New York City… I remember visiting the city with my roommate, Ladd Spiegel when we were both freshmen at Amherst College. I recall staying at the Waldorf Astoria, going to the theatre, seeing Gladys Knight and the Pips and realizing as Jerry Herman said, there was a whole world outside of Yonkers, or in my case Oklahoma City. I remember getting to go there again after graduation, staying at the Plaza going to see Words and Music by Sammy Cahn, going to see Kander and Ebb’s 70 Girls 70 hearing Errol Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, and Buddy Rich. The pulse of the city was infectious and I had my whole life in front of me and I knew that New York would play an important role in it.
Well, I still love it and when I became involved with the Society of Composers and Lyricists, I was surprised to learn that we didn’t have a chapter there, even though some of the most gifted composers and lyricists working in our industry call the city their home. As I researched further, I realized that at one time, there was a presence there that was equal to ours here in Los Angeles. But that was years ago in the early fifties and was headed by Arthur Schwartz, the composer of such classics as Dancing in the Dark andThat’s Entertainment. As a result, I’ve made it a priority to embrace that community and try to move things forward.
Over the past few years, the SCL has co-hosted a number of events, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of talented composers and songwriters who continue to make huge contributions to our profession. Recently I had the opportunity to present an evening of my music at NYU as part of Ron Sadoff’s Film Scoring Program, under the aegis of ASCAP and the SCL, which was moderated by Joel Beckerman. Joel has been instrumental in trying to bring the SCL to New York. His illustrious career and tireless energy have made him a key player there in our efforts to enlist the New York community. There are certain segments of our industry that are thriving on the East Coast. I asked Joel to give me his take on the state of the business there. I include some of his thoughts:
Sports still thrives. The one challenge in that area is that ESPN, arguably the leader in sports cable does NOT have a blanket license with the Performing rights organizations and often tries to get composers to give up their performance royalties.
Children’s programming certainly is big, mainly on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. News is perennial but certainly growing
with more channels like Fox Business launching. Talk and reality on cable are certainly big. The success of John Stewart
has led the way for others. We all know that original talk in syndication has taken a beating lately, and except for Ellen and Oprah, is on the ropes at the moment.
Certainly there are many composers who are busy in advertising in New York, although not as many as in the past.
I would say that cable television in general is certainly a growth area for composers, especially as more and more cable networks (like Sci-Fi, TNT, USA, WE Channel, Bravo, etc, etc) have moved to do more original series.
The challenge is how to do the same high level of creative work with diminishing budgets. A lot of composers are doing shows, which are hybrids of original music and library.
The SCL, along with ASCAP, presented Young Frankenstein with John Morris, a few years back. John has made his home in New York for years, as have other great composers such as John Barry and our SCL Ambassador, David Shire, our Advisory Board Member, Alan Menken and his 2007 Oscar nominated collaborator, Stephen Schwartz. I was honored to be a part of a celebration of our Advisory Board member, Charlie Fox at the BMI offices, which was attended by a number of influential New York writers along with, Del Bryant, Doreen Ringer Ross, Linda Livingston, Alison Smith and Charlie Feldman from BMI. Charlie Fox treated us to some of his greatest hits and his engaging personality made this truly an event to remember.
ASCAP’s Michael Kerker has been instrumental in helping us enlist the Broadway and Cabaret community. We were fortunate to have Marcy Heisler on a panel that included other esteemed writers such as Mark Snow, Maria Schneider and Rob Mounsey, with Cheryl Foliart representing the studio perspective entitled, Launching and Growing Your Composing/Songwriting Career. Marcy shared her travels through the world of Cabaret that have led to a Broadway play co-written with her partner, Zina Goldrich, along with Doug Hughes and Rob Ashford entitled, Ever After. I attended the opening of our talented board member Peter Melnick’s ADRIFT IN MACAO (book & lyrics by Christopher Durang), which garnered rave reviews and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music during its 2007 Off-Broadway run. Michael Patterson, artist in residence at NYU, and a composer. arranger and producer who, like Maria Schneider has achieved celebrity in the field of jazz in New York, has been another key figure in moving things forward in the city. I asked him to share a few thoughts, which I include here:
A composer’s point of view does change once he lives in New York for a while. New York is a live performance city! The concept of giving concerts is prominent in the psyche of the musicians here and of course this plays very strongly in the mind of the composer. Going to hear several concerts a week is not unusual. The quest for excellence in performance is part of the culture of both performer and composer. This has an interesting effect upon the artist. Not only is he required to know his craft, but is challenged to find his voice. Knowing your craft is just the beginning. I have found that the real learning goes on through my work with these amazing musicians. The default in this city seems to be to always get better at what we do. SCL is a good way to stay current and to network, and of course that is our intent here, as you know. I think the work is the prime thing here, whether it is theater, film, jazz or concert music, and bringing excellence to whichever field you are in seems to be the focus and concern here in NY- and the city is a great place to be for all artists. the city is international and you feel it when you walk out of your apartment!
Composer, Carter Burwell participated in a special event hosted by ASCAP, the Film Musicians Secondary Market, AFM Local 802 and the SCL at Columbia University entitled, Aesthetics and Collaboration. It provided a thought provoking forum that included a dialogue between Carter, director Steve Shainberg and Moderator, Alex Steyermark surrounding the movie, Fur, scored by Carter.
As the challenges to our way of doing business become more acute and our adversaries become more united in their quest to minimize the compensation for our work, it is critical that we join together in a global sense and do what we can to increase our odds of being heard. I thank those of you living outside the boundaries of California for your support of our organization and for those members on the East Coast, I would encourage you to attend our events and join with your colleagues as we continue to plan more activities in your area. New York is a special place and I applaud our colleagues that continue to make it the creative center it has historically been.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXIII, Number Three, Fall 2008]