Henry Mancini Institute finds new home at UM

Courtesy of the Frost School of Music
Courtesy of the Frost School of Music
Courtesy of the Frost School of Music

The spirit of one of Hollywood’s greatest movie composers is now infiltrating the classrooms and concert halls of the Frost School of Music.

The Henry Mancini Institute (HMI), created in 1997 in honor of the celebrated late composer, finds its new home at Frost.

Nominated for 72 Grammy’s and 11 Academy Awards, Mancini is most renowned for crafting the unforgettable scores for “The Pink Panther,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Charade.”  He passed away in 1994, and it is now up to UM to keep his legacy alive.

HMI was formerly an eight week summer institute housed at the University of Southern California. Mancini’s widow, Ginny, raised all of the money to fund the institute’s programs and participants; but as a stand alone institution, it simply proved too costly. Thus, HMI closed in 2006.

Many schools, including the Manhattan School of Music, vied for the institute after its closing, but Frost triumphed.

“They believed that the vision that I had could be realized here. We had all the pieces,” said Shelton Berg, dean of the Frost School of Music.

Berg, an accomplished pianist and composer, became acquainted with the Mancini family early in his career after meeting drummer Gregg Field, the husband of Mancini’s daughter Monica. Moreover, as head of jazz studies at USC from 1991-2007, Berg taught and wrote for HMI.

“An institute is not a curriculum. It promotes a set of values,” Berg said.

HMI encourages wide-ranging relationships and connections among all facets of music. It brings together film composers, rock musicians, jazz artists, producers, and others.

“The music business is a business of relationships. Conservatories train narrowly. HMI trains more widely so students have more options for careers,” said Berg, who certainly knows something about musical diversity; he’s worked with artists from Chicago to KISS.

There are presently 37 HMI Fellows, graduate student composers whose tuition is paid by the university, and a stipend is provided from fundraising at Frost. Two years from now, the school hopes to fund 65; Ginny Mancini presently funds two Fellows herself.

“To me, it is about giving students experiences that they can use to succeed in today’s musical landscape,” said HMI Fellow Steve Guerra, a doctoral student hand-selected by Dean Berg for the program.

“It is increasingly difficult to make it if you are good at only one thing,” Guerra said. “The Mancini Institute provides students with the opportunity to play styles of music that they will not encounter in a more ‘traditional’ school. If I get a call from a Latin-pop or a rock musician in the future, I will have a leg up because of the HMI program.”

As an HMI fellow, Guerra’s responsibilities include teaching classes and seminars, directing the Frost School of Music Studio Jazz Band and composing for the HMI Orchestra, which played in Festival Miami’s culminating performance on October 30.

“[HMI] has made my time here more varied and more complete. I have been exposed to people that can help me make it in the future,” said Guerra, who has made numerous contacts through HMI that have already led to professional writing opportunities.

The experiences offered through HMI are not limited to graduate students, however. Legendary producer Phil Ramone, who has worked with Paul Simon and contributed to such projects as “Flashdance,” bought the rights to a script. All Frost students will have the opportunity through HMI to act, sing, compose, promote, record and work with Ramone on the project. The goal is to bring together students from all musical disciplines.

“We’re like no other school in the country,” Berg said.

Guerra, who through HMI has already collaborated with the likes of John Clayton, Bruce Hornsby, and Steve Miller, agrees.

“I have been given access to experiences and people that I would never have imagined,” he said.