Posts Tagged ‘Brian Wilbur Grundstrom’

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom’s “An Orchestral Journey” CD gets rave reviews!

October 1, 2016

An Orchestral Journey CD Cover

Audiophile Audition

Daniel Coombs

Very pleasant music that connects and engages.

Here is a very fine introductory collection of works by a composer new to me; and it is genuinely pleasant, direct and uncomplicated music with an appeal to all.

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom was trained as a pianist at Gettysburg College and studied composition with John David Earnest. He is largely self-taught as a composer; one with a gift for melody and a very direct and appealing style. Brian’s music, in this collection, has a very nice and mostly unfettered sound to it; sounding in places like wind ensemble repertoire and, at other times, very theatre ready; conducive to dance and film scores (which he has apparently done much of.) He is also apparently presently working on an opera.

One interesting fact about this album, though, is that the Omega Recording Studios is an educational and audio engineering facility and Grundstrom had assembled this group, led by the fine Erik Ochsner, specifically to record these works. This really isn’t a standing ensemble. It should be noted, too, that – actually – American Reflections for strings and harp is presented here in a recording by the Millennium Orchestra under Robert Ian Winstin. There is certainly enough appeal in these works to hope that Grundstrom will get some wider actual programming and not have to assemble his own ad hoc group to get his music played.

I enjoyed all of this music. The opening work, Contentment, Poem for Orchestra, is really quite beautiful and a bit sentimental with a feel of an unknown film score to it; rather Copland-esque. Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra is rather self-explanatory with a genuinely uplifting vibe and the scoring really sounds rather like band/wind ensemble music; such as some of the work by Ron Nelson or Jim Cohn.

The Suite for Chamber Orchestra is in three movements: “Before The Fall”, “Avalon” and “Celebration!” The work was nearly finished when the 9/11 attacks occurred so the initial “Before the Fall” is a reference to the collapse of the ‘twin towers,’ as well as to the last days of summer. “Avalon” refers to King Arthur’s island of healing; especially after a traumatic event and “Celebration” is, as the composer explains, is an expression of the “joy and celebration of life that we need to express after coming to terms with the sadness and disappointments that are also a part.” This movement, too, had a bit of a concert opener or wind ensemble quality to it. The net result is a very attractive and appealing half-hour work.

American Reflections for Strings and Harp is understandably infused with an Americana tinge that shifts in tone from a very country-like dance to a folkish melody and a bit of melancholy before closing with the dance feel again. Although there is no Copland reference and it doesn’t “sound” like Copland there is an Appalachian Spring structure and feel to this charming piece. The album closes with Chenonceau, the name of a French castle in the Loire Valley, and uses a 3 + 3 + 2 meter which the composer admits a fondness for (used also in Celebration.) The work nicely portrays a spring day in the French countryside, where the composer traveled to and found the source of his inspiration.

I had never heard of Brian Wilbur Grundstrom but I liked this music. Who knows if symphony orchestras will take an interest in these works and others (I would like to hear his opera whenever it come to fruition) but I do hope Grundstrom remains open to both the film score and school music market for there is much to admire here including both listenability and playability.

September 24, 2016


by Ron Schepper

If the five compositions featured on An Orchestral Journey are representative of Brian Wilbur Grundstrom’s work—and it’s a safe bet they are, given that they span the years 1999 to 2013—no one will mistake a piece by him for one by Webern or Boulez. Grundstrom, in fact, has more in common with a composer like Berlioz, Holst, or Copland than someone beholden to a particular school or system such as serialism or minimalism. Yet, interestingly enough, Grundstrom’s adherence to a traditional tonal style makes him something of a radical in 2016: composing music that’s so accessible constitutes some small act of rebellion, though it’s important to emphasize that there’s no hint of calculation or cynicism in play; on the contrary, one comes away from the recording fully convinced of Grundstrom’s sincerity. A versatile and awardwinning composer, he’s written for orchestra, opera, film, theater, chorus, and chamber ensembles, and is currently writing an opera based on Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

His first orchestra work, 1999’s Contentment, Poem for Orchestra memorably captures the melodic and lyrical dimensions of his style, the setting using the conventions of the “tone poem” to explore an abundance of orchestral colour and emotional expressiveness. For eleven minutes, the music flows elegantly, the composer drawing on the polyphonic potential of the orchestra’s string, woodwind, and horn sections to paint the scene. As symphonically rich, Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra is suitably celebratory in spirit and rhythmic in design, with this time the resources of the percussion section exploited to accentuate the music’s insistent drive. The combination of pizzicato strings and harp give 2009’s American Reflections for Strings and Harp an appealingly lighthearted buoyancy during its opening minutes, even if darker shades gradually thread their way into the composition via an ominous waltz theme. The most recent work, 2013’s Chenonceau is named after a castle in France’s Loire Valley that’s known for the beauty of its gardens, and Grundstrom’s arrangement vividly conveys the visual splendour of the setting.

But of the five compositions, it’s the Suite for Chamber Orchestra (20012002)
that perhaps best captures the scope of Grundstrom’s soundworld, seeing as how its three movements encompass such a panoramic emotional range. Written when he was living in Brooklyn with a clear view of the twin towers, the opening “Before the Fall” grows progressively more turbulent as it advances, as if in anticipation of the horrific event to come. The brooding tonalities that emerge in the first part deepen to Bartoklike degrees in “Avalon,” the title of course alluding to the island of healing King Arthur turned to after battle. In plunging into such dark waters, the movement features the album’s most harmonically daring writing and is permeated by the emotional weight of tragedy, even at certain moments verging on overwrought. Not surprisingly, in conveying the joy and exultation that can eventually follow a period of mourning, the closing movement “Celebration!” feels worlds removed from the sadness of “Avalon,” especially when it culminates in a rousing, Coplandesque

In contrast to the brooding portraits of composers typically presented, the photographs on the release’s packaging show Grundstrom beaming, and it’s easy to understand why. An Orchestral Journey is a recording that not only speaks powerfully of his gifts as a composer and orchestrator, it offers a splendid portrait drawn from fourteen years of creative production. That his music is so easy to warm up to certainly adds to its appeal.

September 2016


New American Orchestral Music

by Steven A. Kennedy

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom composes for the concert hall, stage, and screen. The present album brings together five of his orchestral works from 1999-2013. His music tends to be fairly tonal with a bit of a cinematic quality to the style as well. The music is performed by the Omega Studios Orchestra which feels just a tad short of strings at times for the rich music written here, but that is a very small problem.

Contentment (1999) was the composer’s first orchestral work. This very gentle piece has a fascinating melancholy that is explored in delicate wind solos against strings. The piece explores an almost bittersweet melody that is scored almost like what one might find in Carter Burwell. The music has a rather intimate quality and immediately grabs the ear of the listener. It is sort of a gentle journey with an almost bucolic feel that suggests peaceful vistas. Some may even here a touch of Americana in the style. There is a beautiful waltz moment that has a rather sudden harmonic shift. One can certainly see how comparisons to Barber have been made about his music at times.

After this rather lyrical and restrained opening, we head into the more exciting Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra (2000). The music has a lyrical side as it begins with a variety of meter changes providing some of the interest. It lends the feel of travel through a variety of scenes. The piece is quite engaging, though I hesitate to say that it feels like it should move a bit faster at the front end at times. The melodies are still quite wonderful and there is a nice conclusion. We are in the realm of Daugherty and Puts here.

A three-movement Suite for Orchestra (2001-2002) serves as a centerpiece on the album. “Before the Fall” opens the suite and here it feels like Grundstrom has chosen to revisit the melodic ideas of his earlier concert work but with an almost Baroque-like intensity as the piece opens. This continues to grow in intensity as the movement moves towards its emotional final bars with insistent rhythmic pulses. “Avalon” is inspired by the mystical island of the King Arthur legends. It has a rather somber quality and mysterious feel with a five-note motif idea being moved about the orchestra against a two-note ticking idea. Of the music on the disc, this feels more like a concert version of some film scene (it recalled Roy Budd’s Sinbad music!), but feels just a bit overlong. The final movement, “Celebration!” lends a more upbeat conclusion to the work and tempos here feel good. This movement in particular has a very Copland-esque ballet feel. The intricate writing comes off quite well here as ideas are explored between the strings and winds building into a wonderful “American Experience”-like conclusion.

The American Reflections for Strings and Harp (2009) is the one work performed with the Millennium Orchestra. The composer studied at Gettysburg College and the music here takes on that looking inward sense of one of the key Civil War battles. Things open with a folk-like idea that starts with a bit of pizzicato string writing before a florid violin line appears. Beautiful lyricism guides some solo lines as the plucking about them adds some fascinating textural support. From this somewhat light and airy feel, the music begins to gain a bit more darkness as it shifts to minor harmonies and a melancholy waltz. The style of the work again recalls a kind of mid-20th century Americana feel. The more light-hearted music gives the work an upbeat ending, though one wonders if stopping short of this might be a better dramatic move. There are a number of these harp and string works in the repertoire and it would be great to see this one added to some of those recordings to gain a bit more exposure and to hear Grundstrom’s approach alongside more familiar pieces.

Chenonceau (2013) closes the disc and is the name of a French castle in the Loire Valley. In this work, Grundstrom explores different ways to combine metrical stress with in a common meter. This compound meter exploration (3+3+2) is then also supported by the way melodic threads are tossed about in the orchestra. A fugue-like section brings things to a close. This is another fine example of Grundstrom’s command of the orchestra and crafting rather engaging musical vistas.

Grundstrom’s music is quite accessible with lyrical writing and tonal harmonies that immediately engage the listener. Even when the music may veer into a more dissonant moment, the dramatic impulse it is following does make sense. While the music is well-performed it feels very hesitant at times. It can also lead to some sections feeling a bit clinical. One wishes for perhaps the likes of Buffalo or Nashville to do this music justice, or even Erik Ochsner’s own ensemble the SONOS Chamber Orchestra which has performed Grundstrom’s music to enthusiastic audiences. So with a sympathetic conductor, this recording at least gives those of us outside of the D.C. area a chance to enjoy his music. There are times though when it feels like tempos could certainly move at a better clip. The slower music comes off very well though.

September 16, 2016


Storytelling: Poetic and Dramatic Lyricism

by Debra Jan Bibel

American composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom writes a variety of emotional, popularly approachable works for chorus, theater, film, and orchestra, and he presently is preparing an opera. This album is a retrospective of his orchestral pieces since 1999. I verified that the Omega Recording Studios, an educational and audio engineering institution, had gathered an ad hoc orchestra, led by Erik Ochner, since Grundstrom often works with computer programs that electronically merge and process samples from the Vienna Symphonic Library and other sources. (There really is no regular Omega Studios Orchestra.) One track, however, is from a recording by the Millennium Orchestra under Robert Ian Winstin.

The leading composition, Contentment, Poem for Orchestra, is an 11-minute lyrical stroll from melancholy and regret to satisfaction and acceptance. Next, is Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra, which is somewhat self-evident, except that the dance is the mood of light-heartedness associated with travel to exotic locales. Mallet percussion, atypical time signatures (as 5 beats per measure), oboe and English horn double reed sound, and assorted wood percussion add foreign color, while the brass add the excitement.

The Suite for Chamber Orchestra has three movements: Before The Fall; Avalon; and Celebration! The references are to 9/11 and the collapse of the ‘twin towers,’ as well as the last days of summer; King Arthur’s island of healing; and the manner persevering humans emerge from calamity and set-back. Thus, the dark and foreboding first section continues at the start of the second, with bass and cello notes rising and falling as a sad heart-beat. The battle-wounded and weary seek shelter and refuge. The tempo accelerates with heavy beats to a tense feverish climax and slow exhale and return to cellos and basses. Time heals and time softens memories; woodwinds now sparkle and the orchestra propels forward with rich harmonies, but the celebration comes not with brass flourishes (orchestration requires only one French horn) but with repetition and brightness of strings, flute, and clarinet.

Because Grundstrom earned his music degree at Gettysburg College, American history and Americana smoothly entered and infused his American Reflections for Strings and Harp. Neither Sousa nor Copland in outlook, the piece begins with the joyous spirit of a barnyard dance, but then a Shindler’s List-like folk melody enters and the mood shifts to shadows in waltz time. After a second’s pause, the worrisome atmosphere fills with fragmented clouds and an East European lament, but suddenly a Scandinavian-like dance develops, and the piece concludes as it began, light and alit.

The tone poem Chenonceau, a French castle in the Loire Valley, is characterized by its 3 + 3 + 2 meter, its elegant melodies, and varying texture through different combinations of instruments. Grundstrom has not written a ballet, but his storytelling art would easily lend itself to the dance. It is easy to understand how his music pleases a wide audience.

August 21, 2016


Nuria Serra

translation from Catalan by Google

The melody continues to have a role in the tastes of the public good music lover. And at universities in the United States, there is absolute freedom for the composition students find their authentic musical language. The public finds what the want and can find it easily.

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom, who trained as a pianist at Gettysburg College and studied composition with John David Earnest, composed melodic music, nice, sensitive and very close. The listeners are hooked immediately. He says clearly understand what is the essence of tonality, the ratio of tonic and dominant. And these essentials guide its composition. He has written music for orchestra, opera, cinema, theater, choir, piano and chamber ensembles.In this charming album, which is entitled An Orchestral Journey, the author includes five orchestral works: the author includes five orchestral works: Contentment , Poem for Orchestra ; Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra , Suite for Chamber Orchestra , American Reflections and Chenonceau. The works are arranged chronologically.

This time the recording was made in recording studios Omega Studios, one of the best engineering schools offering sound better services for students. A school that seeks the excellence of its recordings. The author chose the Millennium Symphony Orchestra and the Omega Studios, orchestras own school.The author is interested in reaching the public through different moods. Use rhythmic energy to express joy and rapidly changing metric that creates a certain dynamism. His orchestrations certainly
reminiscent of film music.

The Millennium Symphony Orchestra and the Omega Studios, their respective directors, have been asking at the height of the composer, and even we can say that the musicians were able to extol its mission, emphasizing the sound of some minor aspects of the instrumentation.

September 30, 2016

La melodia segueix tenint un paper preponderant en els gustos d’una bona part del públic melòman. I a les universitats dels Estats Units, es dóna absoluta llibertat per a que els estudiants de composició trobin el seu autèntic llenguatge musical. El públic busca allò que l’interessa i ho pot trobar amb facilitat.

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom, que es va formar com a pianista a Gettysburg College i va estudiar composició amb John David Earnest, compon una música melòdica, agradable, sensible i molt propera. L’oient s’hi enganxa de seguida. Ell diu clarament que el
que entén és l’essència de la tonalitat, la relació de tònica i dominant. I aquests elements essencials guien la seva composició. Ha escrit música per a orquestra, òpera, cinema, teatre, cor, piano i conjunts de cambra. En aquest disc encantador, que té per títol An Orchestral Journey, l’autor inclou cinc obres orquestrals: l’autor inclou cinc obres orquestrals: Contentment, Poem for Orchestra; Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra; Suite for Chamber Orchestra; American Reflections i Chenonceau. Les obres estan ordenades cronològicament.

En aquesta ocasió, la gravació es va realitzar als estudis de gravació de l’Omega Studios, una de les millors escoles d’enginyeria sonora que ofereix els millors serveis per als estudiants. Una escola que busca l’excel·lència dels seus enregistraments musicals. L’autor va escollir la Millennium Symphony i l’Omega Studios Orchestra, les orquestres pròpies de l’escola.

L’autor està interessat en arribar al públic per mitjà dels diferents estats d’ànim. Utilitza l’energia rítmica per expressar alegria i una mètrica molt canviant que crea un cert dinamisme. Les seves orquestracions, certament, ens recorden la música de cinema.

La Millennium Symphony i l’Omega Studios Orchestra, amb els seus directors respectius, han estat a l’alçada del que demana el compositor, i, fins i tot, podem afirmar que els músics han sabut enaltir la seva comesa, ressaltant la sonoritat d’alguns aspectes menors de la instrumentació.

September 30, 2016

There is much of interest as well on a new Navona CD of the music of Brian Wilbur Grundstrom
– a release bearing the title, “An Orchestral Journey.” The travel here seems more to be personal for Grundstrom than connected directly to the audience: the five works on the disc, composed over a period of a decade and a half, show the composer exploring differing moods, styles and techniques. The works are arranged chronologically and provide some insight into Grundstrom’s changes in compositional emphasis, although the overall sound of the music is similar enough among the five pieces to indicate that Grundstrom has his own voice that recurs from piece to piece. The earliest work here is Contentment, Poem for Orchestra (1999), and it is a transformative tone poem in the tradition of, say, Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration. However, what evolves here is mood rather than anything grandly philosophical. Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra (2000) is written in much the same mood throughout, although its rhythmic and thematic explorations eventually lead it to an even brighter and more upbeat conclusion. Suite for Chamber Orchestra (2002) is more emotionally varied than either earlier work, almost a “stages of grief” exploration, with tragic elements giving way to what sounds like acceptance and eventually to an expression of joy that seems, in light of what has come before, somewhat overdone. The work’s three movements make its progress clear: “Before the Fall,” “Avalon” and “Celebration.” But the finale, although it certainly provides a sense of relief, seems somewhat too bright after the first movements’ depth of feeling. American Reflections for Strings and Harp (2009) sounds like film music, energetic and nicely scored but somewhat superficial in its forthright evocation of varied feelings. Chenonceau (2013) is at something of an opposite pole, a subtle work using skillful orchestration and interesting instrumental combinations to provide contrast between strings and woodwinds. The title refers to a historic 16th-century castle in the Loire Valley of France that is known for its garden maze and the way it actually spans the River Cher. The quality of this piece is evident from the fact that it is not necessary to understand its title or know what referents it contains for a listener to be able to enjoy the work purely as music. This is a (+++) CD that, while it may not appeal to all listeners and does not offer material of uniform interest, shows a great deal of compositional skill and provides some very fine and sensitive performances of works by a contemporary composer whose solid craftsmanship offers much to be admired. August 4, 2016


American Reflections performed in Ecuador by La Orquestra Sinfonica de Quayaquil

July 8, 2015
Maestro Jeffrey Dokken conducts La Orchestra Sinfonica de Quayaquil with Brian Wilbur Grundstrom's American Reflections for Strings and Harp

Maestro Jeffrey Dokken conducts La Orchestra Sinfonica de Quayaquil with Brian Wilbur Grundstrom’s American Reflections for Strings and Harp

Maestro Jeffrey Dokken is directing La Orquestra Sinfonica de Guayaquil in a concert this Friday that includes Brian Wilbur Grundstrom’s American Reflections for Strings and Harp.  This is Grundstrom’s first performance outside of North America!

Composer, Brian Wilbur Grundstrom, Awarded Prestigious — OUTSTANDING EMERGING ARTIST — 28th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards, Washington, D.C.

October 25, 2013



Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom with award presenters Jonathan Katz and Robin Bronk

Washington, D.C. – Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom has been selected by The Commission on the Arts and Humanities in Washington, DC as Outstanding Emerging Artist 2013 at the 28th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards.  Grundstrom was nominated in the category along with Caitlin Teal Price, Tommy Taylor Jr. and Luis Peralta. The Mayor’s Arts Awards is the highest honor conferred by the District of Columbia in recognition of artistic excellence and service among artists, arts organizations, and arts patrons in the city.

            Grundstrom joined 30 finalists in 6 categories for the awards ceremony at the Warner Theatre.  Artists and organizations were recognized in six categories: Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education, Excellence in an Artistic Discipline; Innovation in the Arts; Outstanding Service to the Arts; Mayor’s Arts Award for Teaching and Outstanding Emerging Artist. The awards are limited to individuals and nonprofit organizations that reside in the District of Columbia. 

            In addition to honoring Howard University’s Division of Fine Arts and Barbara and Jane Harman of the Harman Family Foundation, the program celebrated the District’s creative industries in the arts and entertainment community with Helen Hayes Award Winner 2013 Outstanding Supporting Actress, E. Faye Butler as Mistress of Ceremony.

            “I am deeply honored to receive this recognition from the D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities,” says Grundstrom.  “As a four-time recipient of grants from the Commission, this is particularly gratifying to have my body of work acknowledged in this manner.  Washington DC has been a great artistic home for me.”

            Grundstrom was also previously nominated in 2010 and 2011 for Outstanding Emerging Artist by the D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities.  The song The Bridge Club for the musical Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical received a 2009 OutMusic nomination.  He has won two PEER Awards from the Television, Internet & Video Association of D.C. for his composition of Sadie’s Waltz and Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss.

            The composer received high praise for his original production and musical score for A Day at the Museum, produced for the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival, including that from the Washington Post, MD Theatre Guide, DCist, DC Theatre Scene and Washington City Paper.

            Grundstrom is currently creating an original score for an upcoming opera, For Whom the Bell Tolls, based on the book by Ernest Hemingway with libretto by David Dorsen.  Taking place during the Spanish civil war, the story roughly reflects Hemingway’s own journey in the role of American Robert Jordan, who, with the help of a local band of guerrillas, is assigned to blow up a bridge as part of a communist attack against the fascists.  The opera is being written for full orchestra in two acts with eight singers.

            In addition to his work in film music, Grundstrom’s compositions have been performed by SONOS Chamber Orchestra, North/South Consonance, Shippensburg Festival Orchestra, Trinity Chamber Orchestra, George Washington University Orchestra, NIH Philharmonia, Holyoke Civic Symphony, The Queer Urban Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia, Sunderman Woodwind Quintet, Colla Voce and The New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus, as well as on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.

            Finalists were chosen by the Mayor’s Arts Awards Advisory Jury comprised of prominent members of the District’s arts community with expertise in dance, music, theatre, literary arts, visual arts and arts education.

            More information on Brian Wilbur and his work, sample recordings and photos can be found at  Press material is available for download at

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Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom nominated for Outstanding Emerging Artist at tonights Mayor’s Arts Awards in DC

October 22, 2013

I’m excited to be going to the DC Mayor’s Arts Awards at the Warren Theatre tonight.  I’ve been nominated for Outstanding Emerging Artist.  This is actually the third time I’ve been nominated, so I’m hoping that it’s the charm.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.



Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom receives performance at Gettysburg College

October 16, 2013

I’m so excited to be going back to my Alma Mater Gettysburg College this Friday for a performance of my Music II for Wind Quintet by Teresa Bowers and fellow faculty.  I’m also taking to students about composing.  Should be fun!  I’m going to talk about things students many not get in school – about how really to be successful.  All those other things one needs to do other than one’s art.  Here’s a photo of me at my senior recital in 1985.  You can listen to a recording of my quintet at


Brian Wilbur Grundstrom scores a new opera for Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

August 25, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls

a new opera
book by Ernest Hemingway
libretto by David Dorsen
music by Brian Wilbur Grundstrom

information on Wikipedia

Listen to a first draft of Act I Scene 3. Voices are replaced by Saxophone.

Watch “Backseat Driver” with score by composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom

December 1, 2012

Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom wrote the score for “Backseat Driver” by director Rob Raffety and Tragedy Plus Time as part of DCShorts Speakeasy film challege. The film won runner up.

Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom wins Peer Award

December 1, 2012

Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom wins Peer Award

Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom wins Silver TIVA Peer Award for “Arc of LIght: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss” score (photo

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom on the technicalities of composing music for film: Interview with Lucinda M. Dugger of the Copyright Alliance

October 25, 2012

reposted from:

Good music doesn’t just happen for a film. It requires patience, persistence, and strong technical expertise. I chatted with Brian Wilbur Grundstrom, a composer for orchestra, piano, quintet and other ensembles, about the process of writing music for film. He puts it this way, “well-coordinated music to a film is like a good picture frame which enhances and completes the picture without drawing attention to itself.”

But, just how does that happen? Brian says that the key is to figure out how the composer and the filmmaker can work best together. “Typically the director conveys the mood and how the music functions to the composer, and it is up to the composer to translate these clues into music,” he says. “I have found that creating a shared online document with descriptions about each musical cue is helpful in facilitating this collaboration.”

Brian recently composed the score for the film, “Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss”. Before reading the rest of the blog, I encourage you to watch the short one-minute excerpt.

Not many of us would consider three weeks enough time to put a massive project together, much less one that requires substantial creativity and technical expertise. But, Brian felt like he had plenty of lead-time for this film when the Director Cid Collins Walker gave him three weeks to complete the score.

Because Brian had established an early working relationship with Cid, he had the ability to develop themes even before the final video was locked into place. When he received the final footage, or “picture lock” as it is called in the industry, Brian was able to quickly get to work since he had already laid the ground for the music. “I write music directly to picture by loading the film into my sequencer,” says Brian. “This allows me to watch the picture as I write, so that I can time the music out perfectly to the picture.”

“Arc of Light” is broken down into chapters, and the music that Brian composes for it reinforces this particular structure. Simple audio cues – such as when the music comes to a close at the end of each section and then starts afresh with the next one – help the viewer understand that a new chapter is starting.

Similarly, while Brian’s compositions play off just a few themes throughout the film, each of the film’s chapters is different. He uses subtle differences each time a theme returns, such as employing different instruments, to evoke a range of feelings, but each sound echoes the overarching theme. “This way,” Brian says, “the music holds the film together without sounding repetitive.” The overall effect is one of a well-polished film.

As an independent composer, Brian doesn’t often get an entire orchestra together to record his compositions, so he relies on a sample library to provide the recording. He prefers to use Vienna Symphonic Library and LA Scoring String. While these are pre-recorded samples, there is nothing synthetic about the music or notation. “Each note is recorded live, and these samples are re-assembled, as it were, to create music,” says Brian. “Furthermore, each note is recorded and played many different ways, which allows me to specify the exact articulation I desire for each note.” Through the touch of a button, Brian has available to him a wide variety of musical samples. For the string section alone, for example, he has access to solo, chamber, orchestra, and large orchestra string samples.

Choosing the proper notes, articulations, and instruments is just the first step to producing a well-executed composition. Next, Brian has to master the recording so it sounds authentic. He does this by balancing the volume for each instrument. (Think of a symphonic conductor who is telling the violins to play quieter and encouraging the brass section to play more boldly during a crescendo.)

Once the recording is mastered, the sound has to be further fine-tuned in order to portray properly the acoustics and the venue size. To do this, Brian uses technology to simulate placing each instrument on the stage in the exact place where it would be in a traditional orchestra-seating layout. He then provides a reverb, which alters the sound to simulate the exact environment where the symphony would be located if it were a live production. This could be any of a number of specific venues, from a small recording studio to a large concert hall or a church.

Finally, any number of other mastering effects can be applied to the recording. Composers often use a limiter, which prevents the music from clipping or distorting if the volume becomes too loud, or compression, which is used to level out the volume for more consistent listening without continually adjusting the volume control (i.e. the quiet parts are increased in volume while the louder parts are reduced.)

Once these finishing touches are put in place, the score is perfectly composed to not only enhance the visual, but also to take the viewer on a complete artistic experience.

Now that you’ve read how the score is composed, I urge you to re-watch the excerpt above with a fresh eye and ear to the experience.

Watch Excerpt from “Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss” with Music by Brian Wilbur Grundstrom

June 25, 2012

Watch excerpt from Arc of Light on YouTube

I want to share with you a short excerpt from a documentary that I scored with original music: ARC OF LIGHT:A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss.



Brian Wilbur Grundstrom

Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss

ARC OF LIGHT: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss traces the broad spectrum of this important artist’s life and work, ranging from the aesthetic influences of her early childhood and her ground-breaking career as a Harvard-trained architect to her emergence as a cutting-edge artist whose work fuses an astonishing range of elements, including architecture, mathematics, computer technology, painting, printmaking and calligraphy. The documentary film examines the roots of Bliss’s art in the Bauhaus school, which flourished in Germany in the 1920s, and how the Bauhaus artists influenced the development of Bliss’s extensive contribution to American modern art.

Black Opal Productions
Cid Collins Walker, Executive Producer and Director

Listen to excerpt

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom with Cid Collins Walker
Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom with Executive Producer and Director of “ARC OF LIGHT: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss” Cid Collins Walker at DC Shorts film festival.

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