At the end of May, music alumnus Paul Humphrey (BA ’14) released his debut album. “A Window In” comprises seven compositions, which Humphrey wrote and performs on piano. Recorded at the famous Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles and produced by J.B. Cook, the collection weaves together several genres, including classical music, jazz, cinematic music and even some Americana.
Humphrey notes it was the COVID-19 pandemic and attendant lockdowns that gave him the space, time and focus the album required: “I spent so many days and weeks alone at home that I found myself pushing a lot of half-finished projects closer to completion, including the music that became ‘A Window In.’”
This album marks a return to roots for Humphrey, as classical piano was his first instrument. During much of 2020, he spent hours and hours each day at the piano developing and refining his music. “The title of my album reflects what the process and the result mean to me,” said Humphrey. “These recordings really are a window in to who I am as an artist alone with an instrument. As a solo instrumentalist, you’re vulnerable and exposed. I often found the experience nerve-wracking, but it definitely spurred me on to produce and release as much as possible more of my own original music.”
While Humphrey was working on “A Window In,” he was fortified by both his upbringing and university education. Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Humphrey and his six siblings were home-schooled with a curriculum grounded in the fine arts. “Music was an essential part of our development,” he recalled. “I’m the only one of my brothers and sisters who pursued a professional career in music, but all of us play multiple instruments.”
At The University of Tulsa, Humphrey maintained his passion for and involvement in musical performance. As a School of Music student, he deepened his prowess on the guitar under Jim Bates’ instruction. For four years, he also played that instrument in TU’s jazz guitar ensemble, jazz combo and the jazz big band, directed by Professor of Music Vernon Howard.
During his junior and senior years, Humphrey branched out and began taking film scoring courses with Joseph Rivers, the J. Donald Feagin Professor of Music and Professor of Film. “Dr. Rivers helped me realize I wanted to pursue a music career in production and composition, particularly film music composition. I doubt I would be in the music industry today if I hadn’t taken his courses.”
Rivers says he quickly recognized Humphrey’s “talent for scoring music for film and his ability to compose just the right music for a scene and to arrange and produce it in an effective way. Paul has an innate sense of musicality, both as a performer on guitar and piano and as a composer. I am proud of him and impressed with his accomplishments, and I have no doubt he will further distinguish himself and accomplish great things into the future.”
“Don’t be a lawyer.”
Despite his musical talent and passion, Humphrey came exceedingly close to taking an utterly different route after graduation. “I had actually taken the LSAT exam twice and was all set to head off to law school,” he noted. “I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the idea of going all in with a music career, and a legal career seemed like a more prudent choice.”
During Humphrey’s final semester, however, he had the good fortune to meet and learn from David Friedman, a renowned composer for film and theater who was guest lecturing in the School of Music. During Friedman’s final day on campus, he was present for one of Humphrey’s live recording sessions with the TU orchestra. Humphrey recalls: “David was impressed by the music and the fact I kept my composure with the orchestra, despite being terrified! He kindly pulled me aside afterward and said, ‘Don’t be a lawyer.’ That was a major confidence boost for me. Ever since then, David has remained a mentor and friend.”
Paul Humphrey on paths, peers and becoming a better artist
- No two paths in this industry look alike. It’s a difficult road with exciting highs and devastating lows, but through perseverance your own path begins to take shape. And it’s not going to look like anyone else’s.
- Your peers are not competition; they are your friends. All my major film credits came from friends pointing me in the right direction or offering me a helping hand. Talented, genuine people in the music industry help each other out.
- My learning didn’t end after graduating from TU or the PNWFS. It’s only by trying to get better at what you love to do as an artist that you’ll chart a path to your personal success. One step does lead to the next!
Through his time performing in ensembles as well as his theory and ear training courses, Humphrey began developing his artistic voice as well as an understanding of how to arrange music within an ensemble. “At the same time, my film scoring courses and the top-grade equipment in TU’s film scoring labs gave me the resources and technical skills necessary for learning how to produce the ideas I was composing and arranging,” he said.
Fortified by that training and emboldened by Friedman’s counsel, Humphrey applied and was accepted to the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program (PNWFS) in Seattle, which is run by Hummie Mann, a two-time Emmy-winning composer. After graduating with a Master of Music degree, Humphrey moved down the coast to Los Angeles.
For the next five years, Humphrey deployed his musical expertise on a variety of films, video games and television shows, including for Netflix and the Lifetime Channel. He also assisted other composers and did some teaching, including periodically back at TU, where he would share his film music industry insights with composition and film scoring students.
Living back on Tulsa time
Humphrey returned to Oklahoma 2021 as part of Tulsa Remote. Having spent the first year developing and launching “A Window In” to great acclaim, Humphrey is now hard at work on three further projects.
All three of those endeavors are with Jorge Salmay, whom Humphrey met while they were PNWFS students. Salmay also moved to Los Angeles after graduate school, and he and Humphrey worked together there on several projects as musicians and composers. Currently, the duo are collaborating on the score for a documentary film and putting together an album of original orchestral pieces they plan to record in Budapest later this year.
Salmay is also helping to orchestrate Humphrey’s debut singer-songwriter collection, which will include some of Tulsa’s best musicians. The producer for that venture is again local audio engineer and producer J.B. Cook. It is set for release in spring 2023.
If music is your passion — or even if you just want to add some delightfulness to your life — consider pursuing a major or minor with the TU School of Music.