An Interview with Lee Holdridge by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.16/No.64/1997
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Randall D. Larson
Lee Holdridge has composed more than 120 scores for television and motion pictures since the early I970s, including such notable productions as EAST OF EDEN, THE BEASTMASTER, SPLASH, OLD GRINGO and THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, as well as the beautiful music for the TV series, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. His most recent scores include THE LONG WAY HOME, a moving documentary about the Jewish people between the end of World War II and the re-establishment of the nation of Israel (soundtrack on Prometheus), and the ABC docudrama about last year’s deadly Mt. Everest expedition, INTO THIN AIR (soundtrack on Citadel).
How did you get involved with THE LONG WAY HOME?
The producers had contacted my agents, and I was recommended. The producers had particularly loved my score for OLD GRINGO, especially the way I had integrated the dramatic score with the ethnic Mexican flavored music.
Scoring a documentary certainly offers a different set of challenges than a film of fiction. How did you come up with your approach to score this film?
Normally, documentary films have been approached from a very “dry” film scoring approach, but my approach has been to write as serious a dramatic score as you would for a fiction film. Essentially, you are scoring drama, be it true or made up.
How closely did you work with the director on establishing the film’s musical mood?
I did work closely with director-writer Mark Jonathan Harris. This was a very personal film for him, and I felt he had a lot of excellent insights as to what I should be reaching for in the music.
You, logically, derived much of your music from Hebraic traditions, musically illustrating the story of the Jewish people… How did you manage to merge the Jewish tunes with music needed to support specific actions or moments in the film? Did this score require special research into Jewish music or instrumentation?
I wanted the score to have genuine Hebraic musical elements in it, along with my own original ideas. To this end I spent time with Rabbi Meyer May who is a Cantor, who sang for me several traditional melodies out of which I selected certain ones to be woven into the score.
What was most difficult for you in scoring this film?
The most difficult part of scoring THE LONG WAY HOME was to not go over the top, but to bring a certain dignity and emotional depth to the underscore.
The score was recorded in Seattle. How large an orchestra was used?
At the request of the producers, I recorded the score with Symphony Seattle. I used a 50 piece group with woodwinds, French horns, trombones, tuba, harp, piano, percussion and strings. I also used a 25 piece chamber ensemble and I recorded some cues with just one or two or three instruments.
You’ve recently completed scoring INTO THIN AIR. What kind of score have you written for this TV movie?
I used a very stark and jagged approach to the orchestra, combined with some sweeping moments. There is a lot of use of various sizes of gongs and of taiko drums to give the traditional symphonic orchestra an unusual color.
Would you give us a glimpse at your new scores for FAMILY PLAN and SECRET OF NIMH II?
FAMILY PLAN is a warm, light-hearted and sprightly film with a fun orchestral score to go with it, with the exception of ‘Harry’s Theme’ (Leslie Nielsen’s character) which I scored with a small eclectic mix of instruments… it goes with the character.
THE SECRET OF NIMH II will be a very beautiful and fun action adventure film. It will be different than the original. I am going my own way on it. I have written 5 songs with lyricist Richard Sparks and I will be composing about an hour of underscore for it, which will be recorded in London next summer with a 70 piece orchestra augmented with a large choir.