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Avon’s Ricardo Laranja: From child prodigy to professor to big film music producer

Ricardo Laranja, Avon, is known locally as a professor of music arts and technology at IUPUI, and the music director at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Danville. But what most of his students don’t know, and neither do most of his acquaintances, is that he composes music and creates special effects for top movie and commercial producers in Hollywood and Brazil, his native country. He was also considered a musical child prodigy.

Laranja was born in Brazilia, the capital of Brazil, and didn’t begin to play the piano until he was 10-years-old. Within two years, he was considered an expert at his art and became an official card-carrying member of the music union.

Laranja recalls when he passed the test to become a professional musician.

“The man who reported the scores said, ‘Is that Ricardo Laranja there? My Mom said, ‘Yes that is my son.’ He said that there must be some mistake because it says here he is only twelve years old. Mom said, ‘No, there is no mistake.’ The man responded incredulously, ‘Well, congratulations. He is the youngest professional Brazilian musician because he just passed the test.’”

That same year he was invited to perform at the Brazilian capital for the President of Brazil, Josè Sarney. He similarly performed in the residences of ministers, judges and diplomats and earned a steady salary by regularly performing in one of the best hotels.
The Brazilian Press called him “The Genius of Music.” Laranja answered, “The keyboard means to me what the lens means to the photographer and what brushes mean to the painter.”

Two years later Laranja was studying music in Albany, New York, under the tutelage of Robert Loveland.
“He taught me music theory, and how to be expressive in my music,” Laranja said. “His teaching style and technique was unconventional in the sense that I didn’t start with classical music, and typical note-reading techniques, which fit me perfectly.”

Laranja later studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1989 until 1991. Then he went to the School of Recording Arts, Chillicothe, Ohio, to study studio maintenance and troubleshooting, advanced recording and media production. Once he absorbed all he could there, it was off to the Gove School of Music, in Van Nuys, California to soak up their jazz keyboard program.

It was his years at the Grove School of Music that he began to rub elbows with some of the best musicians in Hollywood. One of the teachers he encountered was Jack Smalley, a composer and orchestrator of film and television scoring, whose latest orchestration is for HBO’s Games of Thrones. It was through Smalley that he met the late Henry Mancini, winner of four Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, and 20 Grammy Awards.
Laranja admits to being a bit star-struck when he met Mancini.

“During a workshop at the Grove School of Music, I told Mancini how much I enjoyed his songs and named a few of my favorites. I told him that I wanted to do what he did, and he said, ‘You are already doing it.’ I couldn’t believe it!”
Further studies took him to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids where he met his wife, Julie. The IUPUI School of Informatics called to him next where he accomplished himself in media arts and science.

It was at IUPUI that Laranja began to put down roots when he was asked to develop and teach audio production and sound design courses for the university.

“Ricardo is passionate about teaching and has great care and concern in the development of young people,” said Dr. Darrell Bailey, professor of music at IUPUI, Purdue School of Arts Technology. “He is very sophisticated in the use of technology in teaching and is an excellent keyboardist. He is very forward-thinking and innovative. He is constantly learning, making his courses better each time. He has a broad understanding of classical, pop, jazz and world music. He does what he teaches and brings real-world experience to the classroom. There is a completeness to his teaching.”
The IUPUI opportunity prompted Laranja and Julie to live in Hendricks County. They now call Avon home where they happily reside with their two children.

Today, Laranja has a recording studio in Avon where he composes and produces music and sound effects. He’s worked on films for big names like Sony and Pixar.

He also creates music and sound effects for commercials, video games and iPhone apps—when he isn’t busy being a husband, father, professor and choir director that is.

By Peg McRoy Glover

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