The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Before we dig into this post, let me send a personal message out there to all my readers.

If you’re a regular reader since the beginning, you know that I’m not only lucky enough to work on one of the greatest television shows in history, but I’m also a grandfather to one of the cutest little girls in history. OK, maybe that’s stretching it a bit, but I’m prejudiced. Anyway, my granddaughter Abigail almost didn’t make it into this world to become so cute. She was born as what’s known as a “micro-preemie” and wasn’t given great odds of survival. Well, she beat the odds and will celebrate her 3rd birthday in a few weeks. If all my readers and Twitter followers donated just $1 or $2 each to The March of Dimes, I would be be very grateful and you would help ensure that future micro-preemies could get the same level of medical care that Abby received – care that certainly saved her life.

To donate, visit my donation page by clicking here and consider giving up one cup of coffee this week or one song download. We’re trying to raise as much money as we can by Saturday, May 11, 2013. Check out this little video that tells Abby’s story in just over two minutes, then continue on with our regularly scheduled programming. Thank you so much!

This post is for music geeks. You’ve been warned.

In the episode that aired this past Sunday – RABF11 “Pulpit Friction” I once again was able to put on my classically-trained-in-music hat. There is a scene in the episode that used “The Sorcerer’s Aprrentice” as temp music for the scene. Al Jean liked the way it played and he wanted to use that work in the final version of the show.

It fell to me to find a copy of the score and then “mark it up” so that it could be orchestrated and copied. “Mark it up” means to pick and choose the bars that we’ll use to fit the scene. It always sounds better to do the music editing on paper and have the orchestra play the edited score rather than have the work played in its entirety and then edit it Pro Tools. Playing the edited score always sounds more natural and “un-edited” (except to the music geek who realizes that bars are missing or have been repeated).

I start my process by finding a recording of the work and editing the track in Pro Tools by cutting it, looping it, speeding it up or slowing it down – whatever is necessary to have the music “hit” all the right “spots” in the cue. The final edited track sounds awful but I never worry about that because I know the final recorded version will wash away all sins. I send the edited version set to the picture to Alf Clausen & Al Jean for their thoughts. If they have notes, I tweak and we go back & forth until I get approval.

Next, I “mark up” the score according to the editing choices I’ve made. I take a PDF of the score pages and cross out the bars we’re not going to use, indicate where the music will start and stop, indicate cuts and jumps in the music (e.g. “go from bar 25 to 45”), etc. If you’d like to see my marked-up score click this link: Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Then this score goes out to Alf & orchestrator Dell Hake. The toughest part preparing these classical cues is that often they were written for large orchestras of 75 or more players, often with six french horns or two bassoons, or 4 trumpets. We record with an orchestra of 35 players, with only two each of trumpets, french horns, and trombones, and only one each of the woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), and our entire string section is smaller than just the violin section of most orchestras. Whittling down a large orchestra score to be played by a group one-half or one-third the size than originally intended is an art form unto itself. Then when it’s recorded, mixer Rick Riccio performs his own magic with microphone choice and placement, digital reverb, and equalization to make the group sound larger than it really is.

Here is my original edited track, complete with click track, that was the basis for the mark-up and orchestration. You may notice that the click “drifts” away from the orchestra from time to time. This is OK, because I knew that when we recorded it, the orchestra would follow the click and would be spot-on the timings.

We spent the better part of the first hour recording this cue at the scoring session, but it was well worth it when you hear the final result. FOX has been kind enough to post it on their YouTube site so that we can all enjoy it together.

I hope this post wasn’t too geeky for you, but this part of the job is one my favorites … one that lets me be more musician than editor.

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6 thoughts on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

  1. Chris,

    First, thank you for this wonderfully insightful blog. As a lifelong Simpsons fan and graduate music student, I find your entries both fascinating and valuable.

    I’m sure you can appreciate a geeky question, so here it goes. For the glockenspiel part, starting at 0:14 on the YouTube, why were the grace notes omitted? As a percussionist I am intimately familiar with this excerpt and was surprised to (not) hear them.

    Here’s the specific excerpt – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_jBOOoN4ZaYs/TSeOCdEwhBI/AAAAAAAAACg/gHeE9-vDnoM/s1600/Sorcerer%2527s+1.jpg

    • I can only offer apologies for the missing grace notes with an explanation that I hope will suffice.

      First, though our studio musicians are amongst the best players in the world, many of them don’t play “legit” music most of the time. I don’t recall which of our percussionists played the part, but he was probably not as intimately familiar with the part as you.

      Second, we are under severe time restrictions each week to get the score recorded and delivered on time. We strive for the best performance we can get in the time allotted. This means we can’t always achieve perfection. If we tried to get 100% of the cues right 100% of the time, we would never be able to finish on time. This means that small details will fall through the cracks every once in a while.

      All things being equal, I think you will agree that we captured an excellent performance minus a few grace notes.

      Thanks so much for the question and for your loyalty to the show.

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