So, despite my work in the theatre world (which I absolutely love), at one time I envisioned my career to be something a little different. I wanted to be a film composer.
Now, that dream hasn’t died and I’m only 30 years along in my life so it could still happen! But for now, it still remains a dream. My ability to compose, however, is not a dream and is a skill I’ve been working on for around 16 years now.
I grew up around music. My parents always had music playing; whether it was the radio, cassette or CD player: music was a big part of our lives. We also watched a lot of films that were musicals, whether in whole or in part. From old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies like “The Gay Divorcee” and “Top Hat”, “Singin’ In The Rain” with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, all the way up to the latest Disney Musicals (at the time things like “Pocahontas” and “Lion King” were still brand new…hah!): I loved all of them! But there was something about the magic of the Disney scores/orchestrations always caught my ear.
Embarrassing childhood story alert….
When I was probably 7 or 8, Disney’s “Aladdin” was still new(ish) and I loved the movie. Jafar was my favorite character but I LOVED singing “Friend Like Me”…but that’s another story for another time. My dad taped a performance of The Boston Pops, featuring James Taylor (why HE was watching it) but it also featured an orchestral suite of the music from “Aladdin” (which is why I wanted to watch it). I was fascinated at the time particularly by some of the percussion instruments. The one that caught my eye/ear the most for some reason was the bell tree, not that I had any clue what it was at that time! (For those wondering, this is what a bell tree is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_tree)
I wanted to play along and create a similar sound. My mom, ever encouraging of my endeavors (no matter how bizarre), helped me to pull out the metal racks from the oven as well as the pots and pans and I proceeded to play these things with a metal spoon, especially running it down the rack to recreate the bell tree sound, LOL! I made a lot of colossal noise and completely wore out that VHS tape the concert was recorded on.
(Fun fact: the conductor of the pops at that time was John Williams. I had no idea who he was but I would figure it out later on…if you don’t know me, I’m more than a little [read: CRAZY] geeky when it comes to Mr. Williams compositional abilities)
As I got older, I continued to listen to more and more Disney scores, and learned to play most of my favorites on piano. But it was in 1996 that things changed drastically with the release of Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.
Something about that score hit me in a way that no other had. And one day, while I was obsessively listening to the opening song of the film, something in my hearing changed. Instead of hearing the orchestra as a whole, I suddenly heard the breakdown: oboes, clarinets, horns, violins, etc. They all came to life in a way that I couldn’t explain. Suddenly I was able to hear the intricacies in the scores that I hadn’t noticed before. To this day, I’ll often ask someone if they noticed [insert a random instrument line here] within a song and often times I get a very strange look, because not everyone hears music that way….or so I learned when I was younger.
From that point on, I began to grow an interest in composing music. My dad, who is a technology nerd (for which I am VERY thankful!) made sure I had what I needed to begin that journey. It started with very basic midi software where I would try and recreate orchestrations I heard by playing them in, one part at a time, into a computer. Then it turned into wanting to put the notes on a page.
Around the time I turned 14, there was a guy at my parents church who lead music for one of the youth groups I think. My memory is a little fuzzy on the details but suffice it to say: he had studied composition at Stetson University and put us in touch with the head of the composition department there. Against most odds, this head of the department agreed to teach me privately. And so, I began to study composition once a week.
I studied with this teacher until the age of 18. I began to look into the idea of attending Stetson (which I did, only for one semester….long story for another time); however, about halfway through my senior year of high school, my composition teacher informed me that he was transferring to another school. [He did and has now been the head of composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston ever since. Pretty fucking cool, if you ask me!]
I did study composition that one semester at Stetson but that was the end of my private training. As the years have gone by, I continue to compose here and there and my love for it has never gone away. Last year, I completed the original orchestrations in addition to some arrangements for a brand-new musical called “Sherlock (Holmes) in Love” which I also music directed in it’s world premiere in Central Florida. Before that, I composed incidental music for two separate plays at the same theatre, composer the score for a handful of no-budget short films and even (years ago now) won first place in a composition competition for a concert band piece I wrote. [Yes, I really am THAT nerd.]
So, as I sit here at 4:34AM in the morning with nine (yes, 9) John Williams related YouTube videos open in my browser’s tabs, I can confidently say I still dream of writing music for the big screen one day. The art of creating a score that helps tell a story is something I have such passion for and I think I always will. (And don’t worry… there will be an entire post devoted to explaining my absolute love [read: obsession] for John Williams’ brilliant compositional talents. But that’s for another time.)
To wrap this up, I’m sharing a clip from one of the short films I scored…well, technically this was from a three-part, web-short series. Ultimately, these cues didn’t end up in the final cut (a long, twisted story that doesn’t need to be told) but I’m happy with the work I did and so I’m happy to share it with you! The desired style of the score as described to me by the director of the project was something along the lines of the television show “24”; the web series was edgy and needed a score to match. The following clip is from the 2nd part of the ‘series’.
I’m extremely thankful that my parents chose to make music such an important part of our lives. If not for them, Disney, my composition teacher and (yes, I’m gonna say his name again) JOHN FREAKIN’ WILLIAMS: The above composition might never have come into being. And since I don’t have to imagine that alternate universe: I’m not going to!
Cheers for now,