Archive for April 1st, 2012

April 1, 2012

A LESSON FROM A FAMOUS FILM COMPOSER

It’s Easter Week, a time when Cecil B. DeMille’s epic 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments” always shows up on TV, captivating both old and new audiences.

In 2000, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Elmer Bernstein, who composed the musical score for “The Ten Commandments,” as well as “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Animal House,” “Airplane!” and “Stripes,” along with countless other cinematic classics.

At the time, Bernstein was conducting the Northwest Sinfonia at Music Works Northwest in Seattle, in conjunction with the making of “Keeping the Faith.”  Edward Norton directed this romantic comedy, as well as starring in it with Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman.  I was invited by music contractor Simon James to witness the recording session from the live recording room where the orchestra performed.  What a fantastic opportunity to watch and learn from one of the greatest film composers of all time.

During the session, Norton found a part in the score that didn’t sync properly with the picture.  Bernstein knew that the timing of his original score was mathematically correct, but something had happened along the way to throw it out of sync.  These situations do happen in recording sessions and it can be very stressful when the clock is ticking on a very expensive session like this.

After a few failed attempts at forcing a solution, Bernstein decided to give the orchestra a 10 minute break.  During this break, he sat down at the piano and rearranged the part so that it would sync to picture.  When the orchestra returned, he instructed the musicians how to change their parts.  The next take was spot on and Norton was ecstatic with the results.

Elmer was the consummate professional.  His cool demeanor and positive attitude put the players at ease and he quickly solved a problem that could have had severe consequences.  I learned a great lesson that day about being understanding and flexible, and will never forget the experience of witnessing the work of a musical master.

Links:

Elmer Bernstein – http://www.elmerbernstein.com/

Northwest Sinfonia – http://www.simonjamesmusic.com

Edward Norton – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001570/

Ben Stiller – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001774/

Jenna Elfman – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001184/

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