thoughts on music, design and literature

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Joel McNeely

One of the reasons why I started this blog is to talk about my influences--whether they be favorite artists, genres of music, or other composers. And without a doubt, one of the most formative experiences for me as a young composer was working with Joel McNeely.

I first heard Joel's music in The Avengers, and was blown away by it. When I first moved down to Los Angeles, I contacted Joel to ask it he'd be willing to mentor me--a year later, I started working for him on The Jungle Book 2.

One of the reasons why I was interested in working for Joel in particular (and indeed, I left an internship working for Hans Zimmer to do so) is because he writes music the way I do: the old fashioned way, bar by bar, with a pencil and a sheet of staff paper. But while this method yields the best music, you still need to be able to play a mock-up sampled version of your music for the director; that way they can approve the music before you get to the expensive step of recording on a scoring stage.

Since Joel writes everything out, he hired me to create elaborate synthesized mock-ups of his film scores. In essence, that means that I played every note of every piece of music he wrote for these films into a computer. So after working for him for six films (including Lilo And Stich 2, for which he set me up with my first writing job for Disney), you'd better believe I absorbed something from his style.

One of my favorite scores from the time that I worked for him was Pooh's Heffalump Movie. Check out the 'Heffalump Main Theme' (linked directly from Joel's site):

After working for Joel, my own orchestral style bloomed. My orchestrations started becoming lusher--high strings soaring in octaves, horn counterpoint filling up the middle, trombones doubling the low strings for added warmth.... Unfortunately many times I don't get the opportunity to write music in this 'classic-Hollywood' style, but a lot of what I absorbed from him still finds its way into songs like 'Baba Yetu'.

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