Schenectady County

Musical city native scoring independent film

Joseph Prusch has never forgotten his love of music that developed when he attended Schenectady High

Joseph Prusch has never forgotten his love of music that developed when he attended Schenectady High School.

“At the time I was going in the late ’90s, they had nine musical ensembles. I was in eight of them. The only one I wasn’t in was the women’s chorus,” Prusch said in a telephone interview Monday.

A 1999 graduate, Prusch has made a career out of playing music, performing with several orchestras and now scoring the music for the independent film “Vito Bonafacci.” In the film, the main character reconnects with his Catholic faith after a dream in which he had gone to hell.

It was first shown in November at the Big Apple Film Festival. It opened in limited release in May and is expected to be more widely released during the summer.

Prusch had originally hoped to become a public high school music teacher in Schenectady. However, he needed to take some additional credits to graduate and he had taken a leave of absence from school at Ithaca College while his father was sick. He was unable to obtain financial aid to complete the requirements.

“I gave up on the funding. I’m probably not suited to deal with the bureaucracy of being a public school teacher,” he said. “That was hard at that time. All the teachers I had at Schenectady High School were phenomenal.”

However, this change of events took him on a different path. He ended up staying in the Ithaca area and performed in a variety of regional orchestras. He has also played in Cajun, soul, bluegrass and novelty bands as well as performing jazz, country, alternative country and rock ‘n’ roll.

“I’ve managed to cover almost every corner of the music industry,” he said. “It’s all open to me and I’ve had a lot of fun with that.”

Prusch got involved in the film through a friend whose original composer was going through some personal problems and had to bow out of the project. The assistant director was looking for somebody to step in in a pinch because the movie had already gone into post-production.

“His first request was to have the entire thing done in three weeks — written, rehearsed, recorded and everything. I told him right from the get-go that wasn’t going to happen,” he said.

Normally, a film score could take about 18 months from planning to completion, according to Prusch.

In the film, the main character searches for spiritual meaning. It was very important for the director to portray Italian culture in a more flattering light.

“Through this movie, he wanted to rehabilitate Italian-Americans from all the stereotypes they’ve been forced into by Hollywood,” he said.

Prusch wanted the music to be unobtrusive and help fill up the empty spaces and move the story along.

When composing the score for the film, Prusch said he wanted to reach back into the roots of Italian music, which plays a vital role in Western culture. Many of the terms that musicians use, like crescendo and forte, come from Italian. Also, there are a lot of key composers in Italian music, like Vivaldi. He included some of their compositions in the score.

In addition to writing the score, he also performed violin and viola on it, too, because he had a hard time finding musicians.

“Trying to coordinate people’s schedules makes me want to pull hair out,” he said.

Prusch also plays keyboards, guitar and bass. In middle school and high school, he played trumpet, trombone and tuba.

He started working on the score in May 2010 and finished it during the summer.

While this was Prusch’s first feature film score, he scored friends’ short films in college.

He could not pin down exactly what he enjoyed about composing music but hopes to continue to do so.

“It’s like saying ‘What do you enjoy about breathing?’ ” he said.

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