Caleb Liu is the Stanford Live summer marketing and communications intern. Photo by Nikolas Liepins
Name: Caleb Liu
Year: Class of 2025
Major: Computer Science
Arts practice: Film Music Composer
Tell us about yourself and your interest in the arts?
My musical journey began before I could even speak. My parents tell me that in order for me to fall asleep, my mom would have to play the piano or put on classical music. When I was five my mom became my first teacher, and I started playing all sorts of music ranging from Star Wars soundtracks to classical and pop music. I continued to play the piano through middle and high school, both in formal classical settings and casual jam sessions with my friends. In middle school, an impulsive choice to play the tuba for the wind band opened a whole new set of musical possibilities. I ended up loving the tuba and joined my local youth orchestra group, becoming their principal tuba player for six years.
Despite having a childhood surrounded by music, I had dreams of becoming a screenwriter. I loved the idea of creating worlds, developing characters, and most importantly writing stories that had themes and important messages. For example, one of the short films I made as a child highlighted the life of a homeless person, hoping to raise empathy for people in unfortunate situations. For most of the film, the homeless person watched as people walked by him, but at the end, a person helps him out and the viewer experiences the pure happiness that comes from it. What draws me to film is that beneath each compelling story is a meaningful message that improves our society.
In my junior year of high school, I combined my love for film and music and wrote my first film score. The film addressed important social issues such as abusive relationships and drug usage. Watching audience members being moved to tears from the film made me gain a deeper appreciation for the conjunctive power of music and film to present important messages in a non-threatening format and positively influence people.
Film scoring adds extra meaning to my compositions; I feel that my work has more significance knowing that it contributes to a greater cause. I feel responsible for carrying the emotional part of a film and translating a screenwriter's story into a piece of music that people can universally experience. Since writing my first film score, I have composed for five directors, and in 2020, I received a nomination for the best original score in the High School All American Film Festival. I hope to continue film scoring the rest of my life and helping filmmakers communicate their stories and messages.
What drew you to the marketing/communications internship at Stanford Live?
As our technology continues to improve, one of the things I worry about is the extinction of live music. We’ve managed to create orchestral sound libraries that create mockups nearly indistinguishable from live performers. With A.I. we’re heading in the direction of replicating any human voice (or any sound for that matter). We’ve also already created holographic musical performances. As advanced and convenient as that technology can become, nothing replaces the feeling of a live concert. I joined Stanford Live because I feel strongly that live music should continue to be a part of our world. I feel that my work here is meaningful because I am helping support the accessibility of live concerts to my community.
What do you hope to learn about the performing arts industry during your time as an intern?
I’ve only had experience in the performing arts as the actual performer. I’ve performed in piano recitals, including in Europe with my orchestra, but I’ve never been a part of the presenting team behind a performance. I want to learn more about the entire process of planning and executing a performance. Specifically, I hope to experience how performances are marketed to the community to build audiences, how we manage relations with the performers, and how to stay organized during the entire process. These are all areas that are relevant as a music composer, and I believe this internship will provide extensive experience with them.
What shows or performers are you most curious about in the summer Stanford Live season or upcoming season?
I’m especially looking forward to seeing Danny Elfman (my favorite film composer of all time). After studying his scores for years, I’m beyond excited to see his works performed live. I’m also interested in the San Francisco Symphony performances because I often compose for the orchestra when I film scores. Seeing such a high caliber orchestra perform on a regular basis will further my understanding of the ensemble.
In general, though, I’m hoping to see as many performers as I can to expand my knowledge of music and sound. From a film scoring perspective, I’m very interested in seeing the full scope of performers, genres, and mediums at Stanford Live. Part of what makes film scoring interesting is that any instrument or any genre could be the right one for the job. The best film composers in the industry have an extensive knowledge of every genre and instrument and incorporate them seamlessly into their work.