Most people fill out W-2s with job titles like Software Engineer or Marketing Consultant; Endre Granat gets to put down “Concert Master.” (Are there “Orchestra Slaves”?)
That will be Granat’s title at the Fox Scoring Stage on Friday night’s ASCAP Workshop recording session, where he is the strings section lead – and thus the orchestra’s direct conduit to the composer. Workshop director Richard Bellis pointed out that trumpeters were often lead musicians in the big-band days, when horns predominated.
With violin in hand, Granat discussed some of his instument’s technical considerations and, not unlike Peter Frampton making his guitar talk, demonstrated the different sounds that could be extracted by changing bowing techniques.
Granat played a piece of Sascha Peres’ incubating score and gave Gerrit Wunder’s score a thorough reading. In notating a score, Granat reminded the composers that the 60-piece orchestra will have just 16 minutes to record a brand-new three-minute cue. Simple notations are a big help; fancier scoring is less problematic with classical pieces an orchestra has played many times. Said Granat: “Your piece may become a classic, but it is not yet a classic; write it in the most simple way.”
Granat stressed that the workshop’s upcoming day at the Fox Scoring Stage would be an adventure for the players, who would have to cope with 12 different styles. Working with a familiar composer, Granat said, “can be a pleasure… we have covered the motifs before.” Granat was particularly complimentary to his experiences with John Williams, saying that he has “perfect notation. No one ever needs to stand up and ask a question.”
Bellis addressed the respect a composer needs for his players with a story from his childhood (one he tells in his book, “The Emerging Film Composer”). “When I was 15 years old, I asked my dad, who was a music teacher, to give me some conducting lessons.
“After a couple of sessions, he said, ‘All right. Now stand in front of the mirror and conduct in 4/4.’
” ‘Bigger,’ he said. I did.
” ‘Faster,’ he said. I did.
” ‘Okay, stop. Did you hear that?’
” ‘What?’ I asked.
” ‘Exactly. No matter how hard or fast you conduct, you can’t make any music with your arms. Always respect the musicians.”
Granat let the composers know players are game to experiment, lamenting that strings are currently stuck in what he called a “puritanical period. We aren’t vibrating – it offends people – (but) vibrato is an integral part of the string player’s repertoire and I don’t think it’s being explored in Hollywood at all.”
Up next was orchestrator David Slonaker, who serves as the workshop’s score reader. He’s the composers’ man in the recording booth, looking for mistakes while they conduct.
First, Slonaker played an inventive score he orchestrated for Danny Elfman on “Red Dragon.” Since the movie was somewhat forgettable, it underscored a point made by Bellis: It’s tough to recognize a good score in a bad movie.
Slonaker then outlined the three components he seeks in a composer’s sketch: Color (instruments that add finishing touches), support (sounds in the “middle,” such as horns and trombones) that lend resonance and, finally, how can he get the orchestra to sound like what the piece deserves?
Slonaker also talked about ADSR, or Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release, as a way to build a score’s tones. Which instruments, in what combinations, have the ability to ADSR?
The session ended with gentle reminders from Bellis: Try not to fatigue the horn players, watch out for too much piccolo (it tends to end up on everyone’s mics) and remember the best attitude: “What can I do to facilitate you to record my music?”