The Face of the SCL

Winter 2006


On October 10th over 200 composers and lyricists attended our annual membership meeting. The following are excerpts from my speech on that occasion.

Anyone who knows me at all understands my love of history. Last year we gathered in the historic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel in the Blossom Room where the first Academy Awards were held and this evening we are in another special place. Sadly, since our last membership meeting we have lost two structures that were integral to the evolution of music in Hollywood. The Gershwin House and the Ambassador Hotel were demolished over the last year. I fought along side several SCL members to no avail to save those special places. I believe that it is important to utilize and celebrate these great spaces while we can. So here we are at American Legion Post 43, opened in 1929. Upstairs a weekly radio show showcased The Big Bands and artists such as Louis Armstrong. Today it is still home to many musical extravaganzas. Recently The Rolling Stones and The Cure performed there.

This downstairs room and bar were the gathering places for the stars of the Golden Age. Humphrey Bogart and Walt Disney were members and on any given night Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Shirley Temple, Jane Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe might be seen here. Several scenes from The Shining were filmed in this room. I am pleased that Ray Colcord, Kurt Farquhar, Jan Kaczmarek, Danny Lux, Shirley Walker and Jack Wall are with us this evening. They represent a cross section of our business and are among the most successful composers working in our field today.

This has been a banner year for the Society of Composers and Lyricists. We now number over 900 members and we are still growing. With energetic board members such as membership chair, Sharon Farber and Benoit Grey, who spread the word of the SCL at Cannes this year, your organization is stronger than ever. Our website is continually evolving under the supervision of the talented Billy Martin. Your hard working Executive Director, Laura Dunn has been instrumental in planning activities that make this organization vital and informative. In the ever changing landscape of performing rights, our partners, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are crucial to our well-being and should be recognized for their efforts on our behalf and for their support of this organization.

The year has been filled with interesting activities and I’m sure that many of you have enjoyed a number of these. Our holiday dinner celebrated three icons in our profession. Van Alexander and the Sherman Brothers joined Ray Evans, Earle Hagen, Ray Charles, and Vic Mizzy as SCL Ambassadors. Richard Sherman, who was recently celebrated in Houston with the UNICEF Gold Medallion of Honor for his fund raising efforts for children, delighted us with a performance of his greatest hits including Chim, Chim Cher-e and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Those of you who are Gold Members know what a great time we had at our Oscar and Emmy Reception. Dolly Parton started the Oscar reception off on a high note by working the room and getting everyone in a mood to celebrate. I did some hanging out with DJ Paul and the gang from 36 Mafia. Little did they know that they would be accepting the Academy Award the following night. We were fortunate to have all of the original score composers in attendance thanks to the work of Charles Bernstein and for the second year in a row our honorary lifetime member John Williams, attended the event. He also graciously agreed to allow Star Wars to be our newest Famous First, which we will be using for fund raising activities. He has personally signed copies of the title page that we will have available in the near future.

I am particularly proud that we have begun our activities in New York over the last year. I have had the opportunity to meet members and potential members there and must recognize the efforts of two individuals. Joel Beckerman and Mike Patterson have been so helpful in bringing prospective members to our events. These could not have happened without the generosity of ASCAP and the co-ordination of Nancy Knudsen and Sue Devine. In December, in close to sub-zero temperatures at the DGA, we screened a new print of Young Frankenstein, provided by Fox studios. It was my pleasure to do a question and answer with John Morris, and no more charming man has every graced our profession. A few months later, in more temperate weather in the seventies, we held a composer-to-composer with my Amherst College colleague, Mason Daring. He addressed a crowd at New York University with scenes from the John Sayles’ movies Roan Innish and Loan Star. This event came together with the aid of NYU’s Director of Film Scoring, Ron Sadoff.

This is an amazing time to be working in the business. Not only are there more opportunities, but the different outlets for your music are wider and more varied than any time in history. The new technology embraced by most of us has facilitated the execution of our compositions, but as you know, the new innovations are not without their risks—a two edged sword of sorts.

The practice of downloading is hitting all areas of our business. SAG, the WGA and the DGA are faced with many of the same issues that are concerning most of you. I have sent letters to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC urging them to keep us informed on what is going on behind the scenes to protect our rights. The issue of whether these downloads which incorporate your performances in television series such as Michael Giacchino’s Lost are regarded as performances, similar to your music on network or cable or whether they are going to be considered mechanicals, such as music on a CD, is germane to how we will be paid. We will be keeping a close eye as these new delivery mediums evolve.

This organization grew out of two dynamic groups that preceded ours. A group of concerned composers started the Screen Composers Association in 1945. Dimitri Tiompkin and Bernard Herman joined with David Raksin and Alfred Newman along with many other talented gentlemen to create a group whose emphasis was on the protection of rights, specifically for the film composer. In the early 1950s, Leith Stevens here in LA and Arthur Schwartz in New York created the next permutation, which was called the Composers Guild of America, which later invited the lyricists to join and became the CLGA. This group continued until the seventies and was successful in procuring collective bargaining, which yielded minimums and health benefits. Unfortunately a strike and a long-standing lawsuit resulted in the Studios refusing to bargain with us and the group disbanded in 1978.

Several of your colleagues that are leaders in the SCL today started this organization in the early 1980s. Most especially, Jim di Pasqual, past president of this group, deserves a debt of gratitude for his efforts in a quest for recognition by the Nation Labor Relations Board in 1984. Although we were denied certification, this organization has grown to be the premier group in the area of music and lyrics for television, film and most recently, games.

And what is the face of the SCL? It is John Guth, a talented composer who was one of our 2005 interns, and has given tirelessly to this organization in the same way that Gerard Marino, whose career is now flourishing in the area of Game music did before him. It is my friend, Jan Kaczmarek, who not only won the Academy Award for Finding Neverland, but who is building a fabulous institute for artists in his native Poland, Jan did such a wonderful interview for our award winning Score, now celebrating its 20th Anniversary, so ably steered by Lori Barth, a celebrated lyricist in her own right. The SCL is Charles Fox, Stu Phillips, Lee Holdridge and Bruce Broughton, whose work I so much admired as I was honing my craft, as I still do today. It is Arthur Hamilton and Harriett Schock who have given the world such great songs such as Cry Me a River and Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady.

The SCL includes so many of our creative partners as well. It is Jay Cooper, who was not only celebrated this year as Century City’s Entertainment Attorney of the Year, but who has given this organization his time and expertise because he believes so much in what we do. It is Gary Herbig and the wonderful Los Angeles musicians that we couldn’t do without. Their talents have taken our scores to new heights and they continue to contribute invaluably to our creative output.

The SCL is also Alan Silvestri and Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, who rejoined this organization at the Platinum level because they believe in what we do. They joined other Oscar nominees such as and Glenn Ballard, from one of my favorite cities, Natchez, Mississippi, who has given us so many memorable songs. It is our current interns, Christy Crowl, Robert ToTeras and Ulf Anneken, who comes to us from Germany and whose look of wonderment and excitement and sparkle in his eye speaks for all of you who are about to embark on this great path that was laid out by so many accomplished SCL composers before you such as Michael Kaman, Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith.

The Society of Composers and Lyricists is all of you, too numerous to mention in the confines of an article, but each with your own unique voice that will ultimately be heard. I have been proud to be your president for the last four years. It has given me an opportunity to meet and learn from so many of you. Although there are challenges up ahead, as long as we can stay united as a community, as long as we can keep from undercutting our colleagues, and most importantly keep the preservation of this noble profession that we represent as our highest goal, we will continue to grow and in turn, will give the world our gift of wonderful music and song.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXI, Number Four, Winter 2006]