ASCAP Composers’ Choice Award 2014

ASCAP-award

I just got home from the ASCAP Awards Banquet, and I’m still buzzing and overcome with emotion. There is no way I’m going to sleep anytime soon. So, I’m blogging instead.  I’ve attended the ASCAP banquet for several years now, and have received awards for having music on the airwaves in popular series. For me, the event is mostly a chance to socialize with other composers who, like me, rarely step out of their studios. This year there was a new award category, the Composers’ Choice Award.  Unlike other ASCAP awards, this one was decided on creative merit and voted on by peer composers. I was tremendously honored to be nominated alongside industry giants Alf Clausen, Dave Porter, Jimmy Levine and Sean Callery.

Apparently there was a tie, so the award was given to both myself and Dave Porter (the composer of one of my favorite series ever!). The honor was amplified when the award was presented by Mark Snow. Seriously… the guy who wrote all the music for The X-Files handed me an award tonight! Mark called out my name, and the next thing I knew I was up on the stage, stammering like an idiot. I was confident I wouldn’t win this one, so I was totally unprepared to say anything.  For the life of me, I can’t even remember what I said.

Now that I’ve had a few hours to mentally digest all this, I want to put my thoughts down.

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I have been a musician my entire life, and as such, I’ve been a fan of composers for as long as I can remember. I didn’t grow up in the industry, so I never had the chance as a kid to ever meet anyone who did the thing that I wanted to do. One of the first things I realized when I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams, at the age of 18, was that I was surrounded by my idols. My first semester at USC, I snuck past security into a screening of Starship Troopers that was meant only for film students, because Basil Poledouris was a guest speaker that night. I had what would end up being one of two opportunities to speak with him, just as a gushing fan. That same year, I met Jerry Goldsmith at his L.A. Phil concert and he reluctantly signed my worn-down Planet of the Apes album. I will never forget the thirty seconds I stood in his presence. And of course, I documented just a sliver of my experiences working with Elmer Bernstein in my “Elmer Wisdom” blog post last year.

I studied film music composition with David Raksin. (The guy scored films for Charlie Chaplin!) I sat in on a class with Leonard Rosenman, who wrote my favorite non-Goldsmith Trek score.

Then, there were events that were not as joyful, but still had profound impacts on me. I sat next to Bruce Broughton at Elmer Bernstein’s memorial.  Bruce probably doesn’t remember this.

I sat next to James Newton Howard at Jerry Goldsmith’s funeral. He definitely doesn’t remember this, because I didn’t have the courage to say anything to him, nor did I feel it was the place to strike up a conversation.

All that happened when I was a music student. When I entered the business, I found that these types of interactions began to happen more frequently. Suddenly, I sat on panels next to veteran composers like John Ottman, John Debney and Marco Beltrami. I conducted concerts alongside Mark Isham! I got lunch with Lalo Schifrin.

I could pick up the phone, call Stu Phillips and invite myself over to his house so he could personally show me his orchestral score for Battlestar Galactica.

I met Jerry Fielding’s widow at a screening of The Wild Bunch.

Shirley Walker! I got to meet Shirley Walker on only one occasion, at yet another ASCAP event, shortly before graduating college. To this day, I have never been so starstruck. (In the years since, I have dedicated several of my scores to her.) A few years later, I had the honor of being invited by her son Ian to attend her memorial service after I posted this blog entry about her influence on my score to BSG. Since then, I’ve had the joy of getting to know her protégés Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter, whose work I also admire.

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[Side note: Tonight, Wendy and Lisa were given the lifetime achievement award which was renamed the Shirley Walker Award. I was so moved I could almost not control my emotions, seeing Shirley's name up on there on those big screens, commanding such respect, and seeing these two wonderfully talented and hard-working composers accepting the first award in her name. I never got to know Shirley, but everything I have heard about her makes me think she would smile and laugh modestly at this whole thing, then shrug and go back to writing her next score.]

Every time I attended one of these events, I was, and to this day remain, overcome with a sensation of awe. I have always felt like a giddy fanboy outsider, someone who gets to be in the proximity of his heroes and walk in their deep and dark shadows. But, for some reason, I never felt like I was actually part of their community.

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Tonight, when I was one of two composers awarded the ASCAP Composer’s Choice Award, I was overcome with a new emotion. One I can’t quite yet even define. It’s that same feeling of awe, because once again I was in a room filled with incredibly talented composers I admire greatly. But, this time I was up on the stage, accepting an award that was voted on solely by them. It has slowly dawned on me these past few hours that this award is among the most important a composer could ever win. The voting body that picked Dave and I for this is one of the most knowledgable and sophisticated that has ever given an award for music. That means a lot.

Who better to judge the merits of a television score than the artists struggling with the very same issues day in and day out? Composers know. We all notice recycled cues. We hear when a composer has lost a battle with producer “temp love,” because we’ve all been there. We know when a theme works and when it doesn’t. We know when a cymbal scrape comes from a commercial library. We know when the soft-synth sound is from the default bank. We know what live instruments sound like. We can tell when an obsessive amount of work went into a score, and when it was written in a hurry.

This award means more to me than words can possibly describe. I was hoping to put some concise thoughts down here after whatever rambling speech I made tonight, and here I am, rambling once again. Let me just conclude this by saying that it means the world to me to feel included. For the past ten years, since I started scoring Battlestar Galactica, I’ve participated in panels, lectures, concerts and events like this and always loved that I could sit near the giants who have made this industry what it is. But, for some reason, I never really felt like I was a part of that industry. Perhaps that feeling is what has always compelled me to push further, work harder, sleep less, and take on new challenges. That feeling of having not really arrived anywhere has always compelled me to simply go. 

After tonight, I feel like I am part of a community of like-minded artists, and in all likelihood, I have been for quite some time, and just never realized it. To all the composers out there, whether you’re in ASCAP or not, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for creating this artistic community here in Los Angeles, thank you for inviting me into it. I want to strive to contribute to it, both creatively and personally.

The next time I find myself sitting next to James Newton Howard… I’m going to introduce myself.

-Bear