Film composer and saxophonist
What is your musical background?
I would describe myself as an eclectic musician. After all, I’m a saxophonist who writes film scores on the piano! In a normal week, I play jazz gigs, conduct a synagogue choir, tear up a nightclub improvising over a DJ, write music for a screen project, tutor a student, and arrange chamber music for a communal performance. Having my fingers in a number of musical pies has definitely helped me gain a wide range of influences, which all contribute to my compositional voice.
A big part of my identity is being an improviser. I have been surrounded by music ever since I was a young kid. I grew up in a very musical family and have my mum to thank – not only for encouraging me to learn several instruments (piano, sax, guitar and drums) but also for teaching me how to harmonise on the drive to school when I was growing up.
I studied a Bachelor of Music (Honours)/Bachelor of Commerce degree at UNSW, and I am currently studying a Masters of Arts: Screen (Music) degree at AFTRS. I have several feature film, television and short film credits.
I was a relatively late bloomer with my involvement with choirs. The first time I ever sang with a choir was when I was hired as a conductor for the Central Synagogue choir in Sydney, aged 20. I have since written and arranged several compositions for them. In 2020/21 I was the Composer in Residence for the Sydney Children’s Choir, and working with them has been a career highlight to-date.
What is your advice to singers performing your works?
For conductors – please make the pieces your own! Every conductor is different and will interpret the pieces in their own special way. This is part of the magic, and I am always interested to hear how a piece can evolve across different groups.
For singers – curiosity is key! What is the context of the piece? What is the message? What is the emotion that is being conveyed? Embody that emotion in your singing – it makes for much stronger performances.
Find songs by Sam:
What are your favourite pieces you’ve composed?
Deine Mami is an extremely special piece to me and my family, because it is set to a poem written by my great grandmother (who I never met) to my grandmother in pre-WWII Berlin, 1936. The poem was recently rediscovered in the archives of the Sydney Jewish Museum. As you can imagine, working with material as personal as that is a composer’s dream, and it was incredible to connect to my heritage through music and text.
Another one of my favourites is There Are Always Miracles, set to words by 101 year-old Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku in his book The Happiest Man on Earth. I am inspired by Eddie’s refreshing and positive outlook on life, despite all the harrowing hardships he endured during the Holocaust. I hope this piece inspires singers and audiences alike with a message of resilience and hope for the future. I would encourage all singers to read Eddie’s book too – it will only add to your experience singing the piece!