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UCLA

A Composer of All Trades

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By Bethany Powers '11

Published Feb 26, 2009 2:20 PM


Video games like Halo 3 and a Carnegie Hall opera in New York wouldn't normally go together. But it's all in a day's work for Emmy-winning UCLA professor Laura Karpman, a composer whose comfort and skill range across strikingly different genres.

Karpman's concert scores and musicals have also made her in demand among music festivals and groups like the Los Angeles theater company, A Noise from Within. The adjunct professor of production with UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television has also done a great deal of work in film and television, including Steven Spielberg's miniseries, Taken. Her work in TV has garnered her four Emmy Awards.

"The nomination is almost more exciting than the award," says Karpman. "It's always great to get acknowledged for your work."

On March 16, Karpman will make her Carnegie Hall debut, as the composer of Langston Hughes's Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. Audiences will not only hear the poetry he has written, they will feel the poetry pounding through their veins because of the grand score that Karpman composed.

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Photo by Catherine Byrd.

The performance combines music, singing, spoken word, and film clips to allow audiences to experience Hughes on a variety of levels. Karpman has collaborated for the last two years with Grammy-winner Jessye Norman to create something that could take people on an epic musical journey.

Karpman has integrated an array of musical genres to keep audiences on their toes and capture the essence of Hughes's work. Everything from jazz to hip-hop to Middle Eastern music resounds from the stage, and this, Karpman says, is what Hughes had in mind when he first wrote the poem.

In Hughes's original copy of Ask Your Mama, he included notes on music he could envision accompanying his poem, which guided Karpman's composition. But she has made the show, which first appeared in 1961, into something today's audiences can enjoy and appreciate.

Although Ask Your Mama may seem like a far stretch from anything Karpman has done, she says it fits right in on her long resume.

"This production is notable because it's not that different from anything else I've done actually," Karpman says. "Langston Hughes actually wrote how he thought the music should sound."

Karpman grew up with music, and began composing at the age of 7, so it's no wonder she has accomplished so much. She's also sharing her talent and her passion in a music and film class she teaches at UCLA. Ask Your Mama will debut March 16 at Carnegie Hall in New York, but West Coast audiences can look for it Aug. 30 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. March 16. Carnegie Hall, New York. Tickets: $23-$68. For more information, visit www.askyourmama.com

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