Winter 2005


Over the last year, our profession has gone through significant changes. Along with those changes, we saw the passing of some dear colleagues and friends, whose genius and influence on our careers can never be replaced. Our annual membership meeting in September celebrated the lives of Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and David Raksin with wonderful tributes prepared by Ron Grant, Charles Bernstein, Ray Colcord and Jim di Pasquale. Earlier in the evening we were honored to have John Debney address over two hundred of us in the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room, where the first Academy Awards were presented in 1929. I know all of us were inspired with John’s perspective as our business moves forward in the fine tradition established by our forefathers.

My career officially began in November of 1978.Over the last twenty-seven years the landscape of our business has changed in many ways. For one, instead of the sixty or so composers that were doing most of the work, the numbers have grown into the hundreds, if not thousands. Instead of pencil and paper, computers and sequencers have allowed many of us to do our work more efficiently. Piano and guitar song demos have made way to fully realized productions. I remember presenting many a theme song live, in front of the producer, and that’s the way it happened for many of my friends, among them, Charlie Fox and Paul Williams on “The Love Boat.” Instead of three network channels and feature films, we now have a myriad of syndicated, cable, Internet and game outlets for our creativity. Nevertheless, despite these advancements, I would hope that we, as a community, value the same ideals as my colleagues did then; the pursuit of excellence in our craft should outweigh financial reward; integrity and respect for our fellow artists should outweigh profit margins.

The history of this organization is long and notable. In 1945, the Screen Composers Association was established when the need for fairer compensation for our work was deemed appropriate. The Composers Guild and later the Composers and Lyricists Guild of America was established when better work conditions were desired. During the mid fifties and early sixties, efforts to unionize led to certification by the National Labor Relations Board and a contract with the Association of Motion Picture Producers. Although this group was led courageously by such luminaries as David Raksin, Leith Stevens and Elmer Bernstein, our relationship with the studios began to unravel in the seventies and after an extended lawsuit, our group disbanded for a short period of time.

Never to be held back, this organization reorganized as the Society of Composers and Lyricists in the early eighties, largely due to the efforts of past presidents, Arthur Hamilton and Jim di Pasquale, and although we have been unsuccessful in reestablishing certification, we have grown to more than eight hundred members and are proud to boast an advisory board of the greatest names in the industry. We are proud to have included Charles Fox, Maurice Jarre and Thomas Newman to that list over the last year. I also am happy to report that John Williams has recently joined us as an honorary lifetime member, and I send out my thanks to Charles Bernstein for his efforts on our behalf in making these things a reality. Our SCL Ambassador program has welcomed in the talents of Earle Hagen, Ray Evans, Vic Mizzy, Ray Charles, and this year, Van Alexander and the Sherman Brothers were added to this distinguished list.

Proud partners in our quest for respect and recognition are our performing rights organizations. ASCAP, BMI, and SEASAC deserve our allegiance. Direct and source licensing presents a serious threat to undermining the way that we do business. From a personal perspective, these organizations have made it possible for me to educate my children and face the possibility of extended unemployment. They have been there when the SCL needed their support and they are there for you. The temptation to make deals beyond their scope should be avoided at all cost. The next phase will certainly be the doing away with performance income altogether.

Anyone that knows me at all knows that the secret of any success that I might have achieved in my career has been as a result of the employment of the finest musicians in the world, right here in Los Angeles. The talent pool is truly amazing, but unless we continue to incorporate these great talents into our scores, it will surely dry up. The union has bent over backwards to find ways to make recording here more affordable. The latest agreement will essentially guarantee soundtracks by making the first 15,000 units free from re-use fees, and there are more changes being planned.

Thanks to the efforts of composers such as Steve Bramson, Alf Clausen and Michael Giacchino, as well as informed and sympathetic heads of music, such as Cheryl Foliart, television shows have once again begun to feature our great instrumentalists. On Studio Tours, Ray Colcord and I took fifty members to three of the premier studios in town to demonstrate the venues where it could be done. Now I encourage you to get to know our fabulous musicians and find out more about the flexible rates and terms that are available to you. The RMA has representatives available to speak with you regarding the specifics and we are planning an informative seminar to get to the bottom of many of the myths and misconceptions that have pervaded our industry about financial ramifications inherent in employing union musicians.

There has been inquiry about what has been going on in terms of a New York presence for the SCL, and as a matter of fact, I have received a number of calls from members who have volunteered to facilitate this move. Historically, the CLGA had an active New York membership for a number of years. Board member Harvey Cohen and I have had the opportunity to visit the offices of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC and speak to a number of writers about the possibility of moving forward with the SCL on the East coast. There are many talented composers and songwriters in New York. Although their focus is somewhat different than Los Angeles, their needs are similar.

On December 13th (which may have passed by the time you receive this issue) we have planned the first SCL NY event, an evening with John Morris, featuring the screening of one of his most beloved films, Young Frankenstein. John’s career has been closely associated with Mel Brooks, having composed the music to such classics as Silent Movie and Blazing Saddles. We’re hoping Mel will be able to join us as well.

Recently a member who I have a great deal of respect for was wondering, “What could the SCL do for me?” Although a valid question, I must say that it seems that the perspective of that question was reversed. Everyone within our membership has an important role to play in our organization, and although there are many things that the SCL can do for you, such as educate, enlighten and inspire, I challenge you to become more involved with our group and see what you can do for your colleagues. Each of us can become an ambassador as we move forward in our careers. The power to project a positive image about our profession and ourselves can only make us stronger as we move forward.

The joy of making music is overwhelming in my own life. It was the reason I chose the path I did, rather than the quick and easy route, which in my case would have been to follow in my father’s footsteps and pursue a path in the legal profession. Nevertheless, that joy comes with a price. Our employers are quick to play one of us off another and ask us to do our job for little or no compensation. Since we don’t have the protection of a union, every move that we make affects our community as a whole.

Finally, my vision has been for all of us to join together in camaraderie, irrespective of union status. Through the power of numbers we will be able to face the challenges that are before us. Inherent in this ideology is a respect for our colleagues that manifests itself in upholding our own standards and professionalism. By having respect for our profession and ourselves, we will exude the confidence that will reestablish the minimums that we richly deserve and will in turn evoke the respect within the community at large that we so rightly deserve.

The message included material excerpted from my remarks at the Annual Membership Meeting on September 13thin Hollywood, California.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number Four, Winter 2005]


 Fall 2005


In June I had the opportunity to go to Nassau in the Bahamas with my wife, Cheryl and my son, Matt. Although enjoying a wonderful family vacation on a beautiful island can’t be discounted, the motivation of this issue’s presidential message is to acquaint you with a person who had a great deal to do with my decision to pursue a career in music and suggest that you make that call today to those that have inspired you.

This last year is a testimonial to why we should celebrate and communicate with our talented icons. I only wish that I could have had more in depth conversations with David Raksin, Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith and let them know what a special place they played in all of our lives through the professional dedication they brought to the art of film music. David and Elmer’s vision and uncompromising stewardship of this organization has been a humbling experience for me as I learn more about their valiant efforts on our behalf.

I lost my great friend and mentor, Albert Harris at the beginning of this year. I know that many of you had the opportunity to study with him before he moved to New Zealand some years back. President of ASMAC, an accomplished composer, and the arranger and orchestrator for many talented artists, he taught me much of what I know about film scoring. I was fortunate to learn the basics and benefit from the knowledge of his long and fruitful career in film, where he worked with Victor Young, Earle Hagen and my good friend, Joe Harnell. Early in my musical evolution, I had attended several of Dr. Harris’ sessions at CBS Radford Studio when he was composing for the William Conrad series “Cannon”. While observing, I had the opportunity to meet many of the great musical talents of the day such as Veryle Mills, Pete Jolly and Kenny Watson. I had planned to call Dr. Harris on numerous occasions, but couldn’t quite find the time.

In the summer of 1966, my parents took me on a trip to the Bahamas, where I met one of the island’s great calypsonians, Count Bernadino. I was in awe at that early age to find that someone could achieve so much joy and passion from writing and performing music. He was the ultimate entertainer, master of the steel pans, and had been christened the Count by winning a highly respected competition among all island entertainers.

After spending much of the fifties in New York City, performing in venues such as The Rip Tide Club, the African Room and even Carnegie Hall, Count Bernadino returned to his Bahamian home in 1960. He composed calypso songs for John Kennedy and England’s Prime Minister MacMillan during their visit in 1962 , and was performing at the Nassau Beach Hotel when I met him four years later. Although my musical career has followed its own path, he has remained an inspiration to me. In fact, through all the summers over the past forty years, his recordings have been an underscore to my visits to my family home in Oklahoma City, and my children have grown up to the Count’s music.

Some of you are aware that I have recorded two albums as personal projects that are purely for the joy of doing it, with no commercial and certainly no financial incentive. Starting a year ago, I began recording a third, which was to be a collection of the Count’s timeless material, paying homage to his artistry and the love that he taught me always to have in my own music, separate and apart from the career that it has ended up being for me.

Many studio hours over the last year have been spent with my amazing musical team, in studios such as Capitol “A”, Firehouse and Martinsound playing old records from my trip in 1966 and listening once again to this seminal figure in calypso music, all the while trying to stay true to the essence of these recordings. What began to transpire as we recreated these songs over the past months was a genuine fulfillment, not tied into financial gain, but an affirmation of why I pursued music in the first place.

As plans for our trip began to crystallize, much to my amazement, I found that at eighty-one, Count Bernadino is very much alive and well and still performing in Nassau. Fortunately, he is as honored and respected in the islands as would befit a man with his talent and vision.

Our trip was filled with days of getting reacquainted, learning about his life and most importantly, joining him as he performed as many as three engagements a day and realizing how much of a creative force that one can be in their eighties; an inspiration in its own right. I was able to get the Count into a studio and actually record him on several of the tracks that I had been working on, amazingly enough on Digital Performer at a small studio near Paradise Beach. The session was imbued with a magical feeling, not unlike having the opportunity of collaborating with someone like Louis Armstrong and seeing how the years had added to the reinterpretation of the songs I knew so well. Always the calysonian, the most difficult part was teaching the Count the way he had done the songs in 1966, as they had evolved dramatically in the last forty years, and he rarely does anything the same way twice.

So I encourage all of you to make the calls and let those people know in your own lives how much they mean to you. One of the big joys that I find in our SCL Ambassador program is acknowledging great talents and demonstrating the respect that we have for them. The program is a testimonial to how we have learned our craft from their example and will continue to be inspired by their wisdom.

The SCL has established wonderful relations with Ray Evans, who gave us such classics as “Silver Bells,” and “Mona Lisa,” and Earle Hagen, who’s classic themes and underscore will be playing as long as there is a medium to showcase them. Ray Charles will always live in our hearts with his wonderful contributions to vocal writing and the variety show format. Vic Mizzy, whose clever mastery of the television theme is only surpassed by his sharp wit, will hold a special place in my memory of our events. Each one of these men has as much to offer today as they ever had.

Too often, we fail to recognize those who have made an impact in our lives, whether it is a teacher who motivated us, a great composer or songwriter who has inspired us, or even a close personal friend we haven’t spoken to in awhile. Each of us has those persons who have played a great role in making us who we are today. I can tell you that Count Bernadino was amazed to find that I was out there for forty years and had been finding inspiration in his creativity. Hopefully each of you will find the time to re-unite with your own Count Bernadino, and reap the rewards of doing so.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number Three, Fall 2005]


Summer 2005


It has come to my attention that one of our colleagues has recently rescored a film that was released in 1965, his music replacing the original by Daniele Amfitheatrof. As of this writing, this film is in theatrical release incorporating previously unseen footage; the promotional campaign proudly touting the new score. It will also be available on DVD in the near future, which will showcase a “cleaned up” version of the earlier film with the new score, and may or may not include the original version in its unaltered state. These details, in my opinion, are secondary to the greater issue, which involves the dangerous precedent that was put into motion here.

There are a myriad of issues at hand, making it difficult to know where to begin, but let me start from the humanistic framework that has everything to do with why many of us elected to follow this treacherous career path in the first place. Just as a fine artist leaves behind for posterity his paintings, sculptures, or craft pieces, the work that we as composers and lyricists, musicians and engineers will ultimately leave behind is our heritage. It’s remarkable to see the California landscape as painted by Granville Redmond or William Wendt in the early part of the century. It’s a snapshot of our pristine wilderness, seen through the eyes of two of our most talented artists. In the same way, our legacy will be our compositions and songs.

Now if the concert hall is your domain, then hopefully orchestras will be playing your works long after you are gone. However, if you have made the conscious decision to compose music for visual media, then the film, television program or game that incorporates your life’s work will forever be your legacy; your place in history along with the project it accompanies, and just like the great landscape painting it will also be a historical record of the time and place that it was conceived; or so we thought.

I’ve always felt that the unique quality that we bring to a project is our individuality, so there may be some value in putting a face to a name, and the original composer may not be familiar to you and unfortunately he is no longer around to defend himself. Elmer Bernstein prefaced his Film Music Notebook interview of the summer of 1975 with these words about the composer. “Daniele Amfitheatrof is one of the distinguished figures in the field of motion picture music. The greatest period of his activity in the field was as a contemporary of such composers as Franz Waxman, Max Steiner and Erich Korngold.”

Daniele’s mother was graduated from the Imperial Conservatory of St.Petersburg in piano and singing under a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakoff. Mr. Amfitheatrof started composing at age fifteen, and enrolled in the Conservatory in Petrograd Russia in 1916. His father was sent to Siberia on more than one occasion for writings against the Czarina and Rasputin.

He worked as a ballet pianist at the Kirov Opera House, moved to Rome where he studied with Ottorino Respighi during the time Respighi was composing “Pines of Rome,” and actually saw him put down the score from sketch. After composing numerous pictures in Rome, Amfitheatrof came to the United States, the result of being tipped by the Italian Foreign Department that the war was coming. It was during this time that he guest conducted the Koussewitzky orchestra in Boston in the late thirties. He came to Metro in 1939 and scored, “Lassie Come Home” and worked on a number of pictures there, was on contract at Universal and scored numerous pictures for most of the studios in Hollywood including many with Abbott and Costello. His numerous credits include “Wagon Train,” “Song of the South,” “Fraulein,” “ Angels in the Outfield,” and the movie in question, “Major Dundee.”

In fairness to presenting as many facts as possible that might be germane to this particular situation, I must report that this decision has been defended by some in suggesting that the director of the film was dissatisfied with Daniele Amfitheatrof’s score. However, the truth is that the director was not allowed to finish the film, so as one colleague astutely pointed out, the same people who let the director go were probably responsible for hiring the composer, thus making an objective view by the director tenuous at best.

If it is in fact the vision of the director that is being called into account here, considering that he is deceased, the one thing that can be said with complete confidence is that regardless of whatever historical speculation can be made, he most certainly can’t put his blessing on this new score. I would also submit that despite what is being publicly reported, some individual at a studio level felt that either the original score was flawed, out-dated, sonically archaic or just wanted to put their mark on this re-release, which is unconscionable to my way of thinking, and what speaks directly to the larger issue.

The composer who took this recent assignment most likely approached this film as an excellent opportunity to further his career. No doubt he delivered a credible score that was well received, and afforded employment for a number of people. On the other hand, I would hope that the decision to accept this rescoring was an unconscious one. Left unchecked, this practice could undermine the very heart of what we as composers and lyricists do.

To play this out, it is not inconceivable that a few years down the line, one could feel that employing a contemporary score could enhance the marketability of a 75-year re-release of “Gone with the Wind.” What about someone who deemed the string section approach to “Psycho” too limiting and felt a larger orchestra would have been the better call or perhaps consider “E.T.” with an electronic approach. Let’s take songs for a moment. How about re-placing “The Windmills of Your Mind” in “The Thomas Crowne Affair” with Limp Biscuit, or “Butch Cassidy’s” bicycle montage with Korn. Of course this sounds ludicrous, and although not terribly insightful, it is in fact what we are opening ourselves up for if we don’t exercise the integrity to refuse to accept these assignments.

The best-case scenario is that the creative community at large will intervene and become strong partners should this fail to be an isolated incident. In every case, a film or television show is the end result of the hard work of many talented people. It would be inconceivable that this blatant disregard for the original copy written work wouldn’t trigger an outrage from our creative partners and speak to the larger issue of intellectual property preservation.

One of numerous handicaps of our not having attained union status is that there are ultimately few things that we can do in situations such as these. Therefore, it is beholden on us to uphold our own set of standards, while taking the moral high road. Granted, it is difficult finding jobs that at times seem elusive, but we owe it to our colleagues to use good judgment as we traverse the challenges that confront us. Let’s not rewrite history, because in the end it is our history that we rewrite.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number Two, Summer 2005]


 Spring 2005


As we move forward into the New Year, we should set forth goals to strive for as a society, much in the same way we do in our own lives. Regretfully, the older one gets the faster the days go, each month becoming a shorter percentage of one’s life than the month before. My beloved teacher, Albert Harris demanded that I project into the future, maybe five years and state what and where I wanted to be. Strangely enough, that conversation was thirty years ago. Nevertheless, I still have goals, and I know how fast five years will fly by now. As your president, I follow in the footsteps of a person that had more goals and aspirations for this organization than I can count. Ray Colcord is still impassioned about seeing the SCL gain more respect within the industry. I too have dreams of what we can do and our vast potential, but it will take the combined energies of all of us to achieve our mutual goals.

Since I began my tenure, two years ago, several concerns have come to the forefront of the work place that need to be addressed. How to best solve problems such as erosion of performing rights and advancements in technology that make composing music easier for the neophyte are never easy to resolve, but nevertheless they are topics that need to be reckoned with. It should be a personal goal for each of us to do what we can to make ours a stronger and more regarded profession as we navigate issues such as these.

One area that requires the most attention is the subject of performing rights. My president’s article of a year ago spelled out the risks in direct licensing your compositions. No one can put a value on your work when it comes to buying out future performances. You most likely will settle for far less than you would ultimately receive, and you could even be giving away a fortune, as was demonstrated to those of you who attended our membership meeting last spring. Even more onerous are the companies that would demand that you assign away your rights for no compensation, as a condition of employment, as it were. Unfortunately, as much as we would like for these issues to go away, we are hearing reports that composers and songwriters are being pressed for their compliance in these areas on a continuum.

Most of you are cognizant of the fact that this organization, through the valiant efforts of many of our most celebrated colleagues has fought for unionization at two different times in the past, most recently about twenty years ago. A great deal of time and money was expended by our membership to little avail. Ultimately, we were deemed independent contractors, not employees. Whereas other guilds such as the actors and directors are protected by collective bargaining, as a result of this decision, we unfortunately are relegated to fend for ourselves. The good news is that I have received numerous positive reports from rank and file members regarding perpetuating the integrity of our profession. Several composers have refused the deal when it came to giving up their rights, and ended up getting the job despite it all.

There is one basic fact to consider here. It is nothing less than immoral in our current situation to be asked to settle for signing away our rights. We have historically been paid far less than other crafts for our contribution, the main argument from the company’s stand point being that we received generous back end compensation for our work. If this in fact is their argument, then under no condition is it acceptable to sign away our rights. It must be our responsibility to stand up as a community and refuse to be unfairly treated in these areas. Those of you who have read my previous messages know that it should be always handled tactfully, but in the end you are representing not only yourself, but also our profession as a whole. If we accept these conditions, it will certainly work to diminish our respect within the larger community.

You should be aware that as an organization we are working to put into place a larger presence in Washington. A group of us met in November with Congressmen Howard Berman and Adam Schiff, and Congresswoman, Linda Sanchez. We are striving to create our own unique identity, apart from songwriters within Congress, as the legislators can become valued partners as we move forward, even in introducing bills that could aid us in dealing with a myriad of creative rights issues. Our valued supporters, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are committed to helping us in this endeavor as well.

With your input, we are striving to extend the influence of the SCL into other locales such as New York City. I had the opportunity to meet with a number of talented composers and songwriters while in New York in June, and there appears to be a significant base of interest in the SCL, not just from the film music community, but from the theatre composers and lyricists as well. Not only do they contend with a number of the challenges that we share in common, but they are faced with copyright ownership issues, that left unchecked could erode a long standing way of doing business that could have detrimental effects on their livelihood.

As we continue to grow, our numbers will aid us in increasing our respect within the larger entertainment industry. We have seen a significant increase in membership over the past few years and I would hope that it would be a personal goal of yours to enlist your colleagues in our cause so that our numbers continue to grow.

It has been a goal of mine to instill a sense of comradeship within our profession. Although we compete for many of the same jobs, we share a common bond in the ability to create wonderful words and music. Therefore, as a member of this extended family we should strive to enhance the work environment that great composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and David Raksin put in place for us. The joy that Michael Kamen and Michel Colombier exuded was magnetic. Think of how they would have liked their legacy to be perpetuated.

Each of us will face challenges in the coming year, both personal and professional; it’s simply a part of life. It’s how we cope with these challenges, as an individual and in a larger sense, as a community that will determine if we can continue to move forward. Forward to make our profession more respected and viable and in turn, making our lives more enriched, more productive, and more fulfilled.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number One, Spring 2005]