After a hiatus of about two years, I’ve started composing again. I didn’t compose a note the entire time I was in Mexico. I can’t really explain it. Just didn’t feel like it. But these periods of inactivity have occurred even with the greatest composers, so I’m not going to spend any time justifying my silence.

The important thing is that I’m back at it, and loving every minute of it. I’ve completed two new pieces recently…

“Metamorphosis: The Butterfly’s Journey of Transformation” for Trumpet & String Quartet

I’m currently working on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, playing trumpet. And when I arrived on board, I was surprised to discover there was a string quartet contracted to play there as well! I thought that had gone the way of the Titanic, but apparently there’s still enough interest in classical string quartet among cruisers that some companies and ships still hire them.

So I knew I needed to write something. But a “String Quartet” is a bit intimidating considering all of the illustrious composers of the past who’ve written for that medium. Then I thought about string quartet with trumpet. This I felt more comfortable with. So I set to writing.

“Metamorphosis” is a spiritual metaphor about the journey of transformation we all go through time and time again throughout our lives as we grow and become better individuals in some way.

  • The first movement is “The Caterpillar’s Journey,” reflective of the ordinary, normal life fraught with adventure, problems, and perils as time relentlessly marches ever forward. Eventually, the caterpillar finds solace and settles down to create his private chamber: the chrysalis.
  • The second, “Chrysalis: A Meditation,” is a depiction of the quiet place of meditation where transformation occurs. As far as the outside world is concerned, nothing is happening… but in the caterpillar’s inner world, remarkable changes are underway.
  • The third, “The Butterfly Emerges,” is the triumphant reappearance of the transformed creature, unrecognizable as the crawling worm it used to be. It soars far above jungle in ecstasy, revealing its beauty and grace to the world.

I believe this piece turned out well and works nicely for string quartet and trumpet. The biggest challenge—but certainly doable for any good performer—is to keep the trumpet from overpowering the strings. It will require control and finesse on the part of the trumpeter. I’ll upload an audio recording and a perusal score soon.

“I Dream A World” for SATB A Cappella Choir (with optional divisi)

The other piece is completely different in terms of sound and texture. It’s for a cappella choir, and it’s based on the beautiful poem, “I Dream A World,” by Langston Hughes.

In a piece like this, the text really drives what the music is doing. I chose a harmonic language and texture that illustrates (at least in my mind and sense of esthetics) that sense of longing—and at the same time hope—the poem depicts.

Here is the full text of the poem:

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind–
Of such I dream, my world!

I believe this piece features my best choral writing yet, and is one of my best pieces overall. There is something elemental about working with 4 simple voices. It forces you back to the basics and keeps your music lean, while at the same time inspiring creative ideas within those limited bounds. I’m hooked on writing for choir. Expect more from me soon.

Until then, greetings from the South Pacific! :)

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Back in L.A.!

by J. Aaron Stanley on February 5, 2014

Well I’m back in the states (after my 1-year-and-8-month Mexican adventure), and back in Los Angeles without really MEANING to be in particular. It just sort of happened… as if its magnetic pull proved too irresistible without a conscious effort to break free of it.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

I came back to L.A. to attend NAMM. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to go. My schedule was still very much up in the air until a couple weeks beforehand. And NAMM isn’t exactly the easiest event to get into. If you don’t work for an instrument or accessory manufacturer, you have to have someone “hook you up” with a badge. But luckily, a friend pulled through for me, and I got a badge to attend all four days.

I wanted to go to NAMM because virtually every trumpet manufacturer of any size has a booth there. After a year and a half playing a student Yamaha (it was all I could afford when I landed in Mexico–a story for another day), it was time to upgrade, and I wanted to try every horn available in order to choose the one I really liked the best. It’s not easy trying out a bunch of different trumpets. You pretty much HAVE to go to a big event like NAMM.

So after testing dozens and dozens of trumpets, it became apparent that even the ones I didn’t like so much were WAY better than the Yamaha I had been playing. But one in particular really stood out for me because of it’s beautiful, warm sound and ease of playing: the Kanstul 1600.

It was designed for Wayne Bergeron. But that’s not why I love it. I love it because it’s a GREAT horn and has exactly the kind of sound and response characteristics I’ve been wanting in a trumpet. I can’t wait to get one!

So anyway, since I was here in L.A., and had nothing in particular to do and nowhere in particular to be, I figured I would just stay.

When I left Monterrey, Mexico, I knew it would be for good. I was ready to move on. No future for me there. (But it was a great adventure!) From Monterrey, I worked aboard the Carnival Dream in the Caribbean for a month (it was a short contract), then got deposited afterward in Phoenix, AZ, where my parents live. And now… well, I’m back in L.A…

Looking for something to do.

But I’m pretty industrious. I’ll be busy in no time. I’ve already scored a recording session, a mini-tour with a Soul Band for later this month, and two other possible regular gigs. Let’s see what kind of adventure awaits!

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Preview to the Score for “Malice”

December 5, 2011

So we had the recording session today for “Malice” at Ardent Audio in Torrance, CA. I had 6 brass musicians (2 trumpets, 2 horns, trombone, and tuba/cimbasso) plus a lone clarinet.

For the big epic sections, we did a triple pass to get a nice, fat orchestral brass section!

I think it turned out well! Take a listen…

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Set to Score “Malice” – A short film about a 12-year-old girl who aspires to be a supervillain

November 24, 2011

12 year old Alice aspires to be a super-villain, and she’s well on her way, what with her bad-ass cape, boots, gloves, and signature “M” on her belt (short for “Malice”.) Then, of course, there’s her master plan for world domination.

But when grandpa gets hurt by a group of thugs robbing his comic-book store while Alice is away on a mission of mischief, she begins to question her aspirations. Will she aspire instead to the role of “superhero”?

“Malice” is a fun, yet touching story, and I’m very excited to be on board as the composer. It’s a chance to write some epic, yet comedic, “supervillain / superhero” music, which is always a ton of fun!

The director, Reyna Calvillo, is a young fireball full of energy and enthusiasm – the kind of magnetic personality that’s instantly endearing and infectious. It’s a joy to be working with her, and I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we work together. She has the “spark” – that ineffable quality that tells you someone is going to be successful because they have the right combination of talent, energy, positive enthusiasm, and fearlessness.

I’m all the more excited about this project because I will have live brass, and be recording in a real studio. Brass is so essential to this genre of music, and I’ve got some amazing musicians lined up to play. It’s going to be fantastic!

Stay tuned for comedic epicness…

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It’s A Wrap On Seminarista

September 23, 2011

I delivered the score to Seminarista this week. It was a fun project, and I am grateful to have had enough of a budget to get an ensemble of four live musicians together, including…

    • Piano – Jeremy Borum
    • Clarinet – Sean Franz
    • Cello – Cameron Stone
    • Viola – A name I cannot divulge for safety & security reasons, lest union thugs hunt him down and do terrible things to him. (Note to the reader without a sense of humor: I’m exaggerating.)

These musicians made a fine ensemble, and I’m very pleased with the end result. It’s always a pleasure to work with great musicians. I don’t care what the trends are these days, I will continue to work with living, breathing musicians any way I can.

I chose this instrumentation partly for practical reasons and partly because I knew instinctively it would work well for the heart-warming drama this film happens to be.

I also layered in some sampled orchestral strings, simply for harmonic and textural support and to aid climatic moments. Of course, a live orchestra would have been way better – and I continue to pine for one. But short of that, four live musicians is certainly better than none.

I can only hope that my future film projects will have ever larger budgets for ever larger ensembles! I’m waiting (and salivating at the very thought) for the day when I have an entire symphony orchestra seated before me, ready to play my music at the downbeat.

In the meantime, here’s a peak at what I created with just four live musicians….

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Score for Swordsman Delivered – Here’s A Sneak Peak…

September 13, 2011

So after pulling an all-nighter, I delivered the score for Swordsman yesterday. It’s a short film based on the legendary Samurai, Myamoto Musashi, directed by Marcus Sun.

I wrote it for shakuhachi, shinobue, koto, and taiko with a string orchestra. I feel fortunate to have worked with some amazing musicians on this project, including…

Bill Schultz on Shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute)… Yoko Awaya on Koto (a harp-like string instrument)… and George Abe on Shinobue (a traditional transverse bamboo flute).

Sadly, I didn’t have the budget for a live string orchestra, but I had the help of orchestrator Michael West, who created the mock-ups and mixed the final score.

I had a wonderful time collaborating with Marcus Sun, the director of Swordsman. His feedback as I was creating the score was both helpful and supportive, and the end result is better because of it.

Here’s a “sneak peak” excerpt of the score. The first cue is from a moment Myamoto is experiencing self-doubt. The second is a moment between Myamoto and Oharu, his love interest. You’ll hear excerpts of both the Love Theme and the theme representing Myamoto’s Destiny…

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Set To Score “Automaton” – A Sci-Fi Short Directed by David Quakenbush

August 15, 2011

I will be scoring a fantastic short (30-minute) sci-fi thriller called “Automaton” this fall. (Facebook page.)

Here’s the premise: Far in the future, there are few humans left and automatons populate the one city, which covers the entire globe. Out of loneliness and a desire for human contact, Gary upgrades his housekeeping automaton to be more “suitable” company at home. She is programmed with one key objective: to make Gary happy. But when Gary’s happiness begins revolving around Margaret, perhaps the last remaining real woman alive, what’s an automaton to do?

Yep.

Gonna have fun with this one!

I saw a rough cut last week, and I’m very excited. The film’s slow but relentless pace reminds me of classic Hitchcock thrillers such as Vertigo and Rear Window. There is plenty of opportunity for the music to set the tone and heighten the sense of anticipation and suspense.

Here’s a case of an amazing premise, a fantastic script, a great cast, and a talented crew coming together to create something that’s going to look (and sound!) like a much more expensive film than it really is.

This one deserves to be made into a feature film. (And when it is, I better be the one to score it!)

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Set To Score “Seminarista” – A Short Film By Henry Corzo

August 12, 2011

“Seminarista” (Facebook page) is a touching crisis-of-faith drama about a seminary student who realizes he’s gay. The script is very well written and the footage I saw looks great! The director, Henry Corzo, is a former engineer now finishing up the film program at UCLA.

This is a different kind of project from the others I’m working on. It’s the kind of film that presents a great opportunity for writing an intimate, emotional score. (I’m thinking Ennio Morricone here. Hats off to the master of intimate, emotional music.)

Because of budgetary limitations, I sadly will not be able to hire a live string orchestra, which is essential to creating the kind of emotional depth needed for this kind of film. However, I could get 2 or 3 solo instrumentalists. I’m thinking piano and cello with some light string pads underneath. But I’ll wait to make a definite decision until I see what the full rough cut looks and “feels” like.

This will be a good challenge. I tend to write “big”, and this is the kind of film that needs to be intimate – not bombastic.

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Set To Score “The Swordsman” – A Short Film By Marcus Sun

August 11, 2011

I found out yesterday that I will be the score composer for the short film, “The Swordsman”. It is a historical drama set in medieval Japan, and features one of Japan’s legendary samurai.

I saw some of the initial footage and it looks fantastic! I’m looking forward to the collaboration with Marcus Sun, who is finishing up his film program at New York Film Academy – L.A.

Because of the period ethnic nature of the film–and because the dialog is actually in Japanese–I will be writing for a combination of ethnic Japanese instruments with some atmospheric electronic layers to fill out the sound.

I’m excited about having enough of a budget to hire some live musicians, which means the end result is going to sound fantastic! Plus, it’s a heck of a lot of fun working with other musicians.

I can’t wait to get started…

(I also picked up another awesome film scoring project yesterday, which I’ll post about tomorrow.)

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Coming Soon: “Success Journey Songs”

July 16, 2011

About a year and a half ago, I asked myself in a state of meditation, “How can I use my talents to be of service to others?”

The answer I got was, “Write positive, life-affirming, motivational, inspirational songs.”

This was somewhat surprising since I’d never considered myself a songwriter. I wrote instrumental music, not songs.

But those were the “instructions”. So immediately, I began writing songs. The first two songs I wrote were “Winds of Change” and “Rockstar Sales Superstar”…

  • “Winds of Change” is about the moment of making the decision to no longer live in a scarcity mindset, but to embrace abundance (the natural state of the universe).
  • “Rockstar Sales Superstar” is based on the sales training of Eric Lofholm, one of America’s top sales trainers.

I wrote several other songs over the course of the next few months, having no idea how I would finance recording them, or when I’d be able to share them with the world.

It’s taken a year and a half, but I’m finally very close to releasing the first two songs as part of “Success Journey Songs”, a new website I’m launching devoted to positive, life-affirming, motivational, inspirational songs.

“Winds of Change” and “Rockstar Sales Superstar” are currently in production. I’ve recorded drums, bass, and rhythm guitar. Next week, I’ll be recording vocals, lead guitar, and winds / horns. Then they will ready for final mixing.

If all goes well–and things do seem to be falling into place–I will be launching the beginning of August.

I’m very excited to finally be launching this project. I firmly believe it will be a success, and that there will be many fantastic songs to come out of this project.

I hope you will check it out! It will be happening here:

www.SuccessJourneySongs.com

 

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