First WEDNESDAYS Featured Dave Slonaker

The thing readily apparent since ASMAC began its First Wednesday gatherings, is the vast treasure of knowledge and know how in the community of world class musicians, composers and arrangers here in Los Angeles.  This bounty of knowledge was displayed one more time at the September 7th, 2016 get together at the AFM local 47 Auditorium.  Dave Slonaker, a veteran composer and orchestrator, was the expert in charge for the evening.  Dave has worked with and for composers including Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely and John Addison on feature films such as Oz the Great and Powerful, Alice in Wonderland, Spider-Man and A Million Ways to Die in The West.  His television credits include Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Jag, Murder She Wrote, and Tiny Toon Adventures.

Slonaker began the evening by discussing his influences and the skills necessary to be a working orchestrator in Hollywood.  He mentioned Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Bela Bartok as well as Scheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov as some of his important classical music roots.  He also mentioned the impact Jazz has played in his musical life, referencing Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Stan Kenton, Bill Holman and Gerry Mulligan.

The text book he cited as the most influential for him was “The Contemporary Arranger” by Don Sebesky. He referenced four principles of Sebesky’s that he strives to maintain in his work:

1. Balance
2. Focus
3. Variety
4. Economy

To this he adds his own principle #5:  The sound of the orchestration must match the drama of the scene.

Slonaker feels it is necessary to be familiar with the repertoire and the styles and sounds of a number of composers.  He mentioned specifically Lincoln Portrait and Rodeo by Aaron Copland, as well as the works of Samuel Barber in the Americana Style.   The Romantic styles of Mahler, Strauss and Wagner as well as the impressionistic approach of Ravel and Debussy are equally important. “Something in the style of Stravinsky is certainly going to be requested at some point.” was one of Dave’s strongest statements in this area.  He also stressed the music of Puccini and Verdi as helpful and powerful.

Dave suggested that one of the best tools for learning style is to reduce an orchestration down to an 8-line sketch, 2 lines for Woodwinds, 2 for brass, 2 for percussion or keyboards and 2 for strings. He proceeded to show how clearly it made different styles look as he shared 4 reductions with us of works by Puccini, Mahler, Shostakovich and Ravel.  It is a technique that demonstrates how the composer/orchestrator sees the importance of the various lines and chord structures and maintains their orchestral balance through a musical phrase or section.

Dave finished the night by playing pieces from his various composing and orchestrating assignments. The night was capped off by a couple of recorded compositions from the Dave Slonaker Big Band.

Another successful First Wednesday from ASMAC allowing a citizen of the Los Angeles music community to show off and share his amazing knowledge and skills.

Glenn Jordan