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5 Questions with Andre Gaskins, composer
The Music of Airboat Rescue 1: When the Ice Breaks


By Katie Holliday
COLS Special Reports Intern

UW Oshkosh music professor Andre Gaskins is the Director of Orchestral Activities and cello at UW Oshkosh. He has enjoyed a enjoyed a diverse career as conductor, soloist and music educator. His recording of Martinu's Concerto for the Summit Records label was nominated for the 2004 Grammy Awards in the category of Best Performance by a Small Ensemble (with or without conductor).

UW Oshkosh music Andre Gaskins conductor, cellist and composer

Gaskins has logged more than30 performances as a solo cellist. His other solo appearances have included performances with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra and the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. Gaskins can be heard in the soundtrack for the PBS documentary For Gold and Glory (2003) and is a featured soloist for the motion picture soundtrack Forgive Me Father (2001). Airboat Rescue 1: When the Ice Breaks is his debut as a composer for a documentary soundtrack.


1. What was your first reaction when Grace Lim approached you about scoring original music to this short documentary?

My first reaction was to wonder when I would be able to get it done. Upon further reflection, when I reminded myself that one of my childhood dreams was to be a film composer (okay, fine - only since I was in high school...), I then knew I would make the time to get it done, at all costs. Needless to say, I was delighted to be asked to take on this kind of project. There are probably many people who might think that I have no earthly business trying to compose music for a documentary. However, as a musician, my philosophy enables me to tackle such projects fearlessly, because I believe that all musicians should also possess the knowledge and the curiosity to compose. 


2. What was the process like for you to write music to accompany a specific story?

This is a difficult question to convey concisely since there are so many aspects to consider as part of the process. I’ll try to focus on just a few.

Part of the reason why I always wanted to be a film composer is because, first, I wanted to be a composer. At that time, probably because I always had trouble getting started, I believed having a source of inspiration would be helpful. What I soon discovered (in my youth) is that I really didn’t know or understand very much about music, except intuitively. So when I tried to compose, I was easily frustrated.

Teaching by Doing: Music professor and Airboat Rescue 1 music composer Andre Gaskins in the recording studio with music student Amanda Martin.

For this film, I enjoyed the process very much, since I finally had what I always wanted: a film with no soundtrack to provide some inspiration. Since I was composing music for my first documentary, I felt fortunate that there was footage taken of Mrs. Lee playing an excerpt of a hymn from her piano. So this actually served as a nice starting point, as the two themes I used in the documentary are based on hymns (one of them is based on the hymn she is playing). This also seemed fitting, as Mrs. Lee made some references to God in parts of her interviews.

 Of course, I had a certain amount of trepidation as part of the process because I have seen many films in the past where it seemed as though the music did not fit. In some cases, the music seemed so inappropriate to the point that it either ruined an otherwise good film or at least seemed to overwhelm it. I was honestly a little nervous that my music might not fit, or that Grace might think it didn’t work for the feelings she hoped the documentary would convey. I deliberately tried to keep things simple, as I did not want the music to overwhelm the documentary. My aim was to help accurately convey an atmosphere, or a feeling, as I believe all film music should do.

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