(Screen) Size Matters

Recording scores for DVD releases is hard work…harder than scoring films live at a show is. It is, for me, anyway. There are a few factors that are obvious.

Because the score is being recorded the stakes feel higher for me. At a show, if something doesn't go quite right or as well as I'd wanted, it'll probably be forgotten after the show. My old friend and film accompanist Harry Weiss, used to call improvising silent film scores creating "music of momentary significance". When I record, I'm way more aware of the fact that my music is going to be heard, and am more self-conscious about everything I play.

At some point several years ago I realized that another factor, one that probably heightened my self-awareness of all the issues I have with my own playing is that I wasn't absorbed into the film the way I usually am in a show. I can't invite 140 people over to my apartment to duplicate the experience of the aesthetic of that aura of A Performance, but there was one other tghing that was way more convenient.

I could enlarge the size of the image I was playing to, tenfold.

I do my recording at home, and have always worked off a TV set or computer monitor, but even with a 21" or 24" screen, it's still a small-screen experience. One of the very few positive things that came out of my being hired to create a sheet music book called The Music of the Silent Films (MusicSales, 2015) was that the advance allowed me the opportunity to buy a video projector.

Scoring films to an image approximately 6' x 8' wide was that I was able to much more easily connect with the emotions of the films I was scoring, and to the visual comedy rhythms. Whether this made the scores any better, for me or for viewers of DVDs I recorded for, is hard to say, but it made the process easier and closer to what show scoring felt like.

(I bought an Optoma PRO350W -- this was in 2011 -- after researching what film collectors liked best on a forum called 16mmFilmTalk. I figured if hardcore 16mm fans liked a certain brand/model, it must be pretty darn good.)

This is exactly why I chose to score Danny Joe's Tree House while watching the show on a laptop, with the Quicktime screen not set to full-screen.

Danny Joe's Tree House is a new children's program, for kids age 2-6 and their adult caregivers, created/hosted/performed by Danny LaBrecque, who found me and my "music" via my YouTube channel. Danny's really done his homework, and the show -- as well as his delivery and show content -- continues the tradition of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

The show is viewed by kids on smartphones, tablets and laptops. So, when I was recording underscore for the scenes or moments that needed it, I wanted to experience the shows and hear how the music blended and supported Danny's moments the same way the show audience -- an audience of one or two people -- would see it. Watching the show "small", I was able to craft little piano moments that had the same gentle qualities as Danny's onscreen persona and didn't get in the way.

Season 2 episode 1 posted today, and you and your little ones can watch the program on YouTube. You can subscribe to the show on its YouTube channel, which has last season's shows, behind the scenes videos, and "parent teacher caregiver conference" videos for adults that correspond to the episodes.

The new episode for season 2, "The Treehouse-Warming Preset", with special guest David Newell (a/k/a Mr. McFeely, from Mr. Rogers) is now available on YouTube.

Danny Joe's Tree House