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Christmas: Arranged and Orchestrated

Last year, a friend suggested that I join ASMAC, the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers. I was hesitant. Although I studied music composition in college and even had a few pieces performed, I am not a composer. Nor am I a music arranger. But when I investigated ASMAC, I discovered that I fell under their charter as a member of the general public.

“Promoting the art of Music Arranging, Composition and Orchestration within the entertainment industry community and the general public.”

I joined as an Associate. The fees are a bit lower than the professional membership and they support the many activities of ASMAC, including webinars, educational videos, and advocacy work in the music industry.

Today was the ASMAC Holiday Hanginar, where more than 100 people “hang out” online listening to presentations and send chat messages. Chat is a big activity for ASMAC. Everyone who logs on says where they are from. During presentations people can type questions or any remarks. Most chat is to compliment the musical work heard in the presentation. It’s a very supportive group. Most appear to be in the music industry with ties to film, recording, and live musical performance. Today’s theme was Christmas music. We heard from Nathan Wang, Curtis McKonly, Dan Redfeld, and Timothy Rodier, none of whom I knew about prior to the hanginar.

Nathan Wang is a composer for films, television, video games, musical theater, opera, and the concert stage. He got his start writing music for the stage version of Reefer Madness: The Musical, which later became a movie. He showed us the Romeo and Juliet song from the movie. After discussing his creative process, he went on to show us a scene from The Game Plan, starring Dwayne Johnson. Typical for these presentations, the dialog in the movie is ducked under the score and shown as subtitles so that we can better hear how the music supports the action. Nathan seemed quite modest. His presentation and demeanor gave me no clue that he was a musical prodigy and finished college before middle school.

Curtis McKonly was up next. Unlike many film score composers, Curtis is both a composer and orchestrator. On many recordings, he also performs. He treated us to a 1990 arrangement of The First Noel for Vanessa Williams, and then some of his later work, including The Warmth of Christmas. These were both lush and interesting arrangements. His website has many snippets available for listening. Check it out:

The main presentation was an analysis of the John Williams score for Home Alone, given by Dan Redfeld and Timothy Rodier. They discussed John Williams use of fugues to accompany montage sequences, his “appropriation” of Tchaikovsky themes, but altered in a manner similar to what Prokofiev might do, and twisting around the theme further as only John Williams can. We watched two scenes and then listened to the end credits score as we saw the score. It’s sad how many people walk out of movies as the credits appear. This end credit music was spectacular, complete with a section that featured a children’s choir.

Dan Redfeld is a conductor, orchestrator, pianist and producer. He is also known for his analysis of John Williams scores. Dan knew his stuff. I wondered where he was when I was taking music history and theory.

Timothy Rodier, “a veteran of the film music recording industry”, started Omni Music Publishing 10 years ago with the goal of publishing full orchestral scores of modern film music. He also has a YouTube channel on the making of film music, with such titles as Unusual and Unique Hollywood Percussion, The Gothic Harmonies of Batman, and Alan Silvestri’s Octatonic Secrets.

I signed off at the conclusion of the Home Alone analysis. ASMAC hanginars are at least two hours long. As is their tradition, this one would end with members’ arrangements of a piece of music. They chose Toyland to keep with the Christmas theme. Alas, I missed this part as I had other things to do. But the 90 minutes I spent hanging out were, as always, wonderful.

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