Sterling Maffe (born June 10, 1996) is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In his robust young career, Maffe has demonstrated the ability to write in every style and idiom with a voice that is unique and innovative. Through an ever-expanding repertoire of contemporary classical pieces and scores for film, Maffe has established himself as an up-and-coming composer both in the concert hall and on the scoring stage.
Early life and education
Michael Sterling Maffe was born on June 10, 1996 in Torrance, California, to Becky and Mike Maffe, a jazz trumpet player who performed for many years at the MGM Grand in Reno, Nevada.
Maffe's father moved to Los Angeles and became a pastor in 1992 where he met and married Becky Ross, later having five children. Sterling was the middle child, younger than his twin sister by just 90 seconds, and the oldest son to the Maffe family.
Maffe's parents divorced in 2008, and he moved to Alaska with his mother and four siblings where he attended Mat-Su Career and Technical High School with an emphasis in web design and graphic art. Maffe transferred to Palmer High School where he graduated in 2014 as 'Career Tech' didn't have a music program.
In August of 2014 Maffe moved back to Los Angeles where he attended El Camino College, studying music theory and composition. Upon receiving a scholarship offer, he transferred to Biola University. In the fall of 2015, he completed an internship at Remote Control Productions, the studio of Hans Zimmer. Maffe graduated Biola University in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in music composition with a minor in biblical and theological studies.
Maffe is currently attending the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music as the highest-rated incoming candidate and will attain his Master's of Music in Screen Scoring in May, 2020.
Before beginning his career in music, Maffe had brief stints with jobs in computer animation, website design, and graphic art and worked at the ICAN: California Abilities Network non-profit for adults with developmental disabilities as a life skills coach from 2015 to 2019.
Maffe's professional career in composition began on the concert stage. His first concert was on March 8, 2012 wherein Maffe (age 15) conducted the premiere of his ninth composition, "Alien Armada," (arranged for symphonic band) at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. Jamin Burton, director of instrumental music at Colony High School, had been meeting regularly with Maffe, and upon listening to a copy of Planet X (Maffe's first album), decided that the young artist was worth investing in. Burton provided Maffe with resources in learning notation, orchestration, and conducting, playing a key role in the development of Maffe's composition foundation.
On April 27, 2012, Maffe's second live performance took place. The Matanuska-Susitna Concert Band, under the direction of Gleo Huyck, had commissioned a new piece from the young composer after being introduced by Jamin Burton. The composition was titled "Revelation" and was based on the book of the Bible with the same name.
About a year later (May 5, 2013), Maffe conducted the premiere of his first piece written for symphony orchestra, a dedication piece to his niece, Essence. "I grew up listening to film scores, and they became the soundtrack of my childhood," Maffe says, "I thought: 'how great would it be if I could provide that for [Essence], but with music that was written specifically for her?'"
On November 22, 2013, the Anchorage Civic Orchestra premiered "Cajolery of the Forest" under Maffe's baton. The performance was at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, the largest venue in the state.
To finish out his high school career, Maffe conducted the premiere of two more pieces "Carpe Diem," (unaccompanied choir) and "Armistice" (symphonic band) at Palmer High School on May 5, 2014.
The first piece of Maffe's that made noise on a national level was The Water Phoenix, a tone poem that paints the picture of a mythical phoenix, which ascends from the ocean abyss, and narrates its heroic clash with a malicious tempest storm. It was commissioned by the El Camino College Symphony Orchestra in January of 2015 and was performed in both Los Angeles, California (El Camino Symphony, Dane Teter conducting) and in Orlando, Florida (Orlando Philharmonic, Christopher Wilkins conducting) for the showcase concert of the 2015 National Young Composers Challenge Competition, which the piece won.
While pursuing his bachelor's degree, Maffe stayed active in the concert music scene. "Alaska: Crest of the Hinterland," an ode to the 49th state, was commissioned by the Mat-Su Concert Band (Gleo Huyck, conductor) and performed on March 13, 2016 in Palmer, Alaska; "Fanfare for the Patriot," was premiered on September 11, 2016 by the Southern California Brass Consortium (Hector Salazar, conductor); members of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra premiered "Catacombs of a Rose" on April 15, 2017; and "Cinder Tin," a chamber piece for flute, clarinet, viola, and cello was premiered in Vienna Austria, Maffe's first international performance.
In the stead of a traditional senior recital as his thesis for graduation from Biola, Maffe collaborated with the Biola Symphonic Winds band (Bob Feller, conductor) to put on a large-ensemble concert of solely Maffe's music, a feat that had not been achieved by a student at Biola in the university's 110-year history. Among some of Maffe's crowd favorites ("Into the West," "Fanfare for the Patriot," "Alaska: Crest of the Hinterland"), the concert (November 10, 2018) also featured the world premiere of Maffe's musical epic, The Artisan, commissioned by the Biola Conservatory of Music. The piece was described by Maffe as a musical self-portrait which captured the machine-like work of being a composer for hire and the intimate beauty of furthering oneself and the art through composition. The Artisan consists of two movements—the first, bold and full of the grandeur of its featured instrument, the pipe organ (Ryanne McLaren); and the second, soft and passionate featuring the solo violin (Mikaela Borg).
Maffe's most recent concert work, "Fanfare for the Vanguard," was commissioned by the Southern California Brass Consortium in celebration of their fifth anniversary. It was performed under Maestro Hector Salazar's baton on February 18, 2019.
Film, television, and video game scoring
Though he had a remarkable start in the concert music world at a young age, Sterling Maffe's greatest passions lie in writing music for film. "There's a certain beauty in the marriage of motion picture with music," Maffe says, "it breathes emotional life into the movie and gives the music a meaning and a purpose."
Maffe's first scoring project was, Ever Day Counts 2012 (2011-2012), a web-series produced by Alaska-local filmmaker Aaron Zulliger, who was interested in the end of the Mayan calendar and whether people would live their lives differently if they knew the world was going to end. Maffe's music was used in all 41 episodes of the series.
After this, Maffe worked on a number of short films made by other Alaska-local filmmakers—"Mafia: Cutthroat" (2012), "A Boy and His Chili" (2013), "Sabotage for a Shoe" (2014), to name a few.
During his tenure at Biola University, Maffe collaborated with a number of students on their films as well. Director Brandon Douglas used Maffe on his science fiction short film "Hexit" (2017) as well as his dark comedies "The Break In" (2017) and "Death is Only a Kernel" (2017).
Bully's Bane (2016) was the first feature-length film Maffe worked on. It was scored in cooperation with three other student composers, Caitlin Foster, Anna Ivannov, and Elisa Walker.
Maffe has also notably collaborated with Kianna Bliven and Townsend Dick of Radicalis Pictures on their heartwarming shorts "Mort." (2017), "Sunsprite" (2019), and most recently "Nightlight" (2019).
Maffe has also collaborated with a number of filmmakers at the USC School of Cinema and Media Arts. Some of these films include the following:
"Milk Teeth" (2019), directed by Felipe Vargas, "Wet" (2020), directed by Ally Cheng, and "Marjanah" (2020) directed by Amrita Kalsi.
USC also has an outstanding video game department. Maffe has written scores for the game "Stuck," a 2019 Virtual Reality (VR) Game by Steven Harmon, and "Light at the End of the Tunnel," (2020) another VR game by Karter Duff.
Awards and Accolades
2020 Sandra and Alan Silvestri Award, highest-rated candidate to USC’s Screen Scoring program
2019 Biola Film Festival: Best Original Score, winner for Sunsprite
2019 Biola Conservatory of Music Outstanding Composer Award for artistic endeavors
2019 Biola University Composition Competition, 1st place winner for “Patchwork Grey”, 2nd place winner for The Artisan
2018 A Piacere Solo Composition Competition, winner for “Patchwork Grey”
2018 PRISM Competition, winner for “Alaska: Crest of the Hinterland”
2018 Featured Composer at Vienna Summer Music Festival
2018 Biola Conservatory of Music Outstanding Composer Award for artistic endeavors
2018 Biola Film Festival: Best Original Score, winner for Mort.
2018 Biola University Composition Competition, 1st place winner for "Karyenda"; 2nd place winner for “A Raven on the Moor”
2017 A Piacere Solo Composition Competition, winner for “A Raven on the Moor”
2017 Rayner Brown Composition Award winner
2017 Biola University Composition Competition, winner for “Catacombs of a Rose”
2016 Newport News Christian Film Festival (CFF), Best Original Score winner for Bully’s Bane
2016 American Choral Directors Association (ACDA): Biola Chapter Composition Competition, winner for “Carpe Diem”
2015 A Piacere Solo Composition Competition, winner for “Aficionado”
2015 National Young Composers Challenge Competition (NYCC), winner for The Water Phoenix
2014 Higher Level International Baccalaureate (IB) Music Certification,
2012 International NASA Humans in Space Youth Art Competition, winner for “Alien Armada”