Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Unique Voice

I'm sitting at home watching the Oscars. I'm thrilled that Ennio Morricone has been given an Oscar at long last. He has written some gorgeous music over the years.

Once upon a time, almost two decades ago, I worked in a quite different industry - as an arranger and composer of orchestral and big-band music. My heroes were the great band leaders - Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini and Russell Garcia (leader of the NBC Orchestra for many years) - and of course 20th century American composers Gershwin, Copeland, Glass (and virtually every major composer for American film).

Like Ennio Morricone, Mancini and Riddle (Frank Sinatra's conductor and arranger for several decades) were primarily known for their ability to create what we call in the trade "voicings" - essentially unique inversions of chords, and their ability to combine these "voicings" with even more unique combinations of instruments.

Think of Mancini's theme from "The Pink Panther" - have you ever heard anything close to that unusual combination of baritone sax, big band brass, woodwinds and strings since? Mancini did his employers a great service.

Not everyone thinks timbre/voicing is important. Years after I started arranging, I was accepted into the ABC Young Composers program in Adelaide. I was amazed one day to find my mentor placed timbre at the bottom of the list of things he felt most important - for those interested, timbre was listed after rhythm, melody and harmony - in that order.

I'm glad Morricone never took that course. Listening to Morricone's unique score for "A Fistful of Dollars", you are transported to one movie, one time, one place. It is unique. His music will be remembered - and will remain capable of transporting us out into the desert with Clint Eastwood - for many decades to come.

Note: speaking of Oscars and award-ceremonies, I enjoyed a great "movie moment" once many years ago. I had just arrived in my hotel room in Singapore after a long flight, and as I dropped onto my bed and flipped on the TV, the Emmy Awards came on and a voice announced "... and the award goes to... " and the name that followed was that of my old friend from Sydney (and a hell of a great composer/arranger), Ashley Irwin.

Turns out Ashley won his Emmy award for - you guessed it - his work arranging and rehearsing the Oscars. He was back at it tonight.

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