Classically Trained: 'Walking encyclopedia' pops conductor celebrates 20 years

October 28, 2010|By Bradley Zint

COSTA MESA — Richard Kaufman's life between his beginnings as a musically inclined 7-year-old to today is a showcase of many accomplishments.

This week, the Pacific Symphony is celebrating one of them: his 20-year tenure as its principal pops conductor.

It was a schoolteacher's intuition that seems to have started it all. The teacher noticed that Kaufman could sing along and "play the rhythm sticks well." His parents were notified of the good news.

It was a comment they took to heart. So, naturally, Kaufman's parents took the route of many eager to get their children musically involved: They handed their 7-year-old a violin.


"I walked into my house one day after playing football," Kaufman, 62, recalled. "My mother said, 'This is Mrs. Hewitt. She's your violin teacher.' And I blinked, and here I am conducting the Pacific Symphony."

The musician from west Los Angeles, who now lives in Encino, graduated from Cal State Northridge. While there, he left his mark as the composer of the then-young university's alma mater, "Hail to the Matadors." It's still played today.

Soon after graduation he began working for Burt Bacharach. This led to more music gigs in conducting and playing, including playing violin for nearly a decade in the studios that record scores for films.

A little-known fact about studio work: The musicians generally play with the film being projected on a large screen behind them. Playing the film helps the conductor synchronize the music.

Kaufman remembers such sneak-peek access while recording "Animal House," the college cult classic with John Belushi that, in actuality, was a revolutionary score in terms of how to write music for comedy. He said many musicians, instead of taking breaks, watched the playbacks and laughed at the antics freshly enhanced by their newly recorded music.

He can still hum the Elmer Bernstein-penned theme for Faber College, whose school motto is "Knowledge Is Good."

Recording "Jaws," by John Williams, was another highlight of his studio days.

"It was an exciting experience and it was a real event," Kaufman said." A lot of people consider it one of the best scores ever, and working with John Williams — it doesn't get better than that."

Kaufman later became a music coordinator for MGM. For 18 years, he supervised the studio's film and television projects. He mentioned his work for "In the Heat of the Night," a crime television series that took place in the South.

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