Where Are They Now? Summer School spotlight on Oleta Haffner

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Our annual Summer School residential course, now open for applications until 27th March, reaches its 15th anniversary this year. To celebrate, we’re speaking to some of our Summer School alumni about their memories of the week, advice for young composers and the exciting projects they’re currently working on.

Oleta Haffner is a composer based in South East London, and one of many who attended the Summer School. Haffner studied Film Music Composition at the London College of Music, and later completed her post-graduate degree in Composition for Film and TV with Distinction.  She was the winner of LCM Orchestral Composition Competiton and Patricia Evans Composition Award at LCM in 2018. Recently, she was selected as an inaugural participant in the Jonas Gwangwa Composition Initiative; a one-year career development programme created by the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Black British composers creating music for film.

Read our interview with Oleta below, or visit our information page to learn more about the Summer School and how to apply.

What year did you come to the Summer School?

2015, so nearly eight years ago now! It’s gone by very quickly for sure.

At that point, where were you at in your journey as a composer?

I was just about to start my first year as a composition student at the University of West London, and was just trying to see if there was something that could be a stepping stone between A level music and the full experience of being a music student. I thought the Summer School would be the perfect sort of stepping stone for that! It was nice to do full-on music for an entire week, because that’s what I would be doing for the next four years of my life.  

Which group were you a part of, and what was your experience of working with the tutors and musicians like?

I was in the Film Group! We worked with Aidan Goetzee overseeing our work and shared ideas to the whole group for feedback. That was nerve wracking at first, I’d usually be in my room playing around on my keyboard and making up new sounds. Hearing everyone’s ideas was refreshing because I realised it wasn’t just me who has some strange or wacky ideas. Someone in the group actually went to the same university, so it was nice to carry on that relationship there. There were some really talented composers in the group.  

It was also so cool to get that instant feedback from giving them [the musicians] some music and them playing it straight away. That had never happened before in my life. I was able to sit there be in awe of it, but also get some work done! 

What is a standout memory for you from the week?

For me, it was watching everyone else’s film clips in the hall together, and having the live musicians playing at the same time. There was one composer in my group that scored an animated piece, and I was completely blown away by her orchestration! It encouraged me to up my game.  

It was also nice to have people affirm that the work you’re doing is good. That support was a big reason why I decided to study Film music composition at university, as at that point I had a place to study just Composition. I made that change because of just how much fun I had in the film group, and all of the support I got at the Summer School. 

What was the most important thing you learnt during the week?

That it’s hard to fail, and it’s okay to question yourself and ask: “is this supporting the narrative of the film”? If it’s not, to be okay with not getting it right the first time and to keep ploughing through. During my week, I actually didn’t like what I’d written. Towards the end, I realised that I’d been a bit too hard on myself – it was my first film clip! After getting good feedback from my tutor on the clip, I realised that I needed to be kinder to myself.  

Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in applying to the Summer School, but isn’t sure if it’s for them?

I would say don’t be afraid to go and make any mistakes, because it’s the quickest way of learning something. I know it does feel uncomfortable a lot of the time, but I remind myself that when I’m old, I will regret not doing something because I was scared. The Summer School definitely allowed me to be in a safe environment to work through any fear and nervousness!  

What was it about the environment that made you feel safe to take creative risks?

I think it was that everyone felt like they, didn’t really know what they were doing. In the long run, I don’t think anybody does! It helped me see that just because you can’t do something right now, doesn’t mean you can’t try and get better at it. Everyone just needs a starting point, and the Summer School provided a week-long musical community where I could do that.  

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently taking part in the Jonas Gwangwa Composition Initiative set up by the the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science to try and get more Black people into the industry. I was chosen as one of the two winners, and last week I just sat in with Harry Gregson-Williams recording at Abbey Road! I’ll be participating in a year-long mentorship program with them, and will continue working on some animated and short films in the first half of this year.

The Sound and Music Summer School is a residential course that gives young people aged 14-18 the opportunity to explore their musical creativity over six days at The Purcell School.

Whether you create in a DAW, with a band, use notation, improvise or are curious about experimenting with creating music, we will support you to bring your creative ideas to life with the guidance of expert tutors from a range of musical genres.

If you would like to join us this year, be sure to apply for Summer School 2023 by the 27th March.

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