Can you imagine the movie “Jaws” without the musical composition of John Williams? Or Michael Abels’s unique score for Jordan Peele’s ingenious, ground-breaking social thriller “Get Out”?

Music in films can make or break the experience. In short, the piece tells us about characters, guide us through major turning points in the story, and unearths deep subtext beneath a scene. When done correctly — nay, perfectly — music can tell us when a character isn’t being truthful, it can demand us to focus on something else on the screen, and when to let go and let the score wash over our emotions. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences knows the power of music. To that end, they partnered with Mercury Studios. They announced Peter Edwards and Oleta Haffner as the participants selected for the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative, a one-year career development program for Black British musicians interested in composing music for the film. The program aims to foster broader representation in film music composition as part of the Academy’s ongoing global outreach and engagement efforts.

The Academy and Mercury Studios hosted an event celebrating Edwards and Haffner at Abbey Road Studios in London. Academy members Gary Yershon and Nainita Desai (Music Branch) spearheaded the program’s creation. They joined composers Segun Akinola and Bankey Ojo, along with Natasha Baldwin, Executive Vice President, of Classics and Screen at Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), for a panel discussion on the challenges of the industry. 

“We are so honored to have Peter and Oleta, two incredibly talented composers, participate in this program, through which we seek to provide the connections, tools, and opportunities needed to expand access to the global film industry,” said English. “We also thank Mercury Studios and all of our partners for making this program possible.” “Talent discovery and development is at the heart of what we do at Mercury Studios so we are looking forward to working with Peter and Oleta over the next year,” said Mercury Studios Co-President Marc Robinson. “We hope this initiative will only expand as we continue to create ways to engage composers around the world.” 

Edwards is a composer, musical director, and pianist who has been working in the London jazz scene for 12 years. Haffner is a London-based composer who writes music for animated short films and theater productions. Throughout the year, they will receive access to Academy members across various branches in order to gain an understanding of the filmmaking process; one-on-one mentorship with a member of the Academy’s Music Branch to learn about the practical aspects of composing for film; access to Academy events and screenings in London; and introductions to leading practitioners from all areas of film music, among other things. They also will be matched with a filmmaker who is in the process of making a short film and will be allowed to compose music for the film.  

The composition work will be funded by two grants from Universal Music Group’s (UMG) Decca Records and Mercury Studios, a full-service, global production film and television studio. UMG’s Abbey Road Studios will provide additional programming and support.

Gwangwa, who died in 2021, was a prominent South African jazz musician and composer. He received Oscar® nominations for Original Score and Original Song for his work, with George Fenton, on “Cry Freedom” (1987).

For more information on the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative, visit https://oscars.org/learn/jonas-gwangwa-initiative.

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