Paul Chihara

Paul Chihara
Birth name Paul Seiko Chihara
Born (1938-07-09) July 9, 1938
Seattle, Washington, United States
Genres Film score
Occupation(s) Composer

Paul Seiko Chihara (born July 9, 1938) is an American composer.[1]

Life and career

Chihara was born in Seattle, Washington in 1938. A Japanese American, he spent three years of his childhood with his family in an internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho.

Chihara received a BA and an MA in English literature from the University of Washington and Cornell University, respectively. He received a DMA in 1965 from Cornell, studying with Robert Palmer. He also studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, Ernst Pepping in West Berlin, and Gunther Schuller in Tanglewood.

He was the first composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Neville Marriner, and was most recently part of the music faculty of UCLA, where he was the head of the Visual Media Program. As of 2015, Chihara is on the faculty of New York University as an Artist Faculty in Film Music.[2]


Chihara's prize-winning concert works, which include symphonies, concertos, chamber music, choral compositions, and ballets, have been performed to great acclaim both nationally and internationally. His works are concerned with the evolution and expression of highly contrasting colors, textures, and emotional levels, which are often dramatically juxtaposed with one another.

His works have been commissioned by the Guggenheim Foundation, the Roger Wagner Chorale, the Naumberg Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has also received commissions from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony, as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra. He was Composer-in-Residence with the San Francisco Ballet for ten years. Tempest and Shinju are among his well-known ballet scores.

His music reflects interest in a variety of musical styles, and often shows influence from Asian music and culture. He sometimes incorporates quotations and stylistic borrowings from jazz standards, folk songs, and the classical repertoire. He has composed music in a variety of forms, including ballets, musicals, symphonies, choral and chamber music.

His close connection with music for dramatic forms extends into film and television, for which he has written nearly 100 scores. His first film score was for Roger Corman's Death Race 2000 (1975), and came at a point that he decided to leave academia to pursue a living as a composer. His exit from the university environment, and into film music also produced a change in his concert music. It was at this point that he moved away from the 12-tone and freely chromatic styles he had employed up to then, and embraced a more tonal style.

He has worked with directors Sidney Lumet, Louis Malle, Michael Ritchie, and Arthur Penn. His other movie credits include The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978), Prince of the City (1981), The Survivors (1983), Crackers (1984), Impulse (1984), The Morning After (1986), The Killing Time (1987), Crossing Delancey (1988) and Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989). His television credits include The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, Dr. Strange, Brave New World and the pilot and theme music to Manimal, among others.

He also composed the score for Shogun: The Musical, based on James Clavell's novel. Shogun had a short run on Broadway, from November 1990 to January 1991.

Chihara's notable students include James Horner, Christopher Brady, Matthew Tommasini, Sean Friar, Jeff Kryka, Joseph Trapanese, Jennifer Fagre, and Cynthia Tse Kimberlin.

Selected works


  1. Lacoste, Steven Paul Chihara (b. 1938) Database of Recorded American Music
  2. New York University Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions - Film Scoring Faculty: Paul Chihara:
  3. Woolfe, Zachary (20 Mar 2012). "A Lot of Trouble for Trouble in Tahiti, and It Was Worth It: The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Works Wonders With Bernstein's Opera". The New York Observer. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  4. Bernstein and Chihara. "Trouble in Tahiti (Suite)". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
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