Senior Spotlight: Tiffany Cuaresma finds harmony at Rice
Few current Rice students can say they’ve walked red carpets. For Tiffany Cuaresma, though, red carpets are just another day in her life as a music composer.
Cuaresma, a Baker College senior, said she has always been naturally geared towards music. Cuaresma said she grew up playing piano and taking part in her school’s choir, band and orchestra — she even started working as a film score composer in high school. As a competitive figure skater, she said she became familiar with different types of music and choreography. According to Cuaresma, this inspired her to combine her two passions and explore choreographing music, leading her towards music composition, which she now studies at the Shepherd School of Music.
“I was working primarily as a film score composer and only focused on classical stuff,” Cuaresma said. “I did pop vocals for some friends when I was matriculating, but I got so busy with school that I [decided to] just work on classical [composition]. But then I went to my first electronic music festival and it was really life changing for me. I knew from then that I wanted to explore new sound worlds and creative worlds.”
From that point, Cuaresma delved into the electronic dance music industry as a vocalist, singer/songwriter and music producer, while still continuing her work as a film score composer and concert composer.
“Now I feel like my day job is a film score composer and my night job is like a DJ/ EDM [artist],” Cuaresma said. “I have like two different personas, I’d say — things I use for my classical stuff and things I use more for my pop artist stuff.”
Cuaresma said she has scored “Kingdom of Your Own” for the Burbank International Film Festival– an indie film which she says launched her career.
“That was my first time seeing one of the films I scored in an actual AMC theater,” Cuaresma said. “And I was bawling my eyes out because it was just a dream come true.”
Cuaresma said that walking a red carpet and seeing her role as a composer credited on a big screen was a core moment in her life. But the highlight of working on that particular project was collaborating with the rest of the film crew, who she became close friends with.
“What I really found inspiring was [that] we were all from different backgrounds and different races, ethnicities, religions …and we all came together to form this one masterpiece. It just really goes to show how art transcends these boundaries,” Cuaresma said. “That is my greatest moment of life — creating art that helps resonate with others and brings people together.”
A San Diego local, Cuaresma said she plans on moving back to California where she has music projects lined up. She said she has a commission with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra next year, upcoming film projects, labels she’s pitching to and many other productions she’s busy working on.
While she will be working on music full-time in Los Angeles and San Diego, Cuaresma said she does eventually want to attain a master’s degree.
“I want to see where my music career takes me right now. Hopefully later, if I do a master’s, it’ll be in business,” Cuaresma said. “I want to transition into working for a talent agency or working in the entertainment music industry.”
Now, in her final semester at Rice, Cuaresma, who said she is graduating early this December, reflects on her time here. While she is sad that the pandemic wiped out almost half of her college education, she said she feels blessed to have met lifelong friends here.
“[Being a senior] is really surreal to me because I took a gap semester last year to focus on mental health and [now] I’m graduating early, so it’s been really speedy,” Cuaresma said. “I really only had one real semester on this campus, but my freshman year was a transformative one and I met a lot of people, so I’m [grateful].”
Cuaresma offered up some advice to her peers at Rice.
“Know that it’s okay to take breaks,” Cuaresma said. “Prioritize your health, especially your mental health. I know it feels scary sometimes, and we all have imposter syndrome, but you’re doing great. And the fact that you’re at this school and there’s a place, a purpose and a plan for you is enough. Don’t give up.”
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