Creating Music for The Duchess of Malfi

By Ashley Dillard


Signature selfie with composers Emily Yoo and Rob Funkhouser

This past week I had the pleasure of sitting down with the composers for The Duchess of Malfi (running through February 11). You may remember from my interview with director Katie Horwitz, collaboration has played a huge part in the creation of Duchess. Part of Katie’s vision for the show was to have original music composed to accentuate and enhance the world of the play. Enter Rob Funkhouser and Emily Yoo. Rob is a Music Composition graduate student and Emily is an undergraduate Music Composition student, both at Butler University.

I had so much fun chatting with these two! I was fascinated by their musical backgrounds and how they began composing. Rob started composing in high school on his home computer, he admits his first attempts were, “just really bad dance music.” Emily also started composing in high school. She took a music theory class on a whim, got interested in composing for short animation clips and was hooked.

So how do two music composition students in Indianapolis get involved with composing music for theatre in Bloomington? The answer is Katie Horwitz. Katie searched high and low for the perfect composers for The Duchess of Malfi and when she met Rob, they both knew it was the right fit. “Katie and I met first before I even knew anything about the play. From that meeting, I trusted her implicitly. It’s pretty apparent she has an incredible work ethic. Getting involved with people like that is half the reason I do this. When she sent me her show inspiration playlist on Spotify, I was really uncomfortable with idea of the project. That was also part of the reason I accepted the job. I didn’t know how I was going to do this,” Rob confessed. Emily was equally intrigued by the new opportunity, “Katie did seem like she had a clear vision of what she wanted. I went home after our first meeting and researched the play and I thought— whoa, this is like Game of Thrones!” (This reference was lost on me, as I have only seen one episode, but many of my students share her sentiment!)

Original music for The Duchess of Malfi

Composing music for theatre is new territory for both Rob and Emily. “My music removed from this project is very different–stylistically and situationally. When I write music, we rehearse it, if it doesn’t work, I edit it a couple of times. With theatre, the work may just get decapitated right away. That’s just part of the process. It’s fun because it’s a fast way to work and I really like it,” Rob told me.  In fact there was plenty of music that got cut, rearranged, or retooled completely to fit certain moments in the show, the opening sequence in particular. “I went into this knowing children were going to die [his music, not his offspring!]. It’s better that way because the production gets better. In classical composition, you write music for it to be performed. That’s it. The music we composed for Duchess is like a cog in a much bigger machine. The music is only as good as the purpose it serves.” Emily agreed, “A lot of time we dive into our own music. This is a good opportunity for us to step out of ourselves and be a bit more objective about what works and what doesn’t.”

Both composers agreed it was nice to have someone else responsible for the vision of the show. “As composers, we tend to have to be the ones with the whole vision and with Duchess we get to kind of relax a little.” Rob laughed. Emily added “It’s nice to have a whole team of people there to support each other.”

Having now finished up their first theatrical composition project, I asked Rob and Emily if they would do it again. Without any hesitation, both said yes. Rob conceded that travel would be a factor in his decision process given the amount of time the two spent in the I-69 construction zones between Bloomington and Indy. (I think we can all relate to that…) “It’s been a lot of fun. And with the right people, I would definitely do it again.”

dillard-ashley2017Ashley Dillard is a 3rd year MFA actor at Indiana University. She has been seen most recently as Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa at IU, Katherine in Home at the BPP, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream both for IU Summer Theater. Though she calls beautiful Bloomington home now, she originally hails from Highland, IN.

About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peek behind the curtain at the productions and people at Indiana University's Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.
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