Composer and new Calgarian Jamie Serafi pens score for Oscar-nominated short

Six months ago, Jamie Serafi decided on a new start in a new city and new country.

The musician was based in London, where he was struggling to get noticed as a film composer. He decided to move to Calgary, attracted by the mountains and wide-open spaces but, more specifically, the notion that he might stand out in the decidedly smaller film community.

Then the last film he scored, Basil Khalil’s comedy short Ave Maria, was nominated for an Oscar.

“It’s just ironic that, at the time that I decided to come here, there’s all this focus on a project I worked on back in London,” says Serafi. 

Serafi isn’t complaining of course. If you are trying to get noticed, having your work featured in a film that has just received some love from the Academy is not a bad way of going about it. Khalil, and up-and-coming British-Palestinian filmmaker, was already making modest waves with the film before he got the Oscar nod. It was a hit a Cannes, just one of 60 festivals where it has been featured. Since earning the nomination for best live-action short, USA Today and CNN have sung its praises.

Ave Maria is a topical comedy about a family of Jewish settlers who break down outside of a convent on Sabbath, leading to a culture clash between the silent nuns and the observant Jews who can’t use technology to call for assistance.

Serafi has scored numerous short films and worked with Khalil before, but this project  gave him a chance to explore new territory.

“Lots of the film is in Hebrew and there’s subtitles,” says Serafi. “With my music, I tried to bring in some of the elements that we associate with some of those cultures. There’s definitely an ethnic undertone to the music. That was fun to get the opportunity to write in the less traditional, orchestral western traditions.”

A self-taught musician who has been playing since the age of three, Serafi says he was always drawn to soundtracks when watching movies, even as a young child. 

In the past 20 years, he has composed music for feature films, animation, TV documentaries and even a video game.

Serafi says he is influenced by more traditional composers of film soundtracks, including icons such as John Williams, Danny Elfman and James Horner.

“I would love to work on an independent Canadian feature film, where maybe there’s a budget for a small orchestra,” he said. “I would like to go into the studio and actually write the music and have it performed and recorded with maybe a soundtrack released. To me, this is part of the dream. One day, I’m confident, I’ll get to that point.”

Until then, Serafi has other irons in the fire. In the U.K., he led Alive and Singing, four “rock and pop” choirs made up of more than 250 amateur singers.  

The choirs recorded albums and performed concerts, despite the fact that the members had no formal training or experience outside the practices and do not have to audition.

Serafi brought the concept with him across the pond. He launched Calgary’s Cool Choir a month ago in the Sunnyside, Inglewood and Marda Loop areas. For a membership fee, would-be singers sign up to perform everything from Coldplay, Guns and Roses, U2, Adele, Mamas and the Papas, the Beatles and other bands. Nearly 200 people have joined in Calgary and Serafi said he would like to see it expand to more areas in the city.

“It’s completely open to everybody and anybody,” Serafi says. “People come along and they are going through bereavement, depression, anxiety. The health and welfare benefits of singing cannot be overstated. People leave two hours later on a high, flying out the room. At a time of economic downturn, which we are experiencing here in Calgary, people are turning into the things that give them joy and pleasure.”

The Academy Awards will be held on Sunday. For more information about the Cool Choir, visit

 By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald

 Article printed by permission.


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