Thursday, October 7, 2010

Heroes & Inspiration

We all have our heroes, people we look up to, aspire to be like, or even emulate aspects of their characters or careers. Heroes in the proper contexts can be healthy for our lives, careers and aspirations as long as they are in perspective and having the right kinds of heroes is important as well. They are really mentors-sometimes mentors from a distance.

One of my hero-mentors is Roger Williams, Mr. Piano. When I was in high school and college I would buy his records and any published arrangements I could find and pattern a lot of my playing after his. As time went on I found “my voice” in composing and orchestration, but his music was an important influence on me. His career is rich with accomplishment and his performances display incredible precision and discipline as well real feeling from the heart. There are aspects of his character as both a musician and person that I want to point out.

Discipline-I had the chance to go to go to one his concerts in Las Vegas this past August. He will be 86 October 1, 2010 and he still has his “chops;” it was a great concert.  It takes an incredible amount of practice and discipline to play at the level he plays. Check out the video on his home page:

Passion for his work-that’s such a great example for all of us and you can see as he plays and as he talks about the music he will play.

His refusal to rely on past accomplishments. Most people spend their lives preparing for their retirements. So while many of his peers were and are thinking about slowing down and retiring he carries on. He loves what he does and refuses to slow down.

Kindness and respect-one personal aspect of him is his kindness and respect to his fans. I have only been to just a few of his concerts. But the 2 times I was able to get his autograph and shake his hand, I observed his kindness to other people besides myself, especially at this last concert.

Again, heroes are important to all of us. They mentor us whether we actually have known them personally or not. I came away from his concert thoroughly inspired to renew the pursuit of my craft with the same energy and passion that Roger Williams has exemplified in his.

In future blogs I will write about my influences in film composing.

Jonathan David Neal
Roger Williams & JDN after his concert-Aug. 2010.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Influences & Inspiration...

As a composer, I hear (or maybe am subjected to) a lot of strange comments. For instance, after a long day in the studio of recording new music with an orchestra, a client of mine says, “you just whip this stuff out don’t you?” I had just spent several long days and an all nighter composing, orchestrating and doing the music prep for the gig. Another time I had just received DVDs by Fed Ex from a director to start working on his movie. A half hour later I got a call from him and he said, “I saw you received it by Fed Ex, will I hear the first cue tomorrow?”  I hear comments like this from composer friends, some funny and some completely off base even from people who should know better.

Actually, there are several issues that can be dealt with in those two comments, but the questions I am often asked are, “where did you get those ideas,” “can you explain the creative process,” and sometimes, “what were you thinking?”  Attempting to answer this is not something that you can just give a formula for and in reality, impossible. However, here are some of my answers.

Inspiration is unexplainable-I believe it is a combination of being God given and at the same time a lot of sweat and hard work involved. There are times when out of nowhere an idea comes, sometimes a chord progression and/or mood enter my mind first and then I develop a theme or melodic lines. Sometimes it comes all at once and it’s so fast I can’t seem to write my ideas down fast enough.

I tend to be a “visual” composer, so when I am doing movies the very first part of the process is to watch the movie over and over. I like to watch the  movie in it’s entirety 2-3 times (or more depending on the deadline). After the first 2-3 times I go thru it with a pad and music paper and jot notes down on what should be here and there, even after I’ve had a spotting session with the director. When I have watched it several times ideas and inspiration begins to solidify in my mind as I start writing the first cues.

There are times when I have to sit down to write because I have a deadline and feel completely blank. What do I do then? I brainstorm, improvise, or rely on experience hoping not pirate from music I have composed for other projects. There is no one answer you can give, because each situation is different.

The years spent listening and observing other composers, and musicians, analyzing and spending time observing how they structured their music is important. Over the next few blogs I will be writing on inspiration, a composer’s heroes including some of mine and issues that composer’s deal with in their craft and profession.
Jonathan David Neal