What made you decide to become a composer?
It was a gradual thing that evolved over many years, very often involving detours, flexibility of plans, a process of trying many things and eliminating certain things that didn't work well for me.
I had dabbled with arranging in high school and learned that I had a pretty good ear, especially for orchestration. I don't play keyboard very well, but was a pretty fair trumpet player and conductor. However, when working on my undergraduate degree at Miami U of Ohio, I gradually realized that I enjoyed creating works as a composer as well as re-creating works others had written as a performer and conductor.
I attended the Eastman School of Music for Masters degree beginning in 1977. At Eastman I was a "classical" theory and composition major but, through the grapevine, heard about an elective offered in the jazz department one afternoon a week titled "Business of Music" taught by Ray Wright. In addition to being a true gentleman, Ray was brilliant. I'd never before heard any of this stuff about intellectual property law and royalties and it knocked my socks off! Ray taught another class in the jazz department about writing music for films which I signed up for. I had to overcome great resistance from my composition faculty advisor because Ray's class was in the jazz department and I was supposed to be a classical composer. But I persevered...! I became Ray's graduate assistant as I began my doctorate and enjoyed helping with his recording sessions, etc. In 1979 he recommended me for a full-time position as composer at the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester where I had a small, but nice, electronic studio in the basement. I wrote music for the star shows which the Strasenburgh packaged and sold to smaller planetariums around the world. I also recorded and edited celebrity narrators for the shows (including Leonard Nimoy - my first Star Trek experience!). This often required many, many, many hours with recording tape, razor blade, editing block and adhesive splicing tape, rocking the recording tape back and forth across the play head, marking the edit with a white grease pencil, laying it into the block, cutting, taping, then moving on a few inches further. Many, many hours. Did I mention many, many hours?.
So ... while I had written a handful of student compositions over the years, Strasenburgh Planetarium was my first real, salaried job as a composer! Even though I was making a living as a composer, I figured it wouldn't be a lifetime position. I was still focused on finishing my doctorate and teaching music theory in a college when, in about 1980, a composer friend of mine at ESM, who had just completed his doctorate, was one of the lucky few to land a job in the summer faculty shuffle at a small college for $10,500 a year. That was an unpleasant dose of reality! No fine wines on that salary! I abandoned DMA plans and decided to focus on heading west the next year to Hollywood and give it a try.
It's important to remember that, at that time, there were only a couple of film scoring classes in the world and only a few young composers going to LA each year to write for film and TV. Now it seems these same numbers of composers move to Hollywood each day! I'm not saying it was easy to break in to the biz at that time, but I think there were many more work possibilities and mentoring situations than there are now. I landed in LA in 1981 and did some writing, but mostly orchestration and house painting for a couple years. In 1984, with Murder, She Wrote", I began to work steadily and solely as a composer.
Aside from your scoring efforts have you also done other works such as musicals, shorts, symphonies, concert pieces, etc.?
I haven't done any musicals (yet) and very few concert works -- all of which are forgettable. I work best with a story and visuals.
For those who are not familiar with you or your works, can you give us a little background on yourself?
I was raised in a musical family in a small town in southwest Ohio. My father was choral director plus producer of spring musicals at local high school. I played piano through elementary school, then began focusing on trumpet middle school into college. Between school musical ensembles and church choir I was in a rehearsal or performance of some kind at least once virtually every day for years. My undergraduate degree was from Miami U of Ohio, Masters degree in theory from Eastman School of Music, and all coursework for DMA completed at ESM but, as I noted earlier, I felt the need to break out and try Hollywood. Exams and dissertation for DMA would have taken another 2 years and I needed a change from the academic life!
What was your first television and/or film score?
Within a couple of months of arriving in LA, I was invited to do a CBS television movie titled, "Killing at Hell's Gate" starring Robert Urich. When I hit town in April of 1981 I made hundreds of phone calls, met everyone I could, handed out demo tapes left and right, worked very hard at getting a foothold - and my lucky break happened relatively quickly! I remember that, at the time, I only had $200 to my name and was beginning to think that I would have to paint houses again as I did throughout college. While "Hell's Gate" provided me with some cash to stave off poverty a while longer, there were labor strikes in film/TV industry soon after this and I did indeed spend several months on a house painting crew.
My other early work was doing some orchestrations for the fabulous Dennis McCarthy on the miniseries "V" and a few episodes on the Mike Post and Pete Carpenter teams.
How did you get involved with "Murder, She Wrote"?
In 1984 I orchestrated the pilot to "Murder, She Wrote" for my friend and mentor, John Addison (I'd orchestrated portions of a television movie for John a year before MSW). John wasn't going to do the MSW series and suggested to the producers, Peter Fischer and Bob O'Neill, that they let me try an episode. They kept me on board for seven years at which time another production team took over the show and the new team wanted to go in a different musical direction. I really miss that show and those wonderful people...
The "In the Heat of the Night" film trilogy was scored by Quincy Jones (minus the third, "The Organization", which was Gil Melle), establishing a blue-sy/jazz combo approach to the scoring. The subsequent TV series carried over that style of scoring; how did you get involved with the series, and were you asked to adapt Jones' sound?
While I was working at Universal on "Murder, She Wrote" in the mid 1980s, they asked if I would like to write a few episodes for "Simon and Simon" and "Jake and the Fat Man". I was eager to try as many styles as I could and meet as many people as I could, so I said yes. David Moessinger was a producer on Simon and Simon and his wife, Jeri Taylor, was producer on Jake and the Fat Man. Years later, Jeri went on to become a producer on "In the Heat of the Night" and the Star Trek series and I suspect was helpful in convincing others on those production teams to give me a try.
Nothing was ever said about the Quincy Jones score to me. The producers and previous composers established the sound of Mack Dougherty skat singing as he played guitar plus lush, bluesy string sonorities and I just went along with it adding my own twist to it.
Did you ever hear from Jones on what he thought of the show's scoring?
No, I've never met or spoken with him.
How involved was Mack Dougherty is the scoring process?
Usually, he was given chord symbols and rhythmic notation and then he went along with the tone and tempo of what else was being played in the band during recording (action, sultry blues, etc.); it was all live, no overdubbing. I sometimes asked for specific gestures in his skat singing (such as low and growly, sparse and atmospheric) but mostly he just improvised.
You and Nan Mishkin scored the vast majority of episodes (you taking 2nd place to highest number scored, 53); when the scoring style differed from Jones' established sound, did you and Mishkin work in any kind of tandem to make sure you both kept the series is scoring in something of a similar vein? Did you in fact know her personally?
The producers gave me a couple videos tapes of Nan's HOTN work they liked and said, "Go forth". I had met Nan at ASCAP functions over the years and, in 1986, ASCAP sent us both to Washington, DC, as part of a team doing a Congressional lobbying effort against broadcasters who were trying to change the royalty system (to their favor, of course). Nan is a fantastic person and I'm glad to have been a colleague and friend of hers.
My understanding is the late Carrol O'Connor, who played Cheif Gilespe on the series was a score fan himself, even bringing in Joe Sherman -- who scored the pilot to another police series O'Connor starred in -- to score some episodes (five in total); was Mr. O'Connor indeed a score fan? Did he attend sessions? Did he have any pull and/or input into the scoring of the series? And if you in fact did meet him, do you have any funny/fond stories you could recollect for us?
We did post-production in LA while the cast and crew were shooting on location in Georgia. As lead actor and executive producer on location, there was rarely any opportunity for Carrol to be in LA when we were doing our post-production bit. I did meet him once briefly in his office but it was mostly a "very glad to meet you, glad to have you on the show" sort of thing.
You scored the third mini series for North & South, "Heaven & Hell"; the first big productions were scored solely by Bill Conti; how did you wind up with scoring the third and final "book", and were you asked or compelled to use any of Conti's themes?
I don't remember how that came about. At the time I was known as someone who did good work with an orchestra and was able to stay on deadline and on budget. I suspect demo tapes from my agent got me an interview and the job. This was one of the few situations in my career where a past work contact hadn't gotten my foot in the door. The producer, Mark Wolper, was brilliant and kind, a pleasure to work with.
Did you in fact use any on Conti's themes?
Yes, I used the main title theme from time to time, usually those big sweeping dramatic moments. He used some very high string writing in that theme!
You scored five episodes of the first season of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" (two with William Olvis, providing some of television's finest scoring), but didn't return for the rest of the series; how'd you get involved, why didn't you return, and how did you meet Mr. Olvis?
Regrettably, this was one of the few unpleasant situations in my career and I still don't know quite what happened.
I don't recall ever meeting William Olvis.
Do you play any musical instruments yourself? Ever on any of your scores (or other composer's scores)?
I was a good collegiate trumpet player and that was as far as it went. I always refer to the orchestra as my main instrument! No, never performed on any of my scores.
Are there any scores you have done that you are particularly proud of (skipping Trek related ones; covered further down the interview), and any you wish were on CD, that are not?
In chronological order:
I loved the work on "Murder, She Wrote" as so much of it was tongue in cheek, a lot of fun.
I did the pilot and the four episodes of a western series created by Bill Wittliff called "Ned Blessing: Return to Plum Creek" (the version starring Brad Johnson, not the earlier one starring Daniel Baldwin). Fortunately, it is available on DVD now. It was a beautiful but short-lived series and I was sad not to see it get renewed -- it really should have continued. The story was mythical, the writing magical, the characters interesting. It was one of my favorite scores. We were able to use sizable orchestra for portions of the pilot, but had to downsize to a core group of six or seven players for the balance of the pilot and the episodes. While I always enjoy writing for large orchestra, there is great pleasure in working with small ensembles for one really has to use craft, there is no way to hide behind large numbers of musicians!
I also worked on a wonderful Showtime movie titled "The Sandy Bottom Orchestra" which was produced and directed by Brad Wigor. There are many nice music cues in it, but my favorite is when the daughter and mom sit on the porch at night talking about life; the subtle weaving of music throughout the scene is something I'm very proud of. But this was made possible because the director gave so much space for the emotion -- and the music -- to breathe and settle in; it took courage to do that. "The Sandy Bottom Orchestra" is probably my favorite score and one of my favorite career experiences.
Play score from the episode "Coal Minor's Daughter":
What was the last film or television project you worked on?
The Star Trek series, "Enterprise".
Have you retired from film/television composing, or can we all greatly appreciate seeing you come back?
That remains to be seen. I dropped out of the business for a few years to raise a family and now we'll have to see what unfolds next.
Have you ever had a score rejected, or replaced any scores? And similarly ever worked on one by somebody else, that was not used?
To my knowledge, I've never had a score replaced and only rarely an occasional cue dropped. Usually, changes were made during the recording session. This involved calling out changes to the orchestra ("Horns, play an octave lower in bars 16-32"), or score edits. If changes were required after the scoring session, the music editor would be able to edit material from that score or others I had done.
I rescored about 30 minutes of music in Larry McMurtry's "Streets of Laredo". This led to me composing the entire score for the next miniseries installment, Dead Man's Walk.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: David Shire did the "Streets of Laredo" score)
We now have reached the inevitable: Star Trek. You worked on all the Star Trek spin-off series except The Next Generation; how exactly did you find your way onto the Trek main list of composers?
Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway had been doing virtually all of the episodes of both DS9 then Voyager - an enormous amount of work - and I think the production staff wanted to bring someone else in to pitch relief when needed. Fortunately, it ended up being nine fantastic years of work for me.
You scored, from all the spin-offs, 66 or more episodes (IMDB can often, even for something such as Star Trek, be incomplete); had you known ten years of your life would be devoted to Trek, would you have stepped into it?
Absolutely yes! I think my style of writing, orchestration and dramatic sensibilities were a good fit for Star Trek. Also, the production staff on Star Trek and Paramount music department made it a dream-come-true situation for me. It simply could not have been better! I was sorry to see it all end.
When you came onboard, were to asked to approach the scoring of the series in a similar vein as those before?
They were happy with the work Dennis and Jay were doing and wanted me to continue in that same vein, but were open to any new ideas I might have.
Of all three series, what are your favorite episode scores you did, and why?
From DS9 I enjoyed "The Sword of Kahless" and "Sons of Mogh" because I was able to explore dark, Wagnerian orchestrations. Same reason for Voyager "Barge of the Dead". At one point we even used Wagner tubas to capture that unique Wagner sound and also used exaggerated swells crescendos and diminuendos in dynamics.
I enjoyed the period when, as a show, DS9 became lighter in tone. Episodes such as "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" and "Who Mourns for Morn?" were delightful.
Again, Voyager "Bride of Chaotica" was a fun change having to write in a 1930s Flash Gordon style.
Voyager "Dark Frontier" was a blast. We used several percussionists for the action scenes and made lots of noise! The show also had some very emotional content revolving around Seven of Nine's choices and that provided some excellent musical opportunities.
And, again, "Homestead" when Neelix leaves Voyager was very rich for me.
In late September 2010, Film Score Monthly released a 14CD set of Ron Jones' is scores for The Next Generation; would you personally want something similar to that for your scores (or a watered down selection) for your scores (one for each series)? Do you know of any plans to make something like that happen (or even just certain episode scores)?
Most any time one's music is released on CD is a welcome thing. But much of it doesn't stand well on it's own because it was created to accompany dialogue, visuals and sound effects. I don't know of any plans to release anything. I think selections from my scores mentioned above would be a good compilation.
Some Trek composers, most notably Ron Jones, have talked about interference on their scores, sometimes having to change cues and dump originally composed ones; throughout the various spin-offs, how much meddling did you experience, and how often did you have to redo a cue after recording it?
I never experienced any meddling at all. Making changes during recording session is part of the gig. As I mentioned earlier, there were a few occasions where I was asked to make a slight change in a music cue or record an alternate version (change the entrance or ending a bit). I was usually prepared for this and had a couple different versions in mind as I composed, so the changes were easy to implement on the scoring stage. I often overwrote music cues I had doubts about because subtracting notes from a score during recording session is much easier than adding them! There was absolutely no meddling from producers in my experience on Star Trek. Until the end when Enterprise ratings began to sink and the handwriting was on the wall for us, the entire experience was a delight.
I would also say that, in my entire career, the changes requested by filmmakers with whom I worked were almost always right. I can only think of one dropped cue in a television movie I composed that I felt was a completely wrong choice. But it's the filmmaker's film, remember!
Before you took off scoring, were you ever a protege under another composer (as, for example, the countless talent Mike Post has brought to the scoring world)? Have you any proteges yourself?
Yes, early in my career I did a few episodes working with Mike Post and Pete Carpenter (my contact was primarily with Pete); also Paul Chihara. I learned a lot from them, but wanted to strike out on my own.
I would have liked to have been busy enough in my career to bring along young talent, but I had enough steady work just for me. The mentoring and apprenticeship possibilities don't exist quite the way they used to.
What are some of your favorite scores by other composers? Likewise favorite composers.
I'm going to combine this and next question .
First would be "Silverado" composed by Bruce Broughton. The composing, orchestration and dramatic sense in a film score do not get any better than this. It is fantastic writing, one of the best scores in film history in my opinion! I also like Bruce's score for "The Rescuers Down Under". Brilliant writing aside, Bruce is also one of my favorite composers because of his involvement in the film and composer communities. He is always generous with his time and effort.
Next would be Thomas Newman. His writing is innovative, sensitive, dramatically spot-on and highly crafted. I think "Little Women" is one of the great, smart scores of our generation.
My mentor, John Addison, wrote some terrific scores that are often overlooked. His scores for "A Bridge Too Far" and "Tom Jones" are brilliant. In "Tom Jones" he used a small ensemble of quirky instrumental choices (some of which were not invented in the 18th century) and for him to have accomplished what he did with such a small ensemble requires high craft.
Carter Burwell, Mark Isham also great talents, I think. And then, of course, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.
How did you meet John Addison? What was it liked working for him, and how long/how many projects did you wind up working with him on? What would you say you learned from the experience?
John and I were at the same agency at the time (Gorfaine and Schwartz) and Mike and Sam thought I would be a good orchestration fit for John. They were right! John and I became very good friends and he shared much life and career wisdom with me for the remainder of his years (not to mention some fantastic dinners!). He passed away in 1998 in Vermont at the age of 74; I miss our chats very much.
John always wrote very detailed sketches so there weren't many orchestration decisions for me to make. He cared about every note on the page, mulling over small details such as string bowing, brass mutes, percussion mallets, etc., in a way not many composers do. He also did tons of research and thinking about the characters in the film, the musical vocabulary of the time period covered in the film, etc., so that when he began writing, he was very well prepared. I've always tried to meet these same high standards in my own writing.
How would you say the industry has changed since you started scoring, and do you hold any hope for it's future?
Composers received much more support from studios when I was working. Music editors, copyists, recording stage, recording engineer, techs, music contractor, etc. were all available at any time to help. Knowing that these functions were taken care of gave me time and energy to focus solely on composing the notes. Now, with electronic home studios such a big part of the picture, a composer often has to perform most or all of these roles alone - in addition to writing the music!
I think that we had more time to write than many composers do now. I was always given 2-3 weeks on any episode I composed.
I get concerned that too many in the industry settle for the least common denominator in quality. Not enough filmmakers care if it's a real oboe or a sampled oboe in the score. Certainly, some of this is driven by budget considerations, but some is because many filmmakers may not have the knowledge to be discerning enough.
And some of all of the above is just natural change in the world, not necessarily a bad thing, it just is.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects scoring or otherwise, we can expect?
Nope, nothing in the offing at this point. I just sent my daughter off to college and am living my new "empty nest" life. We'll have to see what happens next for me professionally.
Any memorable / funny stories you would care to share with us, from decades of serving in the business?
When doing DS9 episode "Soldiers of the Empire", I had to teach/rehearse the actors the Klingon War Song the day of the shoot (the song had been written in prior years for other Star Trek usage). The actors had been given a recording and phonetic wording of the lyrics before and had rehearsed on their own a bit. We were ushered out a side door to rehearse a bit before the scene was shot. The actors were all in their full Klingon regalia and weapons looking mighty fierce - this was an adventure in itself because I'm only 5'6" and they all towered over me. They were given two small school benches to sit upon for rehearsal. It must have looked absurd as I, a short guy, was conducting these giant Klingons sitting politely on benches like an elementary school class: "OK, everybody: one, two, ready, go..." I called them the Klingon Korale. By the way, as of this writing, the performance is on You Tube.
And lastly, if there is anything you would like to say at all, feel free to do so.
I feel very fortunate to be a part of the film/TV industry. There are many talented, unique, smart, supremely professional people in this business of ours. I can't think of many periods in human history where there were so many talented people together in one place at one time producing such a huge body of work.
For me, sitting alone hours each day was fun much of the time, absolute torture others. I think it was Dorothy Parker who said, "I hate writing, but I love having written". I have felt this way many times! My reward for those long hours was to drive to a recording studio every week or two and hear my music performed by some of the best in the world. I never, ever got tired of that wonderful rush.
Thank you for the interview.
You're most welcome!
|Published: November 16, 2010|