Daniel Ingram was featured in an article today by the Vancouver Sun. Not so much as a direct interview about ponies, but the musical industry behind animation in general. We got the full article after the page break, entitled “Wascally Wabbit Weturns”.
Hare freshener: Wascally wabbit weturns
The Vancouver Symphony offers a bumper crop of concerts this season covering most of the expected areas of orchestral repertoire. But there’s a wild card this weekend: a glorious live music/film exploration of one of the great movies and music mashups, classic cartoons starring Bugs Bunny and a cast of familiar characters.
There’s something so right about it: The Orpheum, the VSO’s current home, was once one of our town’s great Hollywood baroque movie palaces.
Who knows how many classic cartoons flickered on its enormous silver screen from the 1930s through the ’50s?
Warner Bros. presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony is the brainchild of conductor George Daugherty, who’s been working with classic animation music for two decades.
His current show has been on the road all year, with performances in American, Canadian and Asian centres.
Music was always central to the movies. The so-called Silent Era was anything but – pianists and pit bands gave early film a significant part of its lustre. When recorded sound came along, musical idioms adapted. Cartoons from Hollywood’s golden age were family entertainment in the best sense: Kids loved the gags, while adult audiences enjoyed the more subtle resonances. The musical score was no afterthought; it drove the enterprise.
The music goes on. As it happens, Vancouver is a 21st-century centre for animation music. When you turn on your TV, chances are good that you’ll hear music composed and produced here. Composer Daniel Ingram, who graduated from SFU, has worked in the field since 2005. He’s already scored what he calls “a bit of everything”: documentaries, live-action series for MTV, and eight animated shows. If you’ve watched Pound Puppies, Martha Speaks, or My Little Pony, you’ve heard his work.
“Vancouver is producing some of the best animated shows, extremely popular stuff that is playing all over the world. We’re quite a hub of creativity in contemporary animation.”
So who better to talk about the legacy of the classics on offer Saturday and Sunday? No surprise that Ingram is a fan: “I remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons really well, because the integration of classical music and opera was such a feature,” he said.
“The music was always done by highly trained composers, who wrote the music first, and there was relatively little dialogue or sound effects, so the music basically told the story. Not only did they put such emphasis on it, they had their live orchestra in house, on staff. Today we use far more dialogue to drive narratives.”
The musical genius behind Warner Bros. animation was Carl Stalling, who, according to legend, scored one cartoon per week for 22 years, a seemingly impossible task accomplished partly through a kind of anticipation of musical “sampling.”
Stalling had a truly encyclopedic knowledge of American popular music, and could instantly supply quotations to suit even the most bizarre situations. For example, whenever a cartoon showed a ’50s highway cloverleaf, the soundtrack would inevitably lurch into I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover (That I Overlooked Before).
Daugherty’s shows build on the real quality of the scores. He believes that if composers parodied the great classical compositions of Wagner, Rossini, et al., they did so with “incredible authenticity and expertise.” And from that real respect came an uncanny understanding of symphonic music’s comedic potential.
That tradition is by no means forgotten. According to Ingram, “Playing with high-culture music is a historic form that survives in adult-oriented TV animation like Family Guy and The Simpsons and in computer gaming.
“Musical cultural references are maybe an even bigger part of cartoons today. Some people who have no access to classical music get to know it through the cartoons,” he said.
“For example, every time we do a ballet episode, I break out Nutcracker and parody some part of it.”
But there are differences, too. Contemporary producers don’t want shows to feel “old-fashioned,” so scores are more likely to include pop references.
“The process is totally reversed now,” said Ingram. “It [once was] write the music, record the music, then do the animation. Nowadays the music is the very last thing to go in; you are writing music for something already animated.
“Plus now you have your orchestra in your computer. And sound effects have a huge influence on how animation is produced today. The old scores were the sound effects; now that’s obsolete, although we still use a term called ‘plinking,’ where you follow someone crossing a room musically. That still happens.”
Will today’s shows ever garner the prestige of the great scores of yesteryear? “I don’t think the background music of today will survive,” says Ingram. “Video games and movies, yes, but not the daily animation show. I would be very surprised.”
Count on a generous selection of all the best at the Orpheum, including all three of the above. I can’t wait for the closing number: The History of Warner Bros. Cartoons in Four and One Half Minutes.
AT A GLANCE
WARNER BROS. PRESENTS BUGS BUNNY AT THE SYMPHONY
Where: Orpheum Theatre
When: Saturday, 7: 30, p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m.
Program details at bugsbunnyatthesymphony.net