The Simpsons Take The Bowl – Part 1

Right around August 1st, 2014 Alf called me to say that he had been asked by Al Jean to participate in the upcoming THE SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL concert being planned for The Hollywood Bowl to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show. The producers wanted Alf to conduct some of his music and they wanted to bounce various ideas around to pick which music they would use. By this time it had already been announced in the press that various cast members and guest stars would be singing in the show with The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. Alf was being invited to present some of his music in a segment paying tribute to his musical legacy on the show.

Alf called to tell me about it and to ask for my input on possible cues or songs that he could conduct. We talked through a few possibilities and Alf said he would sleep on them and decide soon. Then on August 7th, I got a very unexpected call from Alf. He said that after giving the invitation thoughtful consideration, he was going to bow out of conducting at the concert.

A few years back, Alf came down with a case of “frozen shoulder“, a mysterious ailment that orthopedic doctors don’t fully understand. The main symptom is exactly what it sounds like – your shoulder locks up, limiting range of motion in the arm to around 20% of normal. No one seems to know exactly what causes it and there is no cure other than time for it to “thaw”. Thawing can take 18-24 months. While Alf’s shoulder isn’t “frozen” any more, it hasn’t fully “thawed” either. As a result, he hasn’t been conducting at scoring sessions these past few years. Orchestrator Dell Hake has been handling that job beautifully and Alf has moved into the control room, listening to takes and giving notes as we record the sessions. Alf felt that a week of conducting that would include rehearsals and performances was just a bit much given his shoulder condition. He asked Al Jean to keep the tribute segment in the program and recommended that I conduct the orchestra in his place. Al ran the request up the chain of command, everyone approved, and I got the gig.

Oh. My. God.

Alf was vary aware of my conducting education and ambition. I was so honored that he would entrust me with this once-in-a-lifetime privilege. We talked some more and settled on a medley of some of his well-known themes combined with instrumental arrangements of some of his songs from various musical episodes. I assembled a medley that would run about six-and-a-half minutes. Alf and Al approved the music and next came working out the preparation of the score with the music library and the music supervisor for the show, Jim Dooley.

Some of the music we selected dated back to the third season of the show, but our fabulous music library – JoAnn kane Music Service – has everything saved and stored at their facility and they were able to pull all the scores I needed, convert the older, hand-written ones to a digital format, and combine them with the newer, already digital scores into one, fantastic, beautiful score.

The first rehearsal was scheduled for Sunday, September 7th starting at 7:30PM. This would be a “walk-through” rehearsal for the purpose of everyone learning their entrances and exits, running through the dialogue, and learning the choreography for the “Do the Bartman” finalé – no orchestra, no singing during this rehearsal. The rehearsal ran longer than expected and we finished around 11:00PM. On my way home I received an email from Al Jean saying that the medley needed to be cut in half. I was very surprised and a bit heartbroken that such a change would be made before I even had a chance to rehearse it with the orchestra, but the medley wasn’t the only casualty. Jokes and dialog got cut, some animation specially created for the concert got cut, one of Beverly D’Angelo’s and one of John Lovitz’s songs got cut. The changes made for a more fast-paced, vaudeville-style musical review show.

So Monday morning I started re-editing the medley and sending it off for approval. Once approved, all the orchestra parts had to be revised to reflect the new version. Then I arrived back at the Bowl on Wednesday evening, September 10th to lead my first rehearsal. The medley was scheduled for the second half of the second half of the show, so I had quite a bit of time to cool my heels and wait my turn. Finally, around 9:20PM, Master of Ceremonies Hank Azaria introduced me, I walked onto the legendary Bowl stage, and performed the small comedy bit that had been written for me. I was supposed to walk onto the stage in regular street clothes, looking a bit bewildered at what I was doing there. Then a couple of the Duff Girl Dancers ripped off my street clothes revealing my fancy tux underneath, magically transforming me into a ready-to-go conductor. Our costume designer for the show, Kathryn McRitchie had worked for a couple of weeks preparing the breakaway clothes and fitting it perfectly over my tux so that I didn’t look too “puffy” in the over-sized shirt and pants. They ripped away perfectly and the bit went exactly as planned – and then it was cut for time. I felt so bad for Kathryn after all the work she did, but she was very well represented with all her other costumes in the show.

My first rehearsal was amazing. It was everything I could have ever hoped for leading the world-class group of musicians that they are. For those of you not familiar with The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, in its current incarnation it is an orchestra made up primarily of studio musicians whose day job is working on the movies, TV shows, and records that you all know and love. The orchestra was formed in 1991 to play the weekend “pops” concerts leaving the “legit” classical concerts during the week to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The rehearsal went off without a hitch thanks to the combined efforts of JoAnn Kane’s people and Stephen Biagini’s crew with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s library services. Amazing. Without their help, I would have spent all my rehearsal time telling the orchestra what cuts had been made. I am totally indebted to them for their über-professional work.

We ended rehearsal on time, then went home to have Thursday off before one last rehearsal on Friday afternoon, just a few hours before the first performance on Friday evening. All the details on the weekend coming soon … stay tuned.

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A Dream is About to Come True

Regular readers of this blog may remember my post from November, 2011 which tells how I got started in music as a child and my ambition to conduct professionally. Well, you can file this post under “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait” (and learn, and show up for work on time, and do their jobs correctly).

I will be conducting The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for a small but important portion of THE SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL on September 12-13-14, 2014. While, of course, much of the music to be performed those evenings was composed by Alf Clausen, my part of the concert will be devoted exclusively to Alf and his contributions to the musical legacy of THE SIMPSONS.

Alf asked me to do this for him. Honored, humbled, and excited are three words that come to mind to describe how I feel about this privilege, and they are woefully lacking in descriptive power. I cannot thank Alf enough for this opportunity and for the trust he has placed in my hands to represent him and his music.

It goes without saying that my whole musical life has lead up to these three nights. It also goes without saying that any further details about the shows have to go without saying – I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises!

I can’t believe I’ll be musically representing the greatest cartoon of the past 25 years at the same historic venue where cartoon greats Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry have conducted before me!

So spread the word and if you are in the Los Angeles area any of those three nights, please come to one of the concerts and tweet me @mxedtr to let me know you’re there. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Of course, I’ll be documenting the experience as much as I can and will post a long, gushing, self-congratulatory blog when it’s all in the rear-view mirror.

BMI Conductors’ Workshop

THE SIMPSONS is currently on post-production hiatus until mid-August, so I get to work on other projects during the summer. For the past fifteen summers (and now a sixteenth this year) I have been the music editor for the BMI Conductors’ Workshop. The photo above is from the 2012 workshop.

BMI & ASCAP are the two performing rights societies in the U.S.A. that represent composers (film composers, song writers, lyricists, etc.) and their primary function is to collect performance fees from the major studios, TV networks, restaurants, elevators, any place where copyrighted music is played publicly. Then, in turn, they distribute those fees to their composer members in the form of royalties. In the world of TV scoring, this is the largest source of income for composers. They are paid a fixed fee (an ever-shrinking fixed fee) for composing the music, but when it plays on TV in first-run and in subsequent syndicated reruns, they receive additional royalty payments based on the number of minutes of music played. The royalty pay scales vary depending on a number of factors – network TV music pays more than cable TV; if a cue is “featured”, meaning that the music is the focal point of the scene (a dance scene, a live singer, etc.) it pays more than if the music were underscore. If you are an up-and-coming composer and want to learn more, click here to visit the BMI website or click here to visit the ASCAP website.

Besides collecting and distributing money, BMI & ASCAP offer their members all types of advice, classes, and workshops to help them advance their careers. Since 1998 BMI has offered its film composers the opportunity to learn orchestral conducting. This is a valuable skill for a film composer as many composers conduct their own music at the recording session, but many younger (and some veteran) composers have never stood on the podium in front of a symphony-sized orchestra. It can be a very daunting experience. Every year, BMI selects eight (it used to be ten, but they scaled back to give more personal instruction) composers to participate in the conductors’ workshop where they learn all the basics of conducting. Over the two-week course they start out conducting just a pianist. Then session by session, they lead larger and larger groups culminating with a final big session with a 40-piece orchestra. As I write this post, I am sitting on the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Stage listening to and working with this year’s crop of students as they lead a fabulous studio orchestra.

The teacher of the workshop for all sixteen years of its existence is Lucas Richman. Lucas is currently Music Director for both the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in Tennessee and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in Maine. Two years from now he will be conducting full-time in Bangor. He’s a great teacher, inventive composer in his own right, and conductor extraordinaire who spent many years conducting film scores in Hollywood (“The Village”, “Se7en”, “As Good As It Gets” to name a few) before taking the job in Knoxville in 2003. I’m proud to call him a colleague and a friend. Read more about Lucas by clicking here.

The composer-students get to conduct all types of orchestral works ranging from chamber works by Copland and Mascagni to larger symphonic works by Beethoven and Rossini all the way up to big film scores by Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri.

I always have a lot of fun being a part of the workshop every year because I get to wear the dual hats of music editor and conductor. I coordinate all the film score cues by preparing the picture, the click tracks, and the Auricle programming. Lucas does all the conducting coaching and teaching, and I’m able to lend the perspective of a music editor with formal conducting training. It’s been a wonderful and fun opportunity for me to meet new composers and hear more fantastic live music played by the greatest musicians working today.

I took some photos during this year’s workshop for you to enjoy. Scroll down and click on any photo to see a larger view and to browse through the collection.

New episodes of THE SIMPSONS are scheduled to return in late September and I’m due back at the first music spotting of the 25th season in mid-August. I’ll be posting more musical musings between now and then.

A Little More About Les Misérables

I just wanted to post a quick follow-up to my previous post after finding a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes on YouTube. I’ll make it quick, I promise.

I captured a few images from the videos to illustrate some of the points I made in the other post. First, we have this, a shot of the off-stage pianist/accompanist encased in her little soundproof box. The box allowed the pianist to play and move without fear of the sounds being captured by the on-set microphones that were recording the cast’s singing. D’oh! There’s more to read…

Les Misérables

Have too many words already been written about this movie? Probably, but I’m here to share my thoughts about the film from the points of view as both a movie fan and a music editor. WARNING: I’m going to get a bit deep in spots here about the technical side of producing the music for the movie – mind you, I did not work on the movie so my observations will be strictly based on my past experiences working on musicals and SIMPSONS production numbers, so while what I write may not be 100% accurate as it applies to “Les Misérables”, it should give a pretty thorough look at the process. D’oh! There’s more to read…

Finishing “Politically Inept with Homer Simpson” & “The D’oh-cial Network” and Starting “Moe Goes from Rags to Riches”

2012 has been pretty busy right from the get-go.

We started off by airing PABF03 “Politically Inept with Homer Simpson” on January 8. We actually finished dubbing this episode back on December 13, so it was really nice to be so far ahead of the airdate. That luxury will be rapidly evaporating as we get deeper into 2012 and more episodes start airing back-to-back. D’oh! There’s more to read…