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Working On Movie Soundtracks A Thrill For Vocal Jazz Director

Published: May 15, 2012

When American audiences made “The Lorax” the number one movie this spring, part of the credit went to CSULB’s Christine Guter.

Guter, a faculty member of the Cole Conservatory of Music since 2002, sang on the soundtrack of the hit animated feature. Her voice also will be heard in support of “Men in Black III,” scored by Danny Elfman to be released in this month. Other recent credits include performances on the soundtracks of “Happy Feet,” “X-Men III,” “Spiderman III,” “Ice Age III” and “Real Steel.” That was also Guter you heard in Cirque du Soleil’s “Iris” and the “Penguins of Madagascar” TV series.

Guter was pleased by the success of “The Lorax.” “It’s always exciting to be called for something like this and I feel honored and blessed to be a part of it,” she said. “It is still exciting for me to report for work at the studio, whether it’s Warner Bros. Sony, Fox or Capitol Records. It is thrilling and the work is challenging.”

Studio musicians need a specific skill set. “Studio musicians often report without ever having seen the music they are about to perform,” she explained. “That means sight reading. I love it that way, although that can scare a lot of people.”

Guter feels responsible for the care and maintenance of her instrument. “I must maintain a certain level of musicianship with an emphasis on sight reading, which is so important,” she said. “You can’t go into a session unless you know how to do that. Even if you are a good sight reader, if you don’t do it often, you can sound rough. Even with my career as an educator, I try to sight read every day even if there are no upcoming sessions booked in my calendar.”

Studio performance is as tough as it is competitive. “I understand that I need to bring my `A’ game to studio assignments,” she said. “The key is taking care of my voice and of myself. I have always stressed the importance of vocal health. I continue to study and sing every day and I keep that up so that when I am called, I’ll be ready. Being a studio musician is like being a marathon runner. You need to do it every day.”

She is impressed with the level of talent she finds. “It is such a thrill to meet singers who have had 30-year careers,” she said. “I’m actually one of the younger session performers, which is funny to me. I find myself surrounded by performers with perfect pitch who also are concert pianists. Sometimes composers like Danny Elfman (`The Simpsons’ and Tim Burton’s `Batman’) participate in the sessions. I’ve also worked with Alan Silvestri (“Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Forrest Gump”). It is a thrill to be able to work with the actual composers. Plus, it’s a good way to collect autographed scores.”

She is pleased by the big opening of the ecologically minded “Lorax.” “Sometimes a film is made just for the money but a message always helps,” she said. “I try to keep in mind the importance of producing high-quality music that will serve the audience as well as the composer’s artistic vision. Nothing is more exciting. Being in the booth to see how my performance adds aesthetic value is really extraordinary.”

CSULB’s Christine Guter (front row, sixth from the left) poses with the whole choir following a soundtrack session at Sony Studios in Culver City.

When she isn’t setting Hollywood on its ear, Guter directs CSULB’s vocal jazz chorus Pacific Standard Time which has seen its reputation soar in recent years thanks to what she describes as an incredible surge of talent. She returned in spring from touring with PST and CSULB’s Chamber Choir.

“The students were outstanding,” she said. “They worked so hard and performed at an extraordinarily high level. They were well received including standing ovations where audiences really jumped to their feet. The groups have received strong support from the department. When the faculty is talented and intelligent, it spills over into the student’s experience. The faculty gets along wonderfully here. It is a positive supportive atmosphere in which to work. The students feel that and thrive in such an environment.”

Guter earned her bachelor of music in choral music education from Western Michigan University and a master’s in studio music and jazz from the University of Miami.

“I enjoy hearing my work with an audience. It’s so cool,” she laughed. “Before I began singing on movie scores, I didn’t pay as much attention to a score. Now I always pay attention. I am interested in how much it adds or it takes away and what is the audience’s reaction or the lack of it. There are lots of interesting things.”

Her professional career reinforces her classroom work. “The more I am able to do as a professional musician, the more valuable my students’ education becomes,” she said. “I now have first-hand experience of all the things I am training my students to do. I really feel my work enhances their education. Sometimes I miss rehearsals or need to reschedule lessons but my students remain supportive and proud of their `teach.’ I am grateful for that and I’m eager to share how to prepare them for their careers, both musically and professionally.”

Guter plans to continue her studio work.

“There is nothing like it,” she said. “I have always wanted to do more and I never get the chance to do enough. Yes, I am a teacher but I also feel a strong commitment to my musicianship. I need to be able to express myself artistically if I am going to continue to be creative in the classroom. It is all part of a whole.”