Interview with Danny Pelfrey
Composer of Joseph: King of Dreams

April 27, 2010

Danny Pelfrey is a award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist in Hollywood. He already did some great movie and television soundtracks, as «Joseph: King of Dreams» for example. This was a sequel to Dreamworks SKG’s Academy-Award winning animated feature film, «Prince of Egypt», composed by Hans Zimmer.

«Joseph: King of Dreams» was nominated for the Best Score and Hans Zimmer helps out with incorporate the sounds from Prince of Egypt and guided Danny Pelfrey in the song production.

He has also contributed compositions to popular feature films such as «High Fidelity», «Enemy of the State», «The Kid», «Get Carter», «Mars Attacks» and «I’ll be Home for Christmas». Danny Pelfrey is a multi-nominated and twice Emmy winning composer for his contributions to numerous television projects including «Guiding Light», «Strong Medicine», «That's Life», «Felicity», «Spin City» and «American Dreams». He has also contributed to several mini-series and acclaimed primetime shows including «The Office», «Friends», «Survivor», and «Melrose Place».

Danny Pelfrey wrote on his website:

"Film and Television are great mediums for a contemporary composer, a great place to participate. Without music, film can be flat— it lays there. The process of composing for picture runs the gamut of human emotions; terrifying, satisfying, provocative or transcendent. In almost every project there are limitations set up, usually time limitations, where you have to challenge your imagination and stretch yourself as a composer. Occasionally, you might need to achieve a big sound on a limited budget and that stretches you. The research involved often takes you to new places. I've made great discoveries about life while composing; how to communicate the subtleties of the human experience. Composing music really is my great love."







Could you tell us something about your first steps in the business of composing, soundtracks and scores? Who discovered you and gives you the chances to compose a first «big thing»?

Well that’s a question that’s always asked. I don’t think there’s a real answer as everyone’s path is different. The particulars of my path are not really that important. The real answer is the usual stuff – prepare in every way possible, learn everything there is to know about the art and craft of music, and develop your own point of view. After that, engage in relentless marketing and seeking opportunities. As a composer / musician, we are basically a small business entrepreneur, so at least some understanding of the principles of business is required. After that, it’s really just luck! But as the saying goes, the more prepared you are, the better your luck will be.

What is easier to compose, a television project, a Hollywood movie or a mini-series? Are there some differences and why?

They’re all quite different to be sure. Actually one of the good things about television is that you spot an episode and a week or so later it’s on the air! Exciting (and stressful) but also satisfying. Films hopefully give one more time, which can be good and bad. It is nice to take a little more time for details in conceptualizing and production. Additionally, film may provide more resources for higher production values, but that is not always the case.

Have you ever made a soundtrack for a videogame too?

Yes I’ve done around 50 of those. I was doing the Star Trek franchise for Activision but somehow their arrangement with Paramount ended and so did my multi-game deal!

Do you think your work is in any way influenced by Hans Zimmer (especially the prequel to «Prince of Egypt»)? Or did he give you just some advices?

Well he was instrumental in my being hired by Dreamworks, as they did not know who I was, and neither did he. My music came to their attention and after a couple of interviews he said, “This guy is right for this job”. Through the process he gave me input as to what they like to hear, mostly through the arranging and production of the songs. After that he got too busy but he gave me the foundation and communication skills I needed to successfully complete the project. His work on Prince Of Egypt (both score and song arrangement/production) was a model in a very broad sense as Joseph was a companion piece but there was no specific influence other than that.

How did you approach the religious elements of the story? Are you using some choirs? When are you using female, male or children choirs? Are female for example more interesting for drama and emotions or children/men for fantasy and mystery?

Well the first thing I did when I found out I was doing the project was to go to Genesis and read the original. And I read as many different translations as I could find, looking for any additional nuances in the story. And I must say the writers and directors did a great job staying true to the story and bringing it into a presentation for a contemporary audience. Regarding voices, I did not make extensive use of them in the score. Obviously the songs (which I arranged and produced) are a different issue. For the score, I used a small female group in the beginning for what I was calling God’s theme, and in the big scene at the end, which was the reunion of Joseph, his brothers and Jacob, his father. I guess the female sound seemed like angels to me, although we all know angels can also be male. Also I think it was more appropriate to the sonic tapestry and created a more uplifting feeling.

How do you describe your music style for «Joseph: King of Dreams»?

A challenging question. I would say World/Orchestral. Does that make sense?



Did you have any temp-track on the score? What was it?

Yes I did, but I honestly don’t remember. I think some of it was tracked with "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" by Vaughan Williams. Fortunately, whatever the rest of it was, the filmmakers were not too attached to it.

You used ancient Egyptian instruments. Which ones? How have you discovered them and who performed them? When do you know, that those instruments are the right instruments for the current movie scene? What gives you this assurance that it’s placed at the right time?

Actually the “world” instruments used were more regional than specifically Egyptian. Duduk, Ney, Rebaba, Ban-Di, Bansuri, Moroccan Flute, Zampona, and a great variety of percussion including Djmbe, Darabuk, Dholak, Udu, etc etc. Instruments and music from cultures around the world have always intrigued me, so I was aware of these and how they are used, for the most part.

I always thought (and I think the filmmakers and audience do too) that the exact historical and geographical use of the instruments is not as important as the evocative or dramatic effect, unless one is scoring a documentary or there is some kind of visual obligation to use a specific instrument that you are seeing on camera. So, I didn’t really concern myself too much with "right place, right time".


Which information, requirements or advices do you received before you start with «Joseph: King of Dreams»?

Before starting the input was pretty sketchy, but it was an ongoing process with lots of dialog with writers, producers and directors along the way. Jeffery Katzenberg always ultimately approved everything. He was directly involved with the entire process.


Is «Joseph: King of Dreams» for you a personal highlight or just another successful project?

I would say a definite highlight. First of all these animation projects take a long time – Joseph took two years! Anything you spend that long on becomes a big part of your life and therefore very important to you. Also due to the timeless and profound nature of the story it was very inspirational material.




How do you prepare you for composing a movie like that, and where do you find the ideas, the inspiration and the creative imagination for scoring a movie, a TV mini-series, a video game or something else?

In this case, I studied the story in its original form and tried to absorb what it meant to me. In this case we are talking about a story about the human condition that’s been around a long time, so there is a lot of weight to it. I think basically that’s true for any project. I need to get invested in the story and characters. Also the filmmakers have ideas about how they want the music to function and what purposes they want it to serve. So I ingest all that information and start writing!




You worked with Disney and Dreamworks. What do you think about the work methods of both animation studios? Are there some differences? Would you like to work with any of them again? Which one and why?

Of course I’d love to work with either one or both! They are both artist friendly and full of forward thinking, inspired and creative people.


You worked with the conductor Lucas Richman and the vocalist Jodi Benson. What can you tell us about those collaborations?

Two of the best! Jodi of course is a dream performer and always makes us composer/producer types look good. I met Lucas in the BMI conducting workshop. He is and continues to be a great teacher and inspiring leader, as well as a great composer himself. He is the reason the Symphonic Suite from Joseph was created. He contacted me about wanting to present it in a concert he was doing in Knoxville where he is the conductor and music director, so I created the suite especially for them. He has created a vibrant and thriving orchestra there and they were all very welcoming to me.


Could you please tell us something about yourself? When did you start playing an instrument, and which one? At what age did you decide for his career?

The details of my story are on my website at www.dannypelfrey.com. Basically I started playing guitar at 9, and I knew immediately that was what I was going to do. I think for most of us that’s the case. It is impossible NOT do music. After that I took up the trumpet so I could be in the school band, learned the saxophone and became a studio musician and did a lot of touring as well. I wanted to stay home more so I found some chances to start arranging and writing, which I had always done throughout my career. As that developed I wrote for commercials, broadcasters, library, games, TV, and film, as well as continuing to play, though less and less due to time constraints.


Have you got some favourite composers, maybe an idol, mentor or master? How about instruments? Any favourite?

Well that list is too long to print and it changes all the time anyway. Suffice it to say that I like and am influenced by what I call “the good stuff” – anything that moves me, and it’s all over the map. I particularly seem to like guitar and guitar music in a variety of styles, mostly acoustic at the moment.


Are you playing those favourite instruments also during recordings?

I always play on my own work, as I am always available! Mostly guitar or related instruments, however I also play winds whenever they are needed.


What are you doing in your free time? What kind of music do you listen to, if it isn’t a soundtrack or score?

What free time? Seems like there isn’t any of that. I am playing music again, mostly on a more recreational level, also continuing to learn. Doing some travelling as well, and some filmmaking of my own. What I listen to is all over the place and changes constantly. Right now it’s Tommy Emmanuel, Alex DeGrassi, Todd Rundgren, Robben Ford, and Keb Mo, among many others.


Please tell us something about your next projects. What kind of composing are you doing right now? What would you ever like to compose or be a part of it? What is your dream project?

Since the premiere of the Symphonic Suite from Joseph, I have been actively seeking more opportunities for performances for it. It is being performed in LA by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony in August 2010. I would love the chance to get it performed in France and Switzerland! I also have my own production music company called Amusicom that I write for constantly. I am also creating music for download for my new website (which will launch soon). Part of that will be to finally release 3 versions of “Linda’s Song” which has been a huge Internet hit for me. I have gotten emails about it for years. It seems to have come to mean a lot to many people around the world.

Also I am exploring composing for games again as there has been such an explosion in production value and creativity in that area. Dream projects would be more work for the concert stage.


Have you got a last unpublished note or and nice info for our readers, to finish this interview?

You asked such great questions that we covered a lot of ground. I guess just to say how blessed I have been to have had a life in music. It is truly infinite and always fascinating.


Thank you very much for your time and all the best from France and Switzerland.

Thank you very much for your interest and your time as well. All the best.



Intro and Questions by Fabrice Steurer in collaboration with Christine Blanc
www.hans-zimmer.ch www.inter-activities.com

Special Thanks: Andy Perez

© Copyright by Fabrice Steurer & Christine Blanc. All Rights Reserved.




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