Craig Garfinkle (1982) Guitar
Ed. Note: Craig was a member of the 1980, 1981 and 1982 New Trier West Recording Jazz Ensembles. In his 1980-1981 school year he was appointed as a Student Director for both the Lab Jazz Ensemble and Recording Jazz Ensemble. In 1982 he received the prestigious Jazz Ensemble Award.
Part I: My Autobiographical Sketch
Sometimes it is a blessing, sometimes it is a curse – to know what you want to do for your life’s work. By the time I joined the New Trier West High School Jazz Program, in my freshman year, I already knew I was going to be a composer for film, that I was going to write musicals, that I was somehow going to be writing for orchestras. I just had no idea how that was going to happen.
The sounds of my childhood were wildly eclectic. My parents tell me that they always had classical music playing in the house when I was a baby, and I do remember having many moments of déjà vu later in life, when I knew I had heard a piece before but could not place where. I suspect some of these earliest exposures stuck in my subconscious.
I started playing guitar when I was around 7 years old, and by the time I was fourteen, I was a fanatic for Jazz Fusion, the music of Carlos Santana and AC/DC. I played in the rock band back then and pretending to be Carlos Santana was the highlight of any performance. I was mad for it!
I remember seeing the New Trier Jazz Ensemble on TV – Made in Chicago, The New Trier West Recording Jazz Ensemble – and I could not wait until I was old enough to join. I still did not know how I was going to design my musical life, but I knew that being a part off such a magnificent group was going to be a prerequisite to anything I would want to accomplish.
The day came when I finally was able to join the NTW Jazz Ensemble, directed by Roger Mills. What a shock! I could barely read music. There was so much I did not know. Frankly, if I was going to succeed as a musician, I needed a bit of a push. Playing in the Jazz Ensemble was absolutely that push. Roger did not treat us like kids, he treated us like real players with a job to do. We had to practice, and we had to perform.
As an aside, I could only watch the first 15 minutes of the movie Whiplash. The film hit way too close to home. (Someday I will check out the writer and see if he went to New Trier.) But at New Trier West my Jazz Ensemble director, Roger Mills, was just about that strict, but unlike the movie, Roger’s heart was always in making sure we reached our potential and had the skills to succeed. I was lucky to have had great high school and college band, and orchestra directors, as these were the ones that really set me up with the skills to succeed.
Just as important, however, I have always felt a connection to orchestral music, and listened to it constantly as a child…but passively. I started playing bass in the New Trier West Orchestra at 15, and passive listening was no longer possible. Short of conducting, I found playing the bass in the orchestra to be the best location to really study how all the parts of the orchestra fit together. No orchestral piece ever sounded the same again for me.
At first I was self-taught. From my earliest memory, I would just bang away at the piano, trying to figure out how it worked. My parents, seeing that I had an affinity for music, insisted that I get formal training. I was all but eight.
One day I discovered how a Bb chord alternating to C/Bb chord had this magical effect, and I started composing a tune. I had no idea that I had ‘discovered’ the Lydian scale, I just knew that these chords sounded cool. I may have loved it a bit too much. I have a distinct memory of my mother yelling to me from across the house: “Do you have to keep playing that same chord over and over again?”
I rebelled against my first piano teacher – I think I was just bored with the workbooks and would rather just work out my own ideas. I still regret that I never learned how to play piano properly as there are countless times that I wish I had that skill. Today I can play piano reasonably well enough to compose, but I get so frustrated when my fingers cannot keep up with my brain.
Guitar, however, always stuck. I had a great guitar teacher at New Trier in Dave Dorsett. Roger always found the best teachers for his students.
After New Trier, I went to the Indiana University School of Music and studied in the jazz program for two years. The teachers at the time, David Baker and Dominic Spera, broke all sorts of rules to let me take the advanced jazz and jazz orchestration classes as a freshman. After two years, David basically kicked me out of the program saying: “I know you want to write for films – you can’t do that here in Indiana, you have to go to Los Angeles.”
David also told me that as a guitarist, there was this new school in Hollywood, the Guitar Institute, which had the best teachers in the world – Joe Pass, Joe Diorio, and Robben Ford, and a newly hired Frank Gambale. Indiana University had no such teachers at the time, and David very graciously, and selflessly, told me to go.
At the Guitar Institute, I was fortunate to get to study for a year with the now legendary guitarist, Frank Gambale. At the time, he was an unknown recent graduate of the Institute, just off the boat from Australia. Frank really helped my playing, but also introduced me to an entire theory of Jazz and harmony that influences my writing, in every genre, to this day.
After my year at the Guitar Institute, my parents insisted I finish my degree. UCLA was the next step, and I am a proud UCLA alum with degrees in composition and classical guitar. The best part of being at UCLA, as a composer wanting to work in media, was being able to take classes in the UCLA film and TV department. I devoured all the screenwriting, directing, and film production courses that I could manage.
Frankly, I was a pest who would score every UCLA or USC thesis film that would have me. I produced and sent out countless demos, at a time when producing demos cost a fortune. I also made sure I was the kind of friend upon which one could depend. I found good people and treated them as best I could.
At UCLA I also studied with the legendary composer, David Raksin. David did not suffer fools and was one of the toughest teachers I ever had – but like Roger at New Trier West, when he gave you praise, you knew it was real and deserved. When I left UCLA, David was instrumental in bringing me into the composer community, sponsoring my membership in The Society of Composers and Lyricists where I am a member to this day. I spent 23 years on the Board of Directors – mentoring a new crop of composers. Coming full circle, I also taught film composition at UCLA for 12 years and in 2011 I received the award for Arts Instructor of the Year.
After UCLA, my first professional composing experiences were in the world of video games. I do not know how it happened: Dumb luck, good friends, hard work, and being in the right place at the right time. I joke, the only way to make sure you are in the right place at the right time, is to be everywhere, all the time. I was a pest!
Then, somehow, the planets aligned, and right out of college one of these friends, Lisa, introduced me to a director named Flint Dille. He needed some music written for a trailer to a proposed TV series, and Lisa convinced Flint to give me a shot at the task. The series never materialized, but Flint soon started working for TSR Inc., (the makers of the Dungeons and Dragons Games), directing what would eventually evolve into the role- playing games we know today. I scored over a dozen of these games for Flint, and TSR over the next few years, each with an hour of music. It was a trial by fire. I loved every minute of it, and by the time we finished the projects, I almost knew what I was doing.
Flash forward to today (2021). I consider myself to be an ‘in the trenches’ composer, orchestrator and professional music producer. Not a star, but just known enough to keep going and never have a real job. I have been honored with several awards, a couple of Emmy nominations, and for the past nine years or so I have finally been writing and orchestrating extensively for large ensembles around the world.
As I look back, I can unequivocally say it was Roger Mills and the New Trier West Jazz Program that prepared me for the journey.
Part II: My Professional Biography
Education: Indiana University School of Music, The Guitar Institute, Hollywood, UCLA.
Craig Stuart Garfinkle is an award-winning, and Emmy nominated music producer and composer, who has worked in animation, feature films, trailers, documentaries, television, multimedia projects and advertisement. His orchestral work has been performed by numerous orchestras worldwide including the National Symphony of Ireland, The Bergen Philharmonic, The Qatar Philharmonic, The Stavanger Symphony and many more.
Most recently, Craig co-composed, alongside his wife Eimear Noone, the score for the animated feature, Two By Two: Overboard, a sequel to the successful feature, Two By Two: Ooops! Noah Is Gone. The film, despite being released during the pandemic, was number one at the box office in Ireland, the UK, and Germany. The score received a prestigious Ivor Novello Award nomination for Best Original Film Score.
Eimear and Craig also co-wrote the music for The Legends of the Hidden Temple, which debuted on The CW Network, October 10th, 2021, and they have two more series currently in production to release in the next few months.
Craig’s past work in animation includes multiple Disney series, most notably as one of the songwriters for The Little Mermaid series and one of the composers for Raw Toonage, which also earned an Emmy nomination for original composition. Craig has composed extensively for films including the family drama, It’s Dark Here (Starring Illiana Douglas, Bubba Lewis, and William Mapother), the black comedy, Get Out if You Can (Directed by TJ Martin), and the supernatural thriller, Blood Relative (Starring Cristin Milioti).
His contribution to over 140 film trailers includes J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, the Harry Potter franchise, James Bond, Sin City, Red, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Over the Hedge, Spider-man III, HALO II, The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King and many more.
Craig’s music has also appeared in 100’s of film and television projects such as NBC’s The Office, Fringe, Lost, The Sopranos, X Factor, and America’s Got Talent.
Garfinkle was part of the composition team at Blizzard Entertainment for their World of WarCraft expansion (Warlords of Draenor). The score has recently received the ‘Hollywood Music in Media Award’ for Video Game Score. In addition to World of WarCraft, Garfinkle’s music is featured in many X-Box/PS2 games. He composed the original music for Baldur’s Gate, The Dark Alliance II, and his song, A Nuclear Blast is the main menu theme for the game, Fallout, A Brotherhood of Steel.