Alumni Spotlight: Brian Katona, MM Choral Conducting 2002

Story by CCM Associate Director of Alumni Relations Jamie Muenzer. Originally published online at

Choose a college. Get through courses, tests and performances. Graduate and never look back. Right?

Well, we hope not.

And we are especially fortunate that Brian Katona (MM Choral Conducting, 2002) keeps choosing to look back. “I worked with conducting alumni while I was in school, had access to all kinds of professors, and wasn’t restricted to only doing one thing,” Brian says. “The College-Conservatory of Music was an incredible resource to both learn and play.” And as an Emmy Award-winning documentary film score composer, Brian felt it was important to eventually come “home” and pay it forward.

Similar to many students going into the creative or performing arts, Brian started his Master’s at CCM somewhat unsure of his ultimate path. Documentary filmmaking wasn’t even on his radar. But as a true testament to the well-rounded nature of CCM’s programs, there was an incredible amount of crossover with many other departments — Musical Theatre, Dance, Acting, Opera — and he found himself conducting many of the shows in Corbett Auditorium while expanding his own personal preference and repertoire.

And thanks to a master class he attended, Brian caught the bug for documentary film scoring. Soon after the workshop, he traveled to the renowned Aspen Music Festival for The Susan and Ford Schumann Composition Film Score program, and the field has been his driving passion ever since. Thinking back on this time, he says the faculty at CCM were especially encouraging, helping to develop both his composing and conducting craft.

CCM to Film: Coming Full Circle
Having worked on award-winning films ranging from The Town that Disappeared Overnight to The Builder, Brian says film scoring is about creating a connection with the imagery through sound. “As a film composer, you’re trying to capture moments through music, sometimes in scenes with very little dialogue. It’s a challenge, but you become so drawn to the story.”

Spending most of his time composing in his home studio in Newtown, Pennsylvania, Brian works with footage provided by the production companies and uses both computer-based and live instruments to create the musical score. He says each project is a brand new adventure and challenge. When he approached CCM to teach a master class, he hoped to share some of the same trials and joys of film scoring that he’s encountered. “And selfishly, it’s so nice to connect with younger composers,” he adds. “By sharing their thoughts and fresh creative ideas they often teach me as much as I teach them.

After connecting with Professor of Commercial Music Production professor Tom Haines and learning of his advanced Film Scoring class, Brian saw the perfect match. And for seniors pursuing their Bachelor of Music in Commercial Music Production, it was the perfect opportunity. Students would work with Brian over the course of a three-session Skype master class to develop their own scores for a documentary film. The catch: It was a film Brian had already worked on, stripped of the music.

“It was up to the students to create their own interpretation of the mood the film should take on,” Brian says. “By the third session, they were presenting to me and I was providing feedback on some really amazing scores. The students demonstrated a wide variety of musical styles ranging from the traditional classical approach to scores that had elements of jazz and pop. Regardless of style, each score fit very well and gave a unique and powerful emotional subtext to the film.” The workshop has gone so well that Brian says there might be one more session in the works.

If Brian’s career path is any indication, all it takes is one workshop or master class to alter the trajectory for the rest of your life. His hope for students? Find that spark.

Brian Katona is an Emmy® Award-winning composer, orchestrator, arranger, and conductor. Recent film/television credits: The Builder (Emmy Winner for best musical composition), A Hope For Hartly (Best Melodic Theme, Garden State Film Festival), PEI Kids: Generation Change (Film: Broader Vision Award, Garden State Film Festival), The Town That Disappeared Overnight (Film: Two time Emmy Winner, Garden State Film Festival Winner), Biserici De Lemn Din Romania (SEEFest Official Selection), I Throw Rocks (Film: Maumee Film Festival Winner), My Spirited Sister (Sitcom). Theater credits: Jesse James: Dead or Alive. Commercial recordings: The Voice of Christmas: “The Night Before Christmas,” A Christmas Journey: “I Wonder What I’ll Get for Christmas.” Published concert music (Imagine Music): Anthem for the Patriots, Space Battle, Space Fantasy, When I Hear Music, An Irish Blessing.

Soundcloud: @emlaproductions

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UC's Digital Media Collaborative.

Digital Media Cluster Hires Bring Filmmaking, Program-Building Expertise to UC

Matt Irvine.

Matt Irvine.

Building a digital media program from the ground up comes naturally to Matt Irvine, who joins the University of Cincinnati in fall 2015 as the inaugural director of the Digital Media Collaborative (DMC), a collective effort between the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning (DAAP), the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences and UC Libraries.

The DMC began with seed funding from President Santa Ono’s Transformation Fund matched by CCM, DAAP and A&S, and was successfully launched as part of Provost Davenport’s Cluster Hiring initiative.

Kristyn Benedyk.

Kristyn Benedyk.

Irvine, who joins UC with appointments across all of the related areas, comes to Cincinnati from DePaul University, where he was instrumental in founding DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts. The school, which is ranked in the top 20 film schools in the nation, includes bachelor’s degrees in animation and digital cinema, bachelor’s of fine arts in animation and graduate degrees in animation, cinema production, documentary, cinema and screenwriting. Irvine will be joined at UC by Kristyn Benedyk, an accomplished screenwriter and teacher who helped launch DePaul’s screenwriting program in 2011. Benedyk, who is also Irvine’s wife, will also be appointed across the same three colleges and UC Libraries.

“These dual-career cluster hires exemplify the power of aggressive recruitment and collaboration,” said Provost Beverly Davenport, whose office led the call for cluster hiring in summer 2014. “Together, these three colleges and our libraries were able to woo industry and educational leaders to build an exciting and forward-looking program in Cincinnati.”

The Digital Media Cluster includes multiple departments in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, CCM’s Division of Electronic Media, and Graphic Communication Design and Media Art out of DAAP, as well as technology and other resources from UC Libraries. “Speaking on behalf of my fellow deans who are involved in this collaborative, we are extremely enthusiastic about Matt and Kristyn’s hire,” said Peter Landgren, dean of CCM, the home college for both new faculty members.

“Their talents will enhance the existing strengths of our colleges, allowing us to provide our students with the creative, intellectual and interdisciplinary skills necessary to make an impact in the constantly changing digital media landscape.”

“There’s an excitement in Cincinnati,” Irvine said. “There has been so much support from everybody.”

Benedyk, who leaves her post as chair of the screenwriting program at DePaul, agreed. “There are already so many incredibly talented faculty at UC working in established, interesting and successful programs,” said Benedyk, who founded and produced a successful annual entertainment writers’ conference in Chicago. “I think it is great that the Digital Media Cluster is going to bring all of those people together working towards a shared objective that will result in UC becoming one of the top destinations for media education in the country.”

Both Benedyk and Irvine credited UC’s Cluster Hiring initiative and Dual Career Assistance program, both led by Provost Beverly Davenport, for sparking their interest in and eventually their commitments to Cincinnati.

“We’re better together than we are apart,” he said.

For Benedyk, whose background in Education fuels her passion for teaching, the move, in the end, was about quality of life.

“The dual career program was a huge draw for me,” said Benedyk, who was impressed by the reaction she got from faculty and administrators when she visited campus. “I immediately felt very welcomed as a potential faculty member.”

UC’s Cluster Hiring Initiative, launched by the Office of the Provost, supports existing and emerging partnerships within and between colleges, divisions and areas. Cluster hiring investments harness the power of faculty members focused on solving the world’s biggest challenges through leading-edge research and interdisciplinary collaborations that erase boundaries and embrace creative, bold ideas. Designed to attract top-quality faculty from around the world, UC’s Clusters represent the university’s commitment to investing in faculty and interdisciplinary problem-solving. The Provost’s Dual Career Assistance program dedicates funds and resources to accommodate job candidates and employees with opportunities to sustain healthy, connected families.

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