TELLING IMPACTFUL STORIES
For generations, the story of the American Soldier has been told on film and television, and in musical theater and video games. Many of the iconic themes that composers like Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Michael Giacchino, and Max Steiner created will always be associated with stories such as The Great Escape, Patton, Medal of Honor, and Sergeant York - stories that capture powerful feelings of anticipation, suspense, struggle, and triumph.
SOUNDTRACK OF THE AMERICAN SOLDIER is a celebration of these stories, the storytellers who craft them, and the real-life men and women who inspire them.
The U.S. Army Field Band’s mission is to connect the American people to their Army through music and storytelling. Col. Jim Keene, the commander and conductor of the Army Field Band, felt that recording in the Dolby Atmos immersive audio format would help create a deep and meaningful experience for the listener. He also knew it would highlight his ensemble’s strengths. As he puts it, “The properties of the immersive listening environment provide the opportunity to show exactly how good a group really sounds from within, which is a rare opportunity that only performers fully experience.”
Col. Keene reached out to GRAMMY-nominated producer Dan Merceruio and pitched him the idea of doing an immersive recording. Dan recalls Keene asking him where they should go. “And I said, ‘Well, of course. Let’s go to Skywalker.’”
Skywalker Sound’s origins are rooted in creating an immersive soundscape for the “low budget” film known as Star Wars, and have permeated all aspects of its operation ever since. They specialize in sound design, audio mixing, and sound post-production across multiple mediums. In short, it was the perfect place to create an immersive audio recording with the 90 musicians of The U.S. Army Field Band and its Soldiers’ Chorus.
Skywalker’s director of music recording and scoring, sound engineer Leslie Ann Jones, has won multiple GRAMMY awards and is well-versed in recording in immersive formats. She was quickly brought on board for the project. “We’ve done surround for a long time in this room,” she says, speaking from the main scoring stage where the Field Band recorded, “including 5.1.4 and 7.1.4, and of course we’ve been doing immersive film mixing for years. Pixar’s Brave was the first feature film mixed in Atmos. That was mixed here, and Skywalker was the first facility to have Atmos in every mix room.”
As the creative team brainstormed what music to record, it became clear that they wanted to not just record classic military film music, but to collaborate with the story-tellers themselves.
The Band commissioned composer Laura Karpman, who has four Emmy awards to her credit, to write a new piece of music. “I based the work on the life and career of four-star general Ann Dunwoody,” Karpman says. “[General Dunwoody’s] role in charge of Army logistics is the centerpiece of this work. I personify her as the conductor in a sense as there are all these moving elements in the ensemble...where you have the various supply lines within the groups of the ensemble moving at different places and paces. What she did was a monumental achievement and I hope the piece represents that.”
Joshua Moshier, a composer of many live action and animated television series, was also asked to compose a new work for the project. Speaking about his score, A Portrait of Honor, Moshier says, “My cousin graduated from West Point. Although the piece does not depict his specific experiences, it is inspired by my impressions of life in the service and the ideas behind serving. I hope that my gratitude for the work of our servicemen and servicewomen shines through in the music we’ve created together.”
Both Karpman and Moshier were eager to utilize the depth of the ensemble and take advantage of the opportunity of composing music with Dolby Atmos in mind. As more composers signed on to either endorse or arrange their music for the ensemble, it became clear to producer Dan Merceruio that a unique approach was needed. “We really wanted to embrace the idea of coming up with a unique arrangement for the musicians inside the space, depending on the instrumentation and based on the music for each tune,” says Merceruio. In preparation, he attended three days of rehearsals at the Band’s facility on Fort Meade, Maryland and conferred with the Band’s chief arranger, Master Sgt. Adrian Hernandez, whose arrangements are also on this recording.
The setups were created with the music scores in mind. “We always like to create balance,” Jones explains. “I place piano and harp on opposite sides, for example, because they often play in the same register. That informs these decisions—things like balancing out the percussion, having a nice, round woodwind sound—so it feels like it’s enveloping you, whatever activity there is in the orchestration.”
As the Band experimented with different setups, the importance of the detailed work they were doing became clear to Col. Keene. “Any time you change the environment of a musician, you change everything,” says Keene. “Moving even a couple of feet can completely change what you hear, not only from other instruments, but, more importantly, from your own! I remember a bassoon player who told me that when he sat in front of the trombones, he would often stop playing because, ‘What’s the point?’ When moving him 10 feet, he heard another universe. That same bassoonist then sat in the audience and shared that he had no idea that that was what the group sounded like.”
Several of the composers on the album were able to attend the recording sessions at Skywalker Sound, including Moshier; Joseph DeBeasi, the composer for American Sniper; and Mark Isham, the man who composed the theme for the long-running “Army Strong” campaign. Another key contributor to the project was longtime Hollywood conductor and orchestrator Tim Simonec, who orchestrated Michael Giacchino’s music for the video game Medal of Honor, and arranged the themes from Patton and The Great Escape for this recording.
“Something like this is such a collaborative endeavor,” Merceruio says in summation. “All of us are trusting each other to represent our roles at the highest level possible. In this case, the payoff is providing the listener with a deeper understanding of the music in a way that is more impactful than it otherwise would be.”