Mychael Danna learned his craft at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. He was the inaugural winner of the Glenn Gould Prize Composition Scholarship in 1985. Yet this Winnipeg native who grew up in Toronto was driven from the outset by an impulse to communicate with a wide public. “I didn’t want to be an Ivory Tower composer,” he confessed to the interviewer Heidi McKenzie in 2010. That conviction led him into an astoundingly productive career in film.
Meeting future director and fellow U of T student Atom Egoyan was critical. “We learned about film and film scoring together,” Danna says. He has scored every Egoyan film since Family Viewing in 1987. Curiously, his formal training came in handy for the feature Felicia’s Journey, a rare example of a film with a serial, atonal score.
A piano student with concert potential as a teen, Danna lost this prospect through a severe injury. He persevered at the Royal Conservatory of Music, which published some of his piano compositions in their pedagogical books. Danna credits the late Walter Buczynski at the Faculty for having impressed him with the need for a master plan and for every note to have a purpose. It was also at the Faculty that he was exposed to the world music sounds that constitute part of his signature as a composer.
Recent Danna credits include Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, Egoyan’s Chloe, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (with his brother Jeff) and the 3D feature film by Ang Lee, Life of Pi, for which he won a 2013 Academy Award in the Best Original Score category. Having moved back to Toronto from Los Angeles, Danna returned to U of T in 2011 as the inaugural Louis Applebaum Distinguished Visitor in Film Composition.
Danna has written music for dance as well as film. Might an opera be in the offing? “I still don’t feel as if I’ve written the best thing I can write,” he says. “Not even close.”