The Nativity Story (Soundtrack) by Mychael Danna

 

 

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Composer Mychael Danna
The Music Born of a Story

Mychael Danna

Studied music at the University of Toronto

Won the Glen Gould Scholarship in 1985


Began film career with Atom Egoyan's "Family Viewing"
 in 1987.

Served as resident composer at the McGlaughlin Planetarium in Toronto from 1987 to 1992

Grammy Nomination for Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Composition Credits
(Film)

Surf's Up
Fracture
Breach
Little Miss Sunshine
Lonely Hearts
The Nativity Story
Capote
Eve and the Fire Horse
Sohni Sapna
Tideland
Water
Where the Truth Lies
Being Julia
Vanity Fair
The Guys
Shattered Glass
The Snow Walker
Antwone Fisher
Ararat
Green Dragon
Hearts in Atlantis
8MM
The Confession
Felicia's Journey
Girl, Interrupted
Ride With The Devil
At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story
Still Life
Caribe
The Ice Storm
Regeneration
The Sweet Hereafter
Dangerous Offender
Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love
Lilies
Dance Me Outside
The Darling Family
Exotica
Narmada: A Valley Rises
Ordinary Magic
The Adjuster
Cold Comfort
Speaking Parts
Termini Station
Blood Relations
Family Viewing
 

Composition Credits (TV)

Gross Misconduct
Hush Little Baby
Johann's Gift to Christmas
Road to Avonlea

Murder One

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mychael Danna

"...Music doesn't really need to repeat ... 'where' we are and 'when' we are. Music has powers beyond that. It has the power to touch us and to relate us to the characters."

Mychael Danna


The Interview

The Nativity Story (Soundtrack) by Mychael DannaTracksounds was able to interrupt composer Mychael Danna's busy schedule to talk about his popular work for THE NATIVITY STORY.  He shares openly about his unique approach to scoring this epic, yet intimate story and how this film tapped into some reservoirs of talent that Hollywood rarely taps into.

CC: THE NATIVITY STORY SOUNDTRACK debuted on the Billboard Classical Chart at #6. Did that surprise you at all?

MYCHAEL DANNA: That was a really unexpected but sweet thing to see. I really didn't think about that sort of thing.  When you are in the rush of working on the project, you really don't think about the soundtrack's life on its own, away from the film. It has generated a wonderful response from people and in charting and it seems people have really enjoyed the soundtrack on its own. Obviously the goal of film music is to work with the film - to lift the film - to enhance the film experience, but when you take the music away from that context, and its successful on its own, that's really a sweet thing.

CC: When you came onto the project, did the director, Katherine Hardwicke, have a particular idea of what sort of score she wanted for THE NATIVITY STORY?

MYCHAEL DANNA: Well they originally came to me before the film had even been shot and ,ironically, I think they did so because I am sort of known for my work with non-western music. Now, since Peter Gabriel's work in the 80's for THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, that whole world-music feel has become popular for films set in the Middle East...especially Bible era films. Seemingly that has become the only way to score films set in that time period and that place. Now I think that was a great work in the 80's, but now just having a world-music-mish-mash of Indian, African and Middle Eastern elements sort of feels like, "Been there. Done that." I'm not sure using that approach would add much to this particular film, this particular story. I felt that with THE NATIVITY STORY we needed to build a sort of bridge between the characters on the screen and the audience. I certainly wanted to plant the seeds of location, so I used some Persian nay and Turkish nay, reed flutes from that area.  That said, I really wanted to touch most of all on where this story had its greatest impact, where it has had most of its power, where it became the basis for an entire civilization and culture and that's Europe - and more specifically, Europe in the Middle Ages and The Renaissance. I wanted to have melodies and instruments that tells this tale, which has come down to us 2000 years later. So I really wanted to stay away from the world-music-potpourri that seems to have become the fashion.

When I looked at the film and when we began talking about it, we decided that we wanted to take another approach. A different part of my background, which they didn't really know about, is that I started out singing in church choirs, being an organist, and leading a choir in an Anglican church. I actually have a background in this culture and this sort of music and this film allowed me to tap into that part of my upbringing and background - one that I really haven't had much opportunity to utilize in the film-world before.

CC: There is quite a history of biblically based films and their accompanying scores: from Alfred Newman to Miklos Rosza to Peter Gabriel to John Debney. Did that place any extra pressure on you or serve as inspiration or affect you in anyway as you worked on this project?

MYCHAEL DANNA: I certainly didn't feel any pressure from any film music that had previously portrayed this story. Earlier film epics from the 50's and 60's had such a different aesthetic. It was very "over-the-top" and a bit redundant in terms of repeating what was already on the screen. Audiences are a lot more sensitive and intelligent now, so that sort of scoring isn't going to go over very well. It would be sort of patronizing. Then, of course, there was the world-music thing, of which I've grown a bit tired of and feel its just time to take another look. I don't feel pressure from that history, but as a composer sitting here at 2006/2007, I am very aware that just about every great composer of the last 2000 years has had a crack at scoring this story.  Some of the greatest masterworks that have ever been written tell this story! That is certainly a pressure. Somehow, though, I can't get swept up in that.

CC: So did the director's approach give you some freedom to go another direction musically?

MYCHAEL DANNA: Katherine Hardwicke did a beautiful job with portraying the time and place. It's beautifully shot. It's very real and gritty. That being the case, the music doesn't really need to repeat that as far as "where" we are and "when" we are. Music has powers beyond that. It has the power to touch us and to relate us to the characters. The take on this story is about this young girl, Mary, coming to terms with her destiny and that's where the score's heart is.

CC: You worked with the group, Synaulia, lead by Walter Maioli, on THE NATIVITY STORY score. Talk about your experience in working with him.

MYCHAEL DANNA: Synaulia is a fantastic group based in Rome, Italy. Walter Maioli is a kindred spirit in the sense that he is obsessed with history and recreating music that we will never, ever really know sounded like - that from the time of the Roman empire.  We can; however, make educated guesses and recreations and that is what Walter Maioli is doing. I'm fascinated that Walter Maioli has really gone deep into this.

We worked with him and recorded a few things and then worked them into a few scenes. There really weren't Romans per se in this movie, but Herod's soldiers would have certainly modeled themselves on imperial power of the time, Rome. We used those sounds for Herod and his army.

We just had a fantastic time working together. You know the sources for this type of music are incredibly thin. We're literally talking about paintings on urns or walls where musical instruments are portrayed. People are, then, with magnifying glasses counting the number of strings on a harp! It's one thing to read in the Bible that "they played on harp and the lute" but what were those things really? What did they look like? What did they sound like? How were they tuned? So Walter Maioli spends a lot of time putting together these types of instruments: stringed, percussion, horns, flutes and comes up with his take on what these sorts of instruments would sound like.

CC: While you were composing, did you have Walter Maioli in mind all along?

MYCHAEL DANNA: There was some serendipity there. I had one of his recordings before I even worked on the film and was certainly aware of Synaulia, but when we went to meet with Katherine (Hardwicke) on set, who was shooting in southern Italy, I said that since we are going through Rome, that we should record these guys.


CC: Before we finish up, let me congratulate you on your Grammy nomination for the LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE soundtrack and ask you what projects you have coming down the pipe.

MYCHAEL DANNA: Thank you so much. Well, first I'm working on SURF'S UP, which is an animated feature from Sony Animation which is about... penguins. Now, I know you are shocked that Hollywood would ever do a movie about the same subject within the course of one year! Right? [laughs] I have to say though, that this is a really great film. It's very different from HAPPY FEET. It's really fun and a little improvised. They assembled some really great actors and voice talent. It's really witty and clever and beautiful to look at and it will be out this summer. I'm also working on a thriller called FRACTURE, which I'm actually scoring with my brother Jeff (Danna). I have another project coming out next month entitled BREACH, which is a true story - a great spy story.

CC: Sounds like you've kept yourself quite busy through the holidays.

MYCHAEL DANNA: I'm afraid I did.

CC: Thank you for taking the time amidst your busy schedule.

MYCHAEL DANNA: All the best to you. Thanks and we'll do it again soon.


 

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