his tenure as Point Park University’s 2011 Distinguished Master Artist in Residence.)

SANTA ANA – CA. In 2011 Marvin gave a Master Class at the Orange County High School of The Arts.

Orange County High School of The Arts

He had a session with the students about “The Art of the Audition”, imparted some advice, listened to several students and performed with the Student Symphony.

 “Most kids, particularly not from NYC have never been to and been prepared for a New York audition. So I’ve developed a thing called “The Art of the Audition.” We basically ask for three people to come up, sing two songs, we give them some advice about their presentation and listen to them  after they have “adjusted” their performance. I will tell you right now there is usually one out of three that does an incredible “180°” and turns out to be gold. It is a great opportunity for them to get some savvy advice from an old guy and hopefully they will take advantage of it.”

PITTSBURGH – PA. Marvin Hamlisch presented several workshops during his tenure as Point Park University’s 2011 Distinguished Master Artist in Residence.

The themes of the workshops:

-The Art of The Audition

- The Works and Imagination of Marvin Hamlisch

-The Art of Music in Film

Hamlisch shared personal stories from his time in the industry and offered advice to the students in the audience.

In your lifetime, to get 90 seconds of autonomy is unheard of, so make the best of it,” he said about the audition process. Many casting directors are working on many shows at a time, so if you don’t get the part you auditioned for, you could still be contacted about a different role.”

If you’re passionate about something, you just have to do it,” Hamlisch said. “People in college should know that now is a very glorious time to do what you want to do.”

During  The Works and Imagination of Marvin Hamlisch  he provided personal insight into his work, creative process and career success. Hamlisch recounted stories of working with legendary artists, such as Barbara Streisand, and how his choice of projects in music, Broadway shows and film led to one of the greatest music careers in history. Hamlisch delighted the audience as he played some of his works.

During the Master Class “The art of Music in film”, Marvin discussed how composing music for movies interacts with the other elements on the film.

Marvin’ encounter with Sam Spiegel: (as told by Marvin in his book “The Way I Was”)

…Then, out of the blue, a different kind of telephone call came. Ah, yes. I remember it well. It was a Saturday evening in 1967. It was around six-thirty. It was a woman with a voice brittle with impatience. She announced she had gotten my number from one of the musicians in Funny Girl, and that they needed a piano player for a party that night. She asked if I was available.

Lady, please!” I said, affronted. “I’m a college student. I’m a Juilliard man. I was the rehearsal pianist for Barbra Streisand. I’ve worked on The Bell Telephone Hour. I’m a composer. I do not play parties. Repeat, I do not play parties.”

That’s too bad,” she said. “It’s for Sam Spiegel.”

I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I said.

I raced from the house and arrived at Sam Spiegel’s suite at the St. Moritz Hotel.

Faye Dunaway arrived amid a group of the “A” List from Hollywood. Even Bobby Kennedy, who was running for a seat in the U. S. Senate from New York, made an appearance.

I sensed that Sam Spiegel was very happy that night. He was using a live piano player for the first time- he always used to play records- and he could see how much his guests were enjoying themselves.

Some of the guests, like Jule Styne, told Spiegel I was a talented young fellow. “What do you do besides play for parties?” he asked.

Well, Mr. Spiegel, if this hadn’t been your party, I wouldn’t have taken the job. I am a…composer.”

Spiegel proudly told me that he had given Leonard Bernstein his big break when he hired him to write the score for “On The Waterfront”. I guess you could also say that Sam Spiegel had given Lawrence of Arabia his big break.

I’ve got a new picture, Marvin,” Spiegel continued. “ And I’m looking for somebody to do the music. Tell you what. I’d love to hear a couple of your songs. I’ll phone you in a few days. Then you can come over and play them for me.”

Spiegel stuck a copy in my coat pocket of the John Cheever short story on which the film was based. It was called “The Swimmer” and it was to star Burt Lancaster as an aging Lothario who decides one day to swim home, pool by pool. (Why he didn’t just grab a cab, I’ve never understood.)

So I decided that before I met with Spiegel, I would have the main theme for the score for The Swimmer ready to go. I hoped it would reflect Cheever’s brooding tone. A few days later, Spiegel called. I appeared at his hotel and announced grandly that I was not going to play any of my old songs for him. He was taken aback.

What do you mean? You said you were a composer. So play me some songs.”

Mr. Spiegel,” I said, “I’m not here to play you some songs. I’m here to play you the theme from The Swimmer.”

I thereupon sat down at the piano and played what I’d written. When I finished, he said: “play it again, kid.” When I finished playing it a second time, Spiegel grabbed the phone and began calling a succession of people to come to the hotel to hear what I had done. He loved it. Over the next few hours I must have played it at least fifteen times.

If this gets played on the radio as many times as I’ve played it today,” I said, “we’ll have a hit.”
When the last listener had come and gone, Spiegel confronted me.

Okay, that’s it. I want you to do the movie.”   (From the book: The Way I Was)

Comments from Students during lectures:

The topics Hamlisch discussed resonated with Conservatory of Performing Arts students and those pursuing other fields of study.

Being able to audition in front of Hamlisch was an amazing privilege and experience. I am one to always go for a challenge, and in my lifetime, he is the most notably famous person I have ever performed in front of in person”

I was grateful for the unique opportunity to receive feedback from a composer, a point of view actors don’t often get to hear”

I had a great time trying new ideas out. I got the chance to sing four different pieces for him, from high style musical comedy to a John Mayer pop song, and I even sang one of his own songs! I think the best part of the whole experience was leaving the workshop with a Marvin Hamlisch approved audition package”

It was wonderful listening to him talk about his life and give advice on show business, especially being someone who wants to become an actress. Hearing how his connections resulted in different projects later on made me realize how important it is to meet people in this business. He is such an incredibly talented person and it was such a great opportunity to spend time getting to know him“

This type of advice is meant for everyone, not just composers, actors or screenwriters. Truly, those who go through life without following their dreams regret their decision. Also, our time at Point Park University is an excellent chance to try the things we think we want to do. Virtually at our fingertips, we are offered hundreds of classes to explore our desires and plenty of mentors that want to help us in our endeavors”

Sources: Point Park University 2011 Distinguished Master Artist in Residence, Orange County High School of The Arts, Book: The Way I Was.