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Composers Vying for Emmys Build Musical Atmosphere for TV’s Top Shows

Music for television is now as diverse as it has ever been — from traditional orchestra to electronica, from cool jazz to hip-hop beats. That’s partly the result of the vast increase in production in recent years, but also a matter of showrunners’ wide-ranging musical tastes.

The diversity extends to the composers themselves. Women and people of color, for example, are far more visible in TV’s musical community than in the feature-film world. There are multiple worthy Emmy contenders in the two main composition categories: music for a series and music for a limited series, movie or special. Here we’ve singled out a few of them.

Kurt Farquhar, composer for the CW’s superhero show “Black Lightning,” calls his work “neo-urban scoring: a mix of orchestral score, sound design, contemporary urban/club music, R&B and jazz.” Farquhar has added even more diverse sounds during its first season, including “thundering guitars” to action sequences and an evocative solo voice for high-school principal-turned-reluctant hero Jefferson Pierce.

Kris Bowers’ music for Netflix’s “Dear White People” ranges from jazz to classical-influenced pieces. This season, he says, showrunner Justin Simien suggested he conceive themes “centered around a specific color palette, which freed me to respond to the overall feeling of certain scenes.”

For Syfy’s “Krypton,” set on Superman’s home world, composer Pinar Toprak created the music of an entire civilization. “It was a bit of a gamble,” she says, building electronic soundscapes and adding unusual percussion and vocal chants. “Even though it’s a world that is not ours, a lot of the character motivations and struggles and successes are things we can relate to.”

Hulu’s “The Runaways,” based on a Marvel Comics story about rebellious teens, “needed to feel a little ‘outside the box,’ with an element of angst, in ways that I personally and musically identified with,” says composer Siddhartha Khosla.

His musical solution was to use analog synthesizers of the ’80s and ’90s. “There’s something warm about those textures that felt appropriate for these teenage superheroes,” Khosla says.

Amazon’s Cold War-era parody “Comrade Detective” demanded music “in the classic style of cop shows from the 1970s and ’80s,” says composer Joe Kraemer. He recorded a 22-piece orchestra in Vienna “with a Romanian concertmaster, which gave it a proper sense of time and place, playing themes and arrangements that sounded authentic but also fresh.”

NatGeo’s Iraq War series “The Long Road Home,” says composer Jeff Beal, “was not about politics — it was about sacrifice, and what these men and women go through,” which required a brass ensemble and string orchestra. “It’s tricky when you have scenes with explosions and gunfire. We have some music that plays against the war sounds and more to the emotions.”

(Pictured above: “Dear White People”)

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