Credit: Neil Schwartz Photography

Interview with Adele Etheridge Woodson

Adele Etheridge Woodson is a classically trained film and visual media composer. As a film composer, her strengths lie in her versatility and her creativity in fusing music genres.

Most recently, Adele scored Pant Hoot, a documentary short featuring Dr. Jane Goodall that is set to premiere at multiple film festivals in 2020.

Adele’s array of composition work also includes an art installation for ASU’s Art Museum and scores for varying visual mediums and dancers, but her most impressive feat may be her compositional premieres in Vienna, Austria, New York City, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Nashville.

In the past, she also scored for Arizona PBS’ documentary short, “Hero Materials”.  Read on below to learn more about her work and next steps – she is surely a talented composer we should all keep an eye on!

Hi Adele, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hi! I’ve been very well, thank you!

So what first inspired you to become a composer?

I’ve been playing violin since I was 8 years old, but I didn’t even think about composing until I was 15. I was playing in the Arizona All-Stars Orchestra at the time, conducted by Dr. Daniel Bernard Roumain, an outspoken, exciting hip hop violinist and composer. I had never met anyone like Daniel before. Growing up in orchestras, I was taught to be quiet and fly under the radar. But during the dress rehearsal, I was wearing my favorite spiked snapback (my fashion sense at 15 was…interesting…) and he pointed to me, and in front of everyone said “you look so great. Wear that hat for the concert tonight.” And I did! After the concert, I went up to Daniel to speak with him. He asked me what I wanted to do with my music. And for some reason, I just said, “I want to do what you do.” And he looked straight into my eyes, grabbed my hands, and said, “I can’t wait to see what you create.” I never forgot that moment. From then on, it was like a fire had been lit underneath me. I started private lessons, attended college, and have never stopped since then.

Does composing for a project featuring an activist as world-renowned as Jane Goodall put additional pressure on you? How did you decide to approach the score for this story?

There was definitely pressure! I wouldn’t say it was a bad pressure, but I felt like I needed to impress her! When I was in 3rd grade, my dream was actually to be a zoologist. I remember presenting about Jane in front of my class. To nine-year-old me, she was the coolest, and to 22 year old me, she is still the coolest! The director of the film, Richard Reens, even told me that he mentioned me by name to Jane when he was interviewing her. (I totally fangirled). 

I tried to approach the score as I do any other job. One key idea behind Pant Hoot, however, was to make the audience emotional. So with that in mind, I broke the film up into parts. What instruments should be used when introducing the rescued chimpanzees? What should be used when Jane is speaking? I think of the score very methodically. I need to give each character a unique, recognizable sound — but it also needs to sound cohesive.

What was the instruction like from your director?

The process was extremely collaborative. Each time I had music for a scene, I would send it off to Richard, who would give me his feedback, and I would revise accordingly. This would go back and forth until both of us were happy. So it took several months to get the music just right. I really enjoyed working with Richard because he clearly was passionate about the music. He didn’t just want basic background music, he wanted the music to be a part of the story. It was such a rewarding feeling to be treated like I was part of a team. 

Walk us through one of your favorite score moments in the film.

One of my favorite moments is when Jane is speaking about a chimp named Wounda. Wounda came to Jane abused and injured, and with the help of Jane’s team, Wounda was successfully released into the wild. As Jane is talking about Wounda, her eyes just light up. It is so clear how passionate she feels about these amazing animals. I’m a big fan of using strings for moments like these — but subtly, so it isn’t cheesy. At the end of Jane’s story, she says that when Wounda was released, she gave Jane a big hug. I love that moment. These chimps, they feel. They love, just as humans do. As Wounda gives Jane a hug, the strings swell up. I wanted the music to reflect how my own heart was feeling. I hope it does some justice for Wounda’s story.

What is your first step in the composer process?

The first step is always to sit down with the director and talk about their vision for their work. How can I help them tell their story? How can I elevate it? Some directors are more specific than others. Richard had some ideas for Pant Hoot, including a choral piece, but everything else, he trusted to me.

What are some of your other favorite past projects?

I was lucky enough to work with Arizona PBS to score a documentary short on their channel called “Hero Material”. The story followed fashion designer students at Arizona State University as they created superhero costumes for terminally ill children at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. It was wonderfully emotional watching these kids turn into heroes and watch them walk down a runway in front of a big audience. I was happy to be a part of that story. 

For the gearheads, what are some of your go-to patches, set-ups or instruments?

I do all of my film scores in Logic Pro X. I use the TASCAM 4×4 audio interface and a midi keyboard. For instruments, I am a big fan of East West’s Composer Cloud, especially their Hollywood Strings and percussion patches. I also have started using Spitfire Audio’s Labs a lot more, too. 

What is happening next in your world?

I just graduated from ASU this week! Now, it’s time to work in the “real” world. I will be working from my studio as a freelance composer! I have some upcoming work I’m really excited to show off — including some films and an original saxophone commission. My work is only just beginning, and I am really excited to see where my new music degree can take me. 

Where can we follow you on social media?

You can follow my instagram, @adelecomposer! And feel free to check out my website, too:


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