The Henri Mancini Institute, founded in 1997 by composer/conductor Jack Elliot, is an organization whose mission is "to nurture the future of music by providing comprehensive professional training and multi-level outreach programs that make a direct impact in people's lives." As part of the current all-expenses-paid four-week Summer Session, 77 and seven composers musicians (accepted from over 650 applicants) attended a very special program at the Warner Brothers Eastwood Scoring Stage this weekend, to see what it was like to play in a scoring session.
The goals of the event were twofold: firstly, to show the musicians what it would be like to actually perform with a click-track, make edits on the fly, and get a first-class recording done with the time pressures that would be present at an actual session, and secondly, to show the musicians that there are alternative career paths available beyond playing in a symphony orchestra. Session player Don Williams (yes, he's John's brother) conducted the HMI students as they performed two pieces.
Don Williams conducts the HMI musicians with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
First up was 7m3 (aka "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra"), from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. After an understandably slightly sloppy first-read of the material, Williams worked with the musicians to pinpoint places where they could make improvements. While they were working on the material, Williams would discuss the general approach to how scoring sessions work and function, including issues of stage noise when turning pages, and cellphone etiquette. When he felt they had a good enough grasp of the material, they made a recorded take. Now with the full click track, and even a "speed bump" to throw them off, they did quite a good job - but it still needed some work. After a 10-minute break, they came back and Williams had now made some changes to the music so that it would fit the picture better - and the musicians learned (rather quickly) that when you remove some music, you might be prone to stumble. A few takes later, and things were definitely sounding good.
The second piece recorded was an action cue to be used in a trailer for a yet-untitled Austrian film, composed by Scott Tibbs. "Our hope is that we can convince him to come here to record the score," explained Williams. The scenario that he set forth for the HMI players was that it was late in the afternoon, and the producer was going to "pull the plug" in 15-minutes. So they had 15-minutes to do a first-play read-through, make fixes, and get two recordings done. In the end, they did just that.
Don Williams conducts the HMI musicians with a trailer for an untitled Austrian film
HMI Executive Director Daniel Carlin explained that the HMI program helps the musicians understand how things are in the real world. "Parents and academia can only take you so far," he said. "They should be able to play on jingles and get gigs, and have exposure to music that is more than just symphonic works." Williams and Carlin took questions from the players, and talked more about the scoring session process.
Don Williams makes changes to the score with his music editor
Greg Dennon and Ryan Robinson, both of whom work at the Eastwood Stage, helped out by recording and mixing the session. In the end, the completed cues will be included on a CD along with other recordings made during the course of the summer program, to be presented to each participant. While they can't use it for demo purposes, it serves as a very nice souvenir. Just before the HMI participants left, Williams imparted some words of wisdom: "[Film scoring] is the last bastion of creativity that we have- you can play Beethoven's 7th for thirty years until you get bored. But you will never play this music again."
The HMI will be presenting a free film music concert at UCLA's Royce Hall on Aug. 6, 2005. It will feature guest conductors James Newton Howard, David Newman, Alan Silvestri, Michael Giacchino, and more. For more information on the program, visit the website at http://www.henrymanciniinstitute.org/