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Monday, December 8, 2008

Interview with Alex Wurman; Composer of the Score for Four Christmases

Written By E. Corrado

When did you find out you were going to be working on Four Christmases? Just before the summer break. I was actually starting to listen to Christmas music in July because of it. It was a little challenging t0 get into the holiday spirit in the summertime.

What was it like working on Four Christmases? It was fun. And I really enjoyed working with Vince Vaughn. I remember him talking to me about this white gospel music from the 60’s and that was one way he wanted the score to sound but we ended up using more traditional Christmas music as references.

How does Four Christmases compare with another project you worked on - March Of The Penguins? Well they are both movies they take place in the winter and they both have a lot of heart but the similarity ends there. March Of The Penguins was a documentary and the music not only had to play the emotions of the story but also the penguins. For Four Christmases, the music needed to convey the difficulty the characters had to portray both comedically and somewhat dramatically.

When did you know that you wanted to be a composer? I came from a musical family. As a result I started writing music at seven years old. It was not until my mid 20's that I decided that I wanted to focus on composing. I had always thought that I would be more of a composer/performer, writing my own pieces and then performing them on stage but I am thrilled that my career as evolved that I can use all my musical influences into being a film composer.

What inspired you musically? I grew up studying the piano and listening to classical music like The Beatles and Bill Evans. When I was nine years old, Star Wars came out, and I fell in love with composer John Williams' score to that film. His music in that movie is amazing, as well as in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Catch Me If you Can, Munich, etc. He has such a tremendous range as a musician and I want to emulate that.

What instruments do you play? As a composer I need to know the sound of many instruments. I play many instruments but the ones I feel I play best are the piano, and the fl├╝gelhorn. I also really love the sound of either a violin played in the low register, or a viola. I just like something that is slightly lower than the highest in it’s group. I also love the cello, and the flute - it doesn’t matter how high the flute is played, I’ll always love a flute.

I recently played a solo fl├╝gelhorn on a movie called “Bernard and Doris”. I'm proud to say I received an Emmy nomination for that film.

Where did you study music? I attended the High School for the Performing Arts in Chicago, and the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago as well as The University of Miami for their jazz program.

Are there any scores that you’ve done that you aren’t happy with, or think that you could have done better? No, only because I could never say if I could do one better now, because the inspiration is in the moment. That moment will never be there again, but could I technically do it better now? Maybe. For example, recording is better, but the same inspiration wouldn’t be there because what is written is like a moment captured in time that can’t be repeated. i.e. I always loved the music in West Side Story, because that is like a moment in time with these people. What it comes down to, is that it’s not so much talent, as inspiration at the time.

What kind of music is your favorite to do? I enjoy classical scoring with an orchestra but I also love the challenge of scoring an indie movie with smaller groups of musicians where I have to depend on multiple layers of the sound to create a mood.

When composing music, what computer programs do you use? Logic Pro, and Logic Audio, which are kind of like more complex versions of Garageband. As well as ProTools.

What was your favorite movie to write music for, and why? March Of The Penguins because of the fact that these creatures make their journey and yearly cycle is amazing and inspiring. I actually got feedback after the movie came out from someone who’s father was dying, and one of the last things that they did together was see March Of The Penguins. This person sent me an e-mail saying that he bought the soundtrack, and now whenever he listens to it, it reminds him of that time together. I don’t think that there can be anything more rewarding then that.

What was your favorite part of doing the music for ‘Four Christmases’? I think it was hearing the orchestra performing White Christmas for the opening titles on this one. I was conducting the orchestra, and being a part of executing that moment with that classic piece of music was an amazing feeling.

What have you learned through conducting? I have learned that standing in front of an orchestra, I can communicate physically in addition to the notes they read on paper. I develop this relationship with the musicians and we experience the music simultaneously.

Can you tell us about any other upcoming projects that you are working on? I recently completed the score to What Doesn’t Kill You, that I’m very proud of. It was interesting to do, because the story is autobiographical so I’m not only writing the music about the film, I'm writing music about the director's life. Another one that I am working on is called Overnight.

One Movie, Five Views thanks Alex Wurman for taking the time to talk about his score for Four Christmases.

Four Christmases opened in theatres November 26th, 2008.

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