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Noisy Wheels of Joy

In 1999 (I think it was 1999) I attended the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop. It was an incredible experience, three weeks of seminars with film music agents, music contractors, and composers. (James Newton Howard gave a two hour Q&A, and I was sitting right next to him, freaking out the entire time).

At the end of the three week session a hat was passed around the room, and each of the ten student composers pulled a piece of paper from it. On each piece of paper was the name of a different movie, all movies that were in theaters at that time. (I remember someone getting Will Smith’s Wild Wild West). I got the Glenn Close live-action version of 101 Dalmatians.

Then, we were each given a 3-4 minute scene from the film we had pulled from the hat, and were told that we had three days to score it for a 40 piece orchestra. On top of that, we would conduct our score ‘to picture’ and would record with an A-list ensemble on the legendary Newman sound stage at Sony.

I took my video home and watched it again and again, and the sound that I kept coming back to was Prokofiev meets John Williams meets the overture to Candide. I killed myself trying to finish it, slept only a few hours a night, and no sleep the last night. (Seriously, I have no idea how film composers do it).

When I got to the sound stage, I was worried that maybe the music I had written was too difficult – what if the orchestra wouldn’t be able to play it? Heh. The recording at the top of this post is the very first time they looked at it, a cold sight-read.

And here is the cue as it appeared in the actual film, with original score by the late, great Michael Kamen. My cue begins around the 1:00 mark, but it doesn’t line up at all. I think I must have scored an earlier cut of the scene, or YouTube is playing it fast. Anyway, the orchestra is supposed to be constantly commenting on the scene: Pongo the dog falls in love; Jeff Daniel’s buffoonish theme as he climbs onto his bike; the skater that runs into the lamp post; the glory of London’s Trafalgar square; the cars about to hit him; the stairs rattling his body as he rides his bicycle down them; and the final stinger at the end of the cue is supposed to sound at the same time he hits the water.

After the workshop, I transcribed the cue for wind ensemble (almost note for note) and called it Noisy Wheels of Joy, which is a line from the E.E. Cummings poem i walked the boulevard. For the record, I nearly called it There’s Magic Everywhere, a tribute to the last line that Calvin says to Hobbes in their last comic strip; but my friend and fellow Juilliard composer Jonathan Newman convinced me to go with the Cummings. And there it is.

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