When did you first notice scores?

I've enjoyed music in movies since I was very young. I saw To Kill A Mockingbird in grade school, and thought the music hauntingly beautiful. I hadn't a clue what my future career would involve; like any child, I only knew what I enjoyed. I loved watching reruns of old classic black-and-white movies with their wonderful scores, high violin solos and romantic orchestrations.

I was drawn to classical music even as a very young child. My father played trumpet, and Mom was an excellent pianist and sight-reader who would have made a fine living in the studios in a different era. As a small toddler still unable to talk in the 1950s, I would pick up any book of classical piano music, open to a random work of Mendelssohn, Chopin or Mozart and bring it to my mom. She would sit at the piano with me on her lap and play beautifully. The placement of her fingers on the keyboard seemed so random to a child, yet the music was stunning, and I knew there must be a secret to all this. I was hooked! The black dots on a page meant rapture if you just knew how to read them. After a couple of pieces, Mom would say, "OK, I have to go clean the kitchen," so I would have to wait till the next day before she would play for me again, which made the process all the more anticipated. Music is magical to a child. There were no computers or distractions from TV, so music was an important source of recreation.

My mother started teaching me music at 2 ½ years old, which now that I have children seems impossibly young. I remember how she taught me rhythm at the keyboard. I could only play one note with each hand at that age, so I played middle C and G above it. She would play "train" by sounding chords slowly, first a bass chord with both hands on my left, then a treble chord with both hands on my right, and as the train left the station she would play the chords gradually faster and faster. Our train often sped out of control, which sent me into fits of laughter. The sheer volume of sound was incredible, and I was amazed to be contributing with just my two notes chiming in. It was a brilliant way to teach a very small child the beginnings of rhythm and ensemble

Who are some of your favorite composers?

Among film composers: John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Dimitri Tiomkin, Bernard Herrmann, Erich Korngold, Christopher Young, Miklos Rozsa, and Maurice Jarre immediately come to mind. A number of outstanding film composers never gained fame for variety of reasons, and so you never hear about them, but their talents were equal. Music arrangers like Conrad Salinger or Leo Shuken were among the most talented musicians of the 1940s-1960s. Even now, younger composers like William Ross and Mark McKenzie write wonderful scores, but are not yet household names. I also had the pleasure of working with composer Michael Bearden on This Is It. Michael's music has a fresh, new type of sound- I predict we will hear much more from him in the future.

My first instinctive reaction to your question is to mention my favorite classical composers, because they created the symphonic models for our craft. Those composers--Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, and others--showed us what is possible, and gave us a standard. They were remarkable on so many levels, not the least of which was their inner need to write music. The creative outlet of composition didn't always pay their bills, so most were also performers, yet they felt compelled to compose anyway.

Most countries associated with Western music have representative composers who were also brilliant orchestrators, and whose works I especially enjoy: Maurice Ravel in France, Manuel de Falla in Spain, Puccini and Resphigi in Italy, Richard Strauss in Germany, Mahler in Austria, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev in Russia, Vaughan Williams and Walton in England, etc. Part of their appeal is their inclusion of native idioms and individual handprints in their music, their national imprint, so to speak. In the Fen Country by Vaughan Williams is so very English, yet it is hard to pinpoint just why. Somehow it's easier to define the "Spanishness" of de Falla's La Vida Breve or The Three-Cornered Hat. Those idioms make good works more enjoyable for me

Can you tell us about some of your favorite scores?

It's a long list... The movie scores would include To Kill A Mockingbird, Lawrence of Arabia, Seven Years in Tibet, Ben Hur, Alien--the list could go on and on. When a score fits perfectly with a good film, like Joe Hisaishi's Departures or Michael Giacchino's Up, the whole viewing experience is elevated. I also enjoy some wonderful scores in smaller films: Maurice Jarre's Sunshine, Cliff Eidelman's One True Thing, the Richard Gibbs and Jonathan Davis (of Korn) symphonic rock collaboration on Queen of The Damned, Adam Gorgoni's Starting Out In The Evening, Tiomkin's Cyrano de Bergerac, Elmer Bernstein's Far From Heaven--it is easily another long list. Also, comedy scores are often not included, but scores like Ghostbusters, The Witches of Eastwick, The Three Amigos, and Big! reflect the same high caliber of writing.

I enjoy all kinds of symphonic music, especially those works which possess a wonderful sense of balance and color. That covers a broad spectrum! So much of modern orchestration really goes back to Wagner, so my favorite pieces start with his orchestral preludes and overtures. My list of favorite scores would include Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier; The Mother Goose Suite and La Valse by Maurice Ravel; Vaughan Williams' symphonies #2 & #5 and Tallis; the classic Puccini operas... That list would be very long! I enjoy these works because they are so well done, and I learn something each time I hear them. I try to re-visit favorite pieces periodically, because as I grow I hear new things in them.

This may seem unusual for a symphonic orchestrator, but I have many favorite works for string orchestra. Most composers write only one or two such pieces--it's a tough genre to pull off successfully--but they are a delight to listen to: Hubert Parry's English Suite and Lady Radnor's Suite; Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances, Gustav Holst's Brook Green Suite, Warlock's Capriol Suite, the string serenades of Dvorak, Suk, Tchaikovsky... there are quite a few outstanding pieces to choose from.

For those unfamiliar with you, can you give us a brief background?

You can probably tell already that my background training is classical. As a young person, I studied piano and classical guitar through college, and have a Master's degree in Music Composition, which helped me learn how to study. My composition/orchestration professor at U.C. Santa Barbara was the English symphonist Peter Racine Fricker. He was very detailed, and expected that same trait from me, which was an immense help. Orchestrators and composers need to strive for accuracy. For example, if orchestra music has an error margin of 1%, it's a disaster. There is a certain player psychology you have to live with, and if a piece has more than two or three note questions, everyone starts to question everything. So Peter pushed me to make the music perfect. He would insist that I give a piece of music a specific performance, no matter what it was, but give it a specific direction that had dynamics, phrasing, and a musical ebb and flow. I've found that clients almost never question this musical shaping, and yet having a specific performance gives the players the ability to play their best even on the first reading. I've followed that philosophy for over 170 film scores.

My student university lessons were always helpful, in part because of Peter's own training. When Peter was very young, he studied with an elderly Jean Sibelius in Scandinavia. When Sibelius was very young, he studied with an elderly woman who sang in the choir for the premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, conducted by Beethoven. So, just three conversations away, so to speak, I had an eyewitness account of Beethoven. Oral history in music makes these distant giants much more real and accessible.

Before getting into the main questions -- have you ever composed a score for TV or film yourself? And any concert works?

I've always felt that there are enough wonderful tunes to arrange, so that I don't feel the need to compose. We all recognize that there are certain standards of quality--my music isn't as good as Mozart's, my physics isn't as good as Einstein's. I'd rather create settings for beautiful melodies that already exist rather than attempt to compete in that arena. Even in films, I only compose when I absolutely have to! Sometimes I'll receive sketches written by young composers that need a lot of help, or even have only blank bars in sections. I compose to help out rather than as a creative outlet.

The nature of my job, working with symphony orchestra, means that I rarely work in television, because TV budgets are often too small to hire more than a few performers. Regarding concert works, I spend some time each year arranging film music for the concert stage.

How did it come about that you became an orchestrator?

For a number of years I studied and performed classical guitar, and was one of Christopher Parkening's students. We even played duets for fun on occasion. I realized that I didn't want to perform for a living, so I made solo guitar arrangements that he recorded, and then arranged guitar and orchestra pieces for his CD A Bach Celebration. While we were making that CD, I became more aware that I would like to orchestrate symphonic music for a living, but the only real livelihood to be had was in movies. There were only a few successful orchestrators, and most wrote for films. Christopher, who is a great friend and always helpful, said, "I was on the Tonight Show with Elmer Bernstein. He was president of the Young Musicians Foundation when I was there. Call him up, let's have lunch." This was in the summer of 1983.

Can you recall what the first film or TV project was you orchestrated, how you got that job, and what the first time out was like?

After my lunch with Christopher Parkening, and Eve and Elmer Bernstein, Elmer told me to call him back in about ten weeks because, as he put it, "I have some doings." He was working on the score to Ghostbusters with director Ivan Reitman. I met up with Elmer at his office on Pearl Street in Santa Monica. He had a large organ in the back room that he used while composing, and he played a waltz he had composed for the fountain scene. Elmer always had a several minute explanation of why he wrote what he wrote for a scene, philosophically: What were the characters feeling, what could the music reveal that the scene didn't show clearly, etc. The characters in this scene first realize that they are falling in love, so Elmer wanted a grand waltz. I worked more diligently on that piece than I did on any other cue in film music since then. I think I spent almost three days on 90 seconds of music, hoping I had done what he wanted. On the day of the session, I was so nervous! I didn't really care if I ever did another cue for a film, I was just happy to have had a chance to try this experience. I walked into the wrong door of the studio--instead of the control booth, I was in the main recording studio where Elmer was rehearsing 90 musicians with the film projected for the demonic possession scene. Elmer stopped for a moment, came over to me, and said, "Come on over to the booth. The director is having an attack of genius." When my orchestration came up, Elmer's son Peter Bernstein, who is a fine composer in his own right, had me sit down in the booth chair near the microphone so that I could make any adjustments if necessary. THAT was certainly unlikely! Everything was so new and unfamiliar. Elmer rehearsed then recorded the piece, and when he finished he came back into the control booth laughing, and said, "Pat, that was great!" With Peter getting more and more of his own jobs as a composer, I became Elmer's orchestrator on many films and concert suites until his death in 2004.

Elmer was a remarkable person and friend, as well as a wonderful musician. I learned a great deal watching him interact with others on both a professional and personal level. He had a way of making everyone feel comfortable in his presence, which is an art in itself. He was the best orchestrator for small ensembles that I have ever known, and I learned a great deal from him.

How did you meet Elmer Bernstein?

Elmer realized that I would benefit from working directly under a gifted professional in the field, and he asked if I would be interested in assisting his orchestrator in London, Christopher Palmer. I jumped at the chance, which Elmer set up for me. Christopher would annotate the composer's sketches, which I would then fill out onto full scores. I spent a full year overseas in a remarkable situation. I had the chance to work with sketches written by gifted composers, and then saw what a brilliant orchestrator like Christopher Palmer added to those sketches. The experience was invaluable for me. Christopher worked with Maurice Jarre and a number of other composers in Europe. When Maurice had projects locally in Los Angeles, I worked on those films, and gradually Maurice had me work on all his projects. Christopher supported that decision, because as he got older he did not like to fly.

You've also worked with Maurice Jarre a number of time; how did the partnership come about, and what were your favorite projects with him?

Elmer realized that I would benefit from working directly under a gifted professional in the field, and he asked if I would be interested in assisting his orchestrator in London, Christopher Palmer. I jumped at the chance, which Elmer set up for me. Christopher would annotate the composer's sketches, which I would then fill out onto full scores. I spent a full year overseas in a remarkable situation. I had the chance to work with sketches written by gifted composers, and then saw what a brilliant orchestrator like Christopher Palmer added to those sketches. The experience was invaluable for me. Christopher worked with Maurice Jarre and a number of other composers in Europe. When Maurice had projects locally in Los Angeles, I worked on those films, and gradually Maurice had me work on all his projects. Christopher supported that decision, because as he got older he did not like to fly.

Over the years I have learned various orchestrators have different tasks; some fill in the blanks, some add to, while others are nothing more than "glorified copyists"; how did you find the average orchestration gig to go?

Every composer has a different way of working, and I do whatever helps to get the job done. When a sketch is handed to me, the composer generally won't need to see it again until it is orchestrated and copied on the stand in front of the orchestra. My goal is to ensure that the composer knows he won't have to worry about anything, and that what he intended to convey in his sketch, even if it is only in germ form, will be just what he hopes to hear fully fleshed out. I often add horn lines if they seem appropriate, percussion, and many changes of color. I make certain that each player has a part that is idiomatic for his or her instrument. If I add a line, the composer reserves the right to take those things out or change them, although this very rarely happens. My goal is to make the composer look as good as possible, without projecting myself on the page. I can usually tell what the composer is trying to achieve, and I make sure that effect happens.

That being said, there is an art and balance to orchestration that must be present for music to sound its best. I balance the size, volume, timbre or color, everything you hear so that the music has the proper effect that the composer wants.

Jerry Goldsmith was very clear in his sketches, and on the few jobs of his that I helped with, the hardest part was reading his tiny English scrawl rather than his notes! The way Jerry wrote music was similar to the way Tchaikovsky composed: The winds play one idea, the brass another, and the strings something else, all weaving brilliantly together. That is a very easy style to dictate and orchestrate. Elmer Bernstein's 3 or 4 line sketches were, to me, like a "Stuffed" computer file--click on the file and "Poof!" there are the ideas laid out in front of you. His sketches made perfect sense, written in good orchestral keys, with excellent tempos--just ideal to work from. He would outline the major colors, and leave the smaller details to the orchestrator. In smaller pieces of music, his sketches would be very clearly labeled in detail. Miklos Rozsa also wrote very clear sketches, but when he asked me to help him with concert suites and re-recordings of his film scores, he insisted that music be adapted to the concert hall, and not necessarily keep the original ensembles called for in films. He explained that Gershwin and other composers also adapted their music for the venue at hand, whether it was an orchestra stage pit for a musical, or a larger orchestra performance. I still practice Dr. Rozsa's advice when I adapt film scores for the concert hall.

Can you lead us through what the average day/job an orchestrator entails?

I have a young associate who, after helping me over a period of weeks, said, "Now I know what orchestrators do. They do everything!" He isn't far off. Depending on a composer's experience and the available budget, I sometimes organize every facet of a film score session so that the composer can be free to do his job. My best days are spent on projects where I can concentrate only on the music. Currently, most composers are expected to provide an audio mock-up of each cue so that the director can place the cues in the film to hear their effect. Usually, the composer only has time to create this audio mock-up. With any luck, there is a MIDI transcriber person who can convert the MIDI files into intelligible notes, so that the composer can pass on a decent looking sketch to the orchestrator.

We joke that orchestrators become 50% counselor, 50% musical confidante, and 50% professional music arranger. That's 150% of the orchestrator's time and expertise. Colleagues, and even my wife, comment frequently that I never pass on stories or gossip about anyone. Confidentiality is part of our job, because in our role you will get to know your client very well. You need to be worthy of that trust. Have you noticed that there are no Hollywood "industry" books by orchestrators, divulging the personal details of their clients? You will only find the occasional vignette about working conditions in the studios. Orchestrators all seem to have a similar high regard for their clients and their work. Film music is a high-pressure industry, and composers occasionally need moral support from their music team in order to make a difficult job easier.

Any memorable stories you can share with us from your years or work?

I remember during the 1980s when director/writer Nicholas Meyer, author Tony Thomas, orchestrator Christopher Palmer and I used to meet for Saturday afternoon tea at the home of Miklos Rozsa at 2936 Montcalm Avenue. Rozsa had had a major stroke a few years before, but Nick, Christopher, and Tony were such fine raconteurs that the conversation never stopped. Rozsa always kept his fine wit, even though he had trouble speaking. I asked him once, when we were alone, if Tony were the same very successful and wealthy Tony Thomas who produced the Golden Girls hit television series. "He wishes he were," Rozsa replied with a twinkle. I once helped Rozsa sort through his music in his downstairs closet, and we came across an original (and very expensive) paper and ink manuscript signed by Franz Liszt. "I wondered where that went," he remarked with his usual rye smile. He gave his collection of composer signatures and manuscripts to UCLA.

Do you play any instruments?

I played classical guitar and gave recitals in my early 20s, but realized that practicing prevented me from other musical pursuits. So I started to arrange for that instrument in grad school, and sold arrangements to help pay tuition. I eventually arranged or produced several CDs by American virtuoso Christopher Parkening.

Have you ever taken on any other roles in the scoring world aside from orchestration?

Orchestration has a wide application: Music arrangements for The White House, the Pope, concert suites of film music, string sweeteners for rock groups, concert music for opera singers (Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Placido Domingo), the Entrance of the Olympic Flag and Olympic Hymn for a couple of the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics, solo artist settings for classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, cellist Matt Haimovitz, pianists The Five Browns--the job is diverse. I sometimes produce recording sessions or classical CDs, but find working with the music more enjoyable than production.


PawelStroinski (MainTitles.net forum):
"How did you work with Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre? How precise were the sketches you had? Did you *actually* have any freedom with the way you handled orchestrations, for example giving a line to an instrument on your own?"

Both Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre gave me quite a bit of freedom to add lines or ideas that might occur to me. I remember very well the first film cue (a cue is a piece of music in a film) that I orchestrated for Ghostbusters. When I asked Elmer if he had any directives about the Ghostbusters cue, he said, "Big, grand. La Valse. Everything is there in the sketch for someone who has experience at this." That was it. He added, "By the time you are finished, you will have spent more time on this piece than I have. Ideas will occur to you. You may add anything you wish, but I reserve the right to take it out." Maurice expressed the same ideas. I can't remember a time when either composer removed an orchestration idea that I added, but it was certainly their option to do so. Elmer was also a brilliant orchestrator, and to this day he was the best arranger for small ensemble that I have ever met. Maurice began his professional musical life as touring percussionist with the La Companie de Madeleine Renaud et Jean-Louis Barrault (the other percussionist with him was Pierre Boulez, also from Lyon). I learned a great deal about writing for percussion from Maurice.
Elmer's three or four line sketches were wonderful to work from. On larger works he had a staff each for woodwinds, strings, brass, bass, and sometime an added line for percussion. Both composers wrote in excellent keys for orchestra, and their orchestrators never chose the keys unless arranging a source cue in an area that had no effect on the underscore. As was the scoring technique of the day, both composers wrote out timings for each scene change, about every four to six bars. Wherever they put in timings, the music editor would decide whether to add streamers. Maurice used music editor Dan Carlin, Sr., and Elmer used his Dan's daughter Kathy Durning. For both composers, the first sketches on a project were the most detailed, but as the days progressed I knew the themes and what to do with them, so I didn't need the composer to spend time repeating himself. Both composers relied on their orchestrator's professionalism, which inspired me to do my best

Would you say the wrong orchestration in a score, or cue, can make or break said works?

I've heard many scores that help a bad film, but I've never seen a film hurt by a bad score. I've been very fortunate in that I've never had to orchestrate a score that simply didn't work with the film.

Do you feel that certain types of films require a certain kind of orchestral sound and that straying away is generally frowned upon by Hollywood?

I leave the type of sound to the composer. If he says, "Give me Lawrence of Arabia" then I know the way to proceed and that the composer has discussed his decision with the director. The primary goal of the composer is to please the director; otherwise, the director may hire someone else. In the same way, my goal is to please the composer.

If possible, what score(s) have you orchestrated on that you believe was the most creatively fulfilling, and why?

I especially like those scores attached to memorable films with a social conscience. Sunshine was an excellent film that few people saw, but Maurice Jarre's score fit perfectly. Murder in Mississippi, a true story about three civil rights workers murdered in the deep South, was important to Elmer Bernstein because he knew two of the victims. Ultimately, the producer's son, who had took charge of the production, threw out Elmer's score, which must have been a heartfelt disappointment to him.

Why weren't you credited on "Ghostbusters", and what contributions to the orchestration did you make?

I only worked on one cue for Ghostbusters, which was my very first job in film music. People who work on a small amount of the score don't usually receive screen credit. Generally, the orchestrator of record does the bulk of the score.

Were there other instances where you helped contribute orchestrations, but didn't end up receiving credit?

Yes, on many occasions I don't receive credit at all, even when I've orchestrated the entire film on my own. Ghost is one example. Orchestrators don't have a signed contract with the film company for screen credit, even though other workers do, like the caterer, the hairdresser, and the honeywagon driver! About one third of projects don't give screen credit. Orchestrators work with the composer and are considered to be an extension of the composer.

Have you ever worked on any scores that were rejected, and similarly, any scores that were replacements?

Elmer Bernstein's I Love Trouble, The Scarlet Letter, The Journey of Natty Gann, Murder in Mississippi, Gangs of New York, and Maurice Jarre's Jennifer 8, were all unused scores for a variety of reasons. In every case, the music was outstanding. When you hear the recordings of these unused scores, you realize that pleasing the director isn't always a matter of a doing a good job, and that seemingly whimsical decisions can change the course of a movie score.

In the case of a replacement score occurring late in the game, what kind of pressures does the constrained time period put on the orchestrations of a score? Do you feel it hampers the ultimate quality?

Maurice Jarre would not work on replacement scores, because the production company was usually out of money and out of time. The time constraints of a re-write, and very tight budget, make it a good opportunity for new composers who don't mind the added pressures if they can get an opportunity to score a film.

Do you feel there has been an appreciable change in the way scores are orchestrated today, versus back when you were starting out?

The main difference is our movement away from melodic-based music toward a "wallpaper" of ambient soundscapes: pulsing bass under a canvas of static notes, etc. Younger composers and directors, who have grown up with synthesizer effects, also sometimes prefer this synth-based concept.

What are some of the most recent scores you've worked on?

I worked on Immortals with my good friend orchestrator Jeff Atmajian for composer Trevor Morris. The soundtrack has just been released and has been getting some very good reviews. I also worked with composer Cliff Eidelman on The Big Miracle. Scheduled for release in February 2012, this is a lovely family movie based on a true story about an international effort to rescue gray whales trapped in ice in the Arctic Circle. I also had the pleasure of working on Henry and Me, an animated film about baseball and life due for release in May 2012. Composer Charles Denler wrote a great score--this is going to be a very popular movie with Yankees fans!

I just got back from London where I was working with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra on a series of film music concerts featuring the works of Golden Age composer Dimitri Tiomkin. Tiomkin's work is undergoing a resurgence--although his most popular scores were written in the 50s and 60s, a new generation is hearing and appreciating his work for the first time. We had a series of children's concerts with an audience sing-along of Rawhide--it was terrific! The record label LSO Live is releasing a CD of the LSO's all-Tiomkin concert at the Barbican, which should be available early in 2012. Other Tiomkin projects are planned for 2012. I also just worked on a reconstruction of Max Steiner's classic score to Casablanca, in which the film is projected in a new digital print and performed with live orchestra in concert halls. It's been performed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony among others, and I'm looking forward to hearing it played by the Pacific Symphony in March conducted by my friend Richard Kaufman, who also conducted all the Tiomkin concerts. These are popular projects, and I think we are going to see a lot more of this kind of film music concert in the future.

Finally, if there is anything you'd like to say that hadn't been covered, please feel free to do so.

I have a great job. Recent projects have included orchestrations for a ballet at Royal Opera House in London, a symphonic homage to a 13th Century Chinese leader with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, a blockbuster video game with 70 minutes of full symphony, and live orchestra adaptations performed with classic film projections like Vertigo and The Bride of Frankenstein. There is a lot of symphonic work outside of films.

The nature of film orchestration has changed over the years, and composers today write in a different style of music from the older theme-based scores. In that respect the job today is easier (drum loops and soundscapes aren't hard to orchestrate). To me, the real art form of orchestration is found in theme-based film scores from the 1940s-1970s by brilliant arrangers such as Conrad Salinger, Leo Shuken, and my mentor Christopher Palmer.

Many thanks to Mr. Russ who stuck with this even though he had a busy work shcedule, for three years.

Published: April 19, 2013