The Sound of Magic

I was a lover of movies so it stands to reason I would love movie music as well. When I was a kid I began to assemble an impressive collection of movie soundtracks and when I began my career at the Walt Disney Studios I brought my collection to the job knowing I would be spending a good deal of time at the drawing board. It turns out I was correct and I logged many hours on the feature film, “Sleeping Beauty.” One of the things that helped the long hours go by was listening to motion picture soundtracks. Back in the fifties, a select group of movie composers ruled Hollywood film music. Guys such as Alex North, Jerry Goldsmith, Dimitri Tiomkin and Franz Waxman. Max Steiner was the sound of Warner Bros. and Alfred Newman and Hugo Friedhoffer provided the musical soundtrack for 20th Century Fox. For this film music lover it was a magical time.

When I arrived at the Walt Disney Studios as a kid there was little doubt I would be seeking out Walt’s film composers as quickly as possible. In time, I met the venerable, Oliver Wallace and Paul J. Smith’s brother, Art Smith just happened to be my brother’s music teacher. Film composer, George Bruns looked more like a football line backer than a musician. George was finishing up on “Sleeping Beauty” but in time we would work together on Walt’s final film, “The Jungle Book.” The studio had hired a couple of brothers who were rock and roll song writers. However, the Old Maestro’s insights would soon prove they were much more than that. Soon, film assignments were to come for the Sherman Brothers and before long the prolific songwriters would be the “go to guys” when a new song was needed for a motion picture. However, Walt Disney had bigger plans in store. Robert and Richard Sherman would be Disney’s choice to compose the score for the live-action-animated musical, “Mary Poppins.” I didn’t know the Sherman Brothers all that well back in the sixties because we hadn’t yet worked together. In spite of that, I still showed up on Stage A on Monday morning to begin the prerecords for the new motion picture. I had already met musical director, Irwin Kostal, and we all laughed as Dick Van Dyke made his comic entrance onto the recording stage. Of course, we had a full studio orchestra onstage and the sounds filling Stage A were magical.

Some years later, as we worked to complete “The Jungle Book,” Walt Disney had a special request. The Old Maestro had enjoyed the sequence we put on the storyboards. It was funny and entertaining but he felt something was missing. What was missing was a Sherman Brothers song. It was as though Walt Disney had waved a magic wand because before we knew it, the completed song was ready to be recorded. My story partner, Vance Gerry and I headed over to Stage A once again. We had the opportunity to watch and listen as actor, Sterling Holloway recorded the song. Once again, Robert and Richard Sherman had delivered the goods. Hardly a surprise, the talented, prolific song writing team had brought some additional Disney magic to our little sequence, and the animated movie was made that much better.

Sadly, with the passing of Walt Disney in 1966, the studio began looking for younger songwriters. Contemporary tunesmiths more in line with the musical sensibility of the day. The Sherman Brothers were practically forgotten as the “New Disney” moved forward. As luck would have it, a new animated motion picture was being developed that would feature the music of Robert and Richard Sherman. I had returned from an assignment at Pixar Animation Studios and I would soon join my old collaborators on a new animated movie called, “The Tigger Movie.” The musical score demonstrated a charm and sweetness seldom heard today. It was music Walt Disney would have probably enjoyed. It was simple, heartfelt and totally unaffected. It was the sound of music from another time. A time I doubt we’ll ever see again.

However, my magical musical journey continued as my career pushed past fifty, then sixty years. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting composer, James Newton Howard while working on Disney’s “Dinosaur.” A few years later I shared a Legends Ceremony with Randy Newman. Newman scored practically all of the early Pixar movies and his musical contributions helped give the films their unique sensibility. Finally, only weeks ago while attending a meeting at the Motion Picture Academy I was lucky enough to chat with composer, Michael Giacchino. Giacchino had the thankless job of having to follow the master, John Williams on a Star Wars movie, “Rogue One.” Williams was not available to score the Star Wars film, so the job fell to Michael. Yet, there was another challenge. Giacchino had to score the motion picture in only a month. Finally, what could be more magical to a movie music lover than having one’s own life set to music. When production moved toward completion on my documentary I was delighted to learn the film would be scored by Ryan Shore. When I was a kid I grew up on the Hollywood soundtracks of the forties and fifties. Now, suddenly my life and career would be enriched and enhanced by music. Even better, I would be given my own theme. As an old movie music lover I can’t think of a higher compliment.

The scoring stage. The truly magical component of movie making. There's no better place I'd rather be.

The scoring stage. The truly magical component of movie making. There's no better place I'd rather be.