Female composers: Laura Rossi
Photos provided by Laura Rossi
Laura Rossi, originally from Devon, is a film and TV composer. Apart from writing music for Imperial War Museum iconic film The Battle of the Somme, she has scored Paul Andrew Williams' critically acclaimed features including London to Brighton (BAFTA nominated) and Song For Marion. Laura has also composed for early silent movies commissioned by the British Film Institute.

Originally, Rossi didn't know she wanted to write film music. Entering Liverpool University, she was set on taking a new course that included "a bit of everything". At the time, Laura played bass guitar, violin, and piano, and enjoyed classical, jazz, and pop, so this seemed like her ideal degree. When she got there, however, the course had changed and focused on essay writing, so she changed to the classical degree. "I never would have chosen that, but because the other course had changed to writing essays, I ended up switching to this very classical degree," she explains. Alongside, the musician played in bands, still managing to tailor her education to suit what she wanted to do.
"The more you can do [during your education], the more advantage you have. It's great to go to a university because you get a broad knowledge of different musical styles and can be inspired by teachers and other musicians on the course."
After graduating from Liverpool, she then completed a master's in Film Music at the London College of Music. Upon finishing her second degree, Rossi started out by making a cassette tape and sending it to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Not getting any responses – looking back she tells me it was a bit naïve to think they might have answered – the composer then sent out a second batch of her cassette tape to the British Film Institute and landed her first job.

The job consisted of scoring seven short silent Shakespeare films. "That was my lucky break," Laura shares, describing how her next jobs all led from a previous project she worked on, so it started a flow of work.

At the same time, she was balancing that with doing gigs, playing in bands, and teaching piano. "I started off feeling as a musician and composer, [which is] probably why I wasn't so active in looking for work," Rossi says. Once she finished working on the BFI commissions, she got a few short films and then got to write for a "very low-budget" feature film, followed by a TV project.

While most of her work has come from connections and someone seeing her music in films, the composer agrees that the most difficult thing about starting out is looking for work. "I've never been good at selling myself, so I took a different route and found some silent films to score and tour, and that led on to other things," she recounts her first steps. In her words, it's also crucial to have the confidence to say that you're a composer and avoid the imposter syndrome.

With the internet, it's become much easier to search for projects. But that can also backfire because many are writing music for film these days. "There are so many composers out there now – the chances of someone replying or clicking a link to listen to your music are probably lower," Laura says. That is why the key is to be out there and take the opportunities to meet and connect with people. "So much of the job is about communicating: I'd say almost 50% of being a composer is also being a good communicator," she elucidates.
When getting on board a project, Rossi explains that you often watch the film together with the director and discuss what music is needed. "[Typically], it's the one area they're not experts in, so sometimes they can be quite nervous" she laughs. "It's a funny thing in a way – it's so difficult to talk about music." Understanding that, she always approaches the conversation by trying to get them to talk more about emotions and feelings.

Talking about her projects, Laura mentions that the most challenging project by far was The Battle of the Somme, commissioned by The Imperial War Museum. "It was a UNESCO heritage and was going to be performed live with film by the Philharmonia at the Queen Elizabeth Hall," she elaborates. "I was so excited because I needed to compose 74 minutes of music for this brilliant orchestra." After watching the film, the composer realized what a big responsibility it was going to be as it was all real footage of soldiers and included some very harrowing scenes.
"I was scared to write a note so I spent months researching: I spent more time researching than writing it. Writing music is all about scoring the emotions and feelings so the more research you do, the more you understand what the feeling should be."
Writing music for this particular motion picture was more personal for Rossi than for any other project – her uncle was positioned exactly where the film was shot. Receiving his diaries from her aunt, the composer retraced his footsteps and visited the battlefields. "That was actually what helped me write it: it gave me a really good sense of what it was like," Laura tells me. When you find a way to connect yourself to the project, that builds and enhances the whole experience.

The finished score was then played by the Philharmonia Orchestra, premiering at Queen Elizabeth Hall. The Somme100 FILM encompassed 100 international live performances of the music with more than 4200 instrumentalists taking part. It was watched by more than 37000 people and broadcasted on BBC's The One Show and The Andrew Marr Show.
Being a female film composer, Laura thinks there's still a long way to go in terms of the discrepancy in the number of male and female composers in the field. "I think there not being enough female composers as role models could be one reason, though that is changing," she says. "Also, it takes a few years to build up your reputation and find work, and that peak typically happens when you're in your 30s, which is also often when people have children. So, I think it's also about there not being an age thing and allowing men or women to take a career break if they want to."

In general, however, the composer notices that the situation has gotten a lot better and things are changing. "I think it's a good time to be a woman composer and there are lots of brilliant women composers out there," Rossi concludes.
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