What made you want to be a composer? And in turn, made you decide to enter the orchestration areana so frequently?
I, at an early age and like so many others, became enthralled with the movies. I always enjoyed the musical scores to the the films, even though I understood nothing about them and nothing about music. In my senior year of high school, I picked up an old guitar and began trying to learn how to play.
This led to work with a local rock band and later working in night clubs. I would work at nights and attend college during the day. In college I began a more serious study of composition and orchestration and eventually earned a Masters Degree in Composition. After a one year stint teaching in a Jazz program in Salt Lake City, Utah, I migrated to Los Angeles. There I was fortunate to meet Bruce Broughton, who was starting his long career in film composition. I began orchestrating for him and have been in the business ever since.
Was the "Remington Steele" episode ("Corn Fed Steele") your first scoring project?
This was the first composing project where I was the composer of record.
IMDB only has two scoring credits list; what other scores have you done?
I think most all Orchestrators, at some point, end up writing cues to help finish projects (composers are often under great pressures to get the scores done and time is always short).
I have done lots of this but really can't say which projects. I have co-composed, with my close friend Don Grady, around twenty-five documentary episodes.
You've worked for some of Hollywood's most famous composers, including Ira Newborn, Lee Holdridge, and John Debney. How did you form those partnerships?
Way back when, I was working for Alf Clausen, of The Simsons fame, and we happened to be leaving a local music supply store when we bumped into Ira Newborn. Alf had been doing orchestration for Ira and Lee Holdridge. Alf introduced me to Ira and I spent many years as Ira's orchestrator and friend. Alf also introduced me to Lee and I helped him on several projects. John Debney and I had both worked on a project for Ken Harrison at Ken's house. This is where I first meet John. Later in John's career, after he became well established as a composer, He, and his lead orchestrator Brad Dechter, began looking for someone to help them get through the many projects he was attracting. I turned out to be that choice.
As far as I can tell, you've been working on & off for Debney since 1993; can you tell us what the working friendship is like and what you do?
"What you do" is different for every composer you work with. For instance, when I worked for Bruce Broughton, he would write every note he wanted on a sketch, then my job was to place these notes on the full score. He did not want any changes or "filling out" as is common in the industry. The opposite of this is a major composer (no name) who gave me a single melody line, in some places, and lots of blank score. I had the film to look at and some general instructions. This was the final chase scene of the film and was over four minutes long!
How would you say the environment for composers has changed since you started, to today?
When I began, all composing was done with paper and pencil. The film director would hear the completed score when it was being recorded. Any changes the director might want had to made on the spot, or a new recording session had to be ordered to rewrite that music. So before the scoring session, the composers would write a sketch and would make indications, for the orchestrator, as to which intrument(s) were to play which parts (such as harmony: piano and strings or tutti-everyone play the sketched music, or melody: Violins and winds, etc.) This means the composer would have a definite idea about which instruments that were being written for (As I stated before, some composer, e.g. Broughton, Goldsmith, Williams, wrote a very detailed sketch, specifying exactly who played what. Others relied more on the orchestrator to fill things out). Then the orchestrator, using his musical judgement, would fill out the score using score paper and pencil.
Then came the advent of the computer and the synth/sampler. Now the composer does a computer mockup, or demo, of his score using a sequencer to play back the various sounds of synths/samolers. He then presents his score to the director, and the director will tell the composer about changes he would like and the composer will make the changes to his computer mockup, all before the recording session. Once the music is approved by the director, the orchestrator is called in and is presented with a midi file of the composer's sketch. Generally the composer, thru the midi file, specifies the bulk of the orchestral arrangement, but not all. The orchestrator, using a music notation software program (i.e. Finale), enters all the various parts on a computer generated score. Again, using his/her best musical judgement, the orchestrator will fill out the score while following the composers intent.
The main problem with this approach is that you never get a composer's score. You get a compilation of the composers ideas, the directors ideas, the music editors ideas, the producers ideas, and comments from anybody else who happens to be in the room. Now the composer has to please a committee of people who happen to be in the room, most of whom have no idea what they are doing. The end result, for the orchestrator, is that there is less and less time to do the job. Decisions aren't made until the last minute and the music is not approved until the last minute. So a composer now has to have a team of orchestrators working feverishly to get the score ready for recording. When I first began in the industry, a composer had between six to twelve weeks to complete the score. Now they have two to four weeks. The music really suffers!
As mentioned above, you scored an episode of the popular "Remington Steele" series; how did you get involved with that?
I was the staff orchestrator for the series, working for Richard Lewis Warren, the composer. I think I did thirty two episodes per season for three seasons. I of course new the show producers, so when a time came that he could not work on this show, he suggested that I compose the episode and they agreed. It was as simple as that.
Do have a preference of orchestration over composing, or prefer both?
I was always known as an orchestrator. The composing just came along and I did what I was offered. The politics of composing makes that a very difficult job.
Do you play any musical instruments yourself?
I play guitars, electric bass and of course arrange piano. All orchestral music originates on the keyboard. I have played string bass in college orchestras.
Of all the projects you have worked on in various capacities, do you have any favorites or personal highlights?
"Silverado" stands out (composed by Bruce Broughton). It was nominated for a Academy Award. There were so many films with Debney, Newborn, et. al. it's just hard to pick.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you have?
Well ... the very next project is a series of commercials I have been doing for a company called Musikvergnuegen (Walter Werzowa President). The TV spots for the Army ("Army Strong") are now on TV.
Thank you for the interview.
Thank you Justin for interest and my best wishes for your continued success.
Published: February 27, 2009