Celtic composer Kurt Rosenberg showcases films in hometown Portland

By Paul Marshall (OPB)
Oct. 2, 2022 1 p.m.

Filmmaker and composer presents 3 films, including one filmed in Oregon

Musician Kurt Rosenberg may live in Portland, but most of his music is inspired by Ireland and Scotland. He composes Celtic and Folk music with influences from other genres. Rosenberg is now trying his hand at another art: filmmaking. He screened his three films at the “The Movies and Music of Kurt Rosenberg Red Carpet Event” at Cinema 21 on Wednesday.


Paul Marshall: Your song “Highland Home” was turned into the film “Highland Home.” What inspired the song?

Kurt Rosenberg: Fifteen years ago my brother and I were on a trip in Scotland and we went to the Isle of Arran in Scotland. We were touring a castle and I was invited to play piano. I played three of my own songs and the whole thing was really inspirational. I got back to Portland and I had this melody going in my head. I started playing the piano and started to put it together. I got the melody all squared away and really liked it and then I added lyrics to it later. It was all inspired by a trip to Scotland and a really magical castle on the Isle of Arran.

Paul Marshall: For the film “Highland home,” You shot it in Oregon but it was inspired by that trip you took to Scotland. What did you see in Oregon that reminded you so much of Scotland?

Rosenberg: Well we couldn’t get to Scotland, so we asked around. I have a really good team that I worked with. They did some tech scouting and they found that the Oregon coast had a Scottish feel to it. And what’s really interesting is that when we were down there shooting we were actually in a hotel and we said we were looking for a place that had a Scottish feeling. The gal said well you need to go up to God’s Thumb and we said well that’s where we’re headed. Even on the Oregon coast, they thought that it had a Scottish feel. It was as close as we could get because we couldn’t get there. We made it look as much like Scotland as we possibly could.

A lookout from the set of "Highland Home," filmed on the Oregon Coast

A lookout from the set of "Highland Home," filmed on the Oregon Coast

Kurt Rosenberg

Paul Marshall: What similarities did you find between the filmmaking process and composing music?

Rosenberg: That’s a really good question. The process is kind of similar. You start out with a kind of a grain of an idea and then you start to build on that idea. In music: you build on a melody and arrange it. You get it produced and you can find a singer to sing it, and then turn it into a film. A film is much the same way you have this nugget of an idea which for us was “Highland Home” and I thought let’s make a music video out of it. I started to surround myself with some absolutely wonderfully talented folks who made it what it turned out to be. We found a really good director - the director also did the storyboard. We found two really good producers. We found the leads. It’s really similar. I like to collaborate with people whether it’s movies or music. So you start out with that idea and then you just build it out and hopefully, the end product is something everybody is proud of.


Paul Marshall: The Moon Followed Me To Falmouth was filmed in animation. Why the decision to make that animated?

Rosenberg: I woke up one morning and we were planning on doing it on-site in Falmouth England or somewhere on the south coast of England. I realized that to capture the real feel of the lead character, the seafarer and him finding his true love on an island that it would be hard to replicate. Animation is becoming really prominent in music videos and music shorts and I thought why don’t we find the best animators we can find and let’s animate? It opened up a whole new world to us that we were able to really capture the song. That’s why we ended up with animation. I’m really glad we did.

Paul Marshall: (For Dawn at Gougane Barra) what was the process with working with another music composer for this film while you yourself were working as a filmmaker this time?

Seafarer looks out across the water.

Seafarer looks out across the water.

Courtesy of Kurt Rosenberg

Rosenberg: That was really a wonderful collaboration. I visited Gougane Barra with my brother about 16 years ago. I was writing a song that I was composing and I was starting to write a song and I had a real Irish feel to it. I thought this was pure Irish as I can get. I thought it kind of sounds like the sun coming up and I thought Gougane Barra and I thought we’re gonna call this Dawn at Gougane Barra.

I’m not really an orchestrator. I’m pretty good with melodies and writing songs, but I wanted this to be grand. So I had made friends with a gentleman named Jake Morgan, the leading composer orchestrator for film and stage theater in Ireland and asked if he might want to work with me on this. He and his brother co-own Morgan Creative and they produce musicals and movies. We married the two together. We got together in Dublin and recorded the piece and then we went down to Gougane Barra and we filmed the piece. We became one unit.

Paul Marshall: What’s it like composing traditional Celtic music in the modern age?

Rosenberg: My music is Celtic traditional inspired. I’ve been listening to Celtic music for a long time. It has influenced my music. I’ll have a similar feel, but the melodies will be more contemporary. The melodies are more like folk songs you might hear. You couldn’t call myself traditional Celtic because I’m not singing the old child ballads and some of the older songs, you know, from 100-200 years ago.

Paul Marshall: How has Oregon impacted your travels?

Rosenberg: Oregon is home for me. I was born in Oregon and I love Oregon. Oregon is an inspirational place. I find Oregon and Portland to be a great home base.

It’s not hard to get to either Ireland, Scotland or to England or even Wales from here. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in those countries and traveling there is great and getting home is always great. Portland will always be home base. I’m just so fortunate that I can now marry that passion for travel with this music and I’m collaborating with some wonderful folks.


Related Stories