Field Band arranger scores in music workshop

By Brandon Bieltz
Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs

News story photo
Photo credit: Jonathan E. Agee
Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Hernandez, an arranger with the U.S. Army Field Band, works on a score in his Fort Meade office. Hernandez was one of 20 musicians and composers worldwide who participated in the prestigious American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Film Scoring Workshop at New York University from May 24 to June 2. The U.S. Army Field Band’s annual Summer Concert Series starts Aug. 6 at Constitution Park.
Growing up in Dallas, Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Hernandez watched a lot of movies. But he didn't just focus on the acting or the plot. It was the music in the background that caught his attention.

"I really liked the music of John Williams and all the film scorers," he said. "That started as a seed and grew into doing the band in school."

Most recently Hernandez, a music arranger for the U.S. Army Field Band, followed his passion for composition and film scores to the classrooms of New York University, where he participated in a film scoring workshop from May 24 to June 2 in Manhattan.

During the 10-day workshop conducted by NYU and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, participants were introduced to the fundamentals of the film scoring industry. According to the workshop website, several sessions were dedicated to the creative process, orchestrating, conducting and Musical Instrument Digital Interface mock-ups.

Ron Sadoff, the director of film scoring at NYU, said workshop participants were selected from an international pool of applicants. Only 20 musicians and composers, from countries as far as Japan and Australia, were selected to participate in the sessions.

"Those accepted into the workshop are highly competent composers and orchestrators who the jury also finds to have an individual voice and a very good dramatic sensibility in their music," Sadoff said.

Hernandez, the only participant from the military, said he was "humbled" to be part of the "outstanding" class.

At the beginning of the workshop, each member picked a short segment of a movie in which to arrange and compose the music. Hernandez selected a scene from the sci-fi movie "Serenity."

The process started with writing the initial music for his scene. After composing the suspense piece, Hernandez worked on his computer to create an electronic mock-up of his music. With the mock-up, he could hear what his music sounded like without recording musicians.

In addition to the eight hours of instruction during the workshop, Hernandez said he put in another 60 hours of work on the piece.

"I was getting up at six in the morning and working up until 11:30 [a.m.], and then get ready for class, and then working from about 8:30 [p.m.] to about one or two in the morning," he said. "That's how every day was."

But he wasn't working on his own. Throughout the steps of composing the music, Hernandez and the 19 other participants were given help and advice from prominent film and television scorers such as Sean Callery, composer of television shows "24" and "Bones"; Mark Snow, composer for "X-Files"; and Ira Newborn from the "Naked Gun" movies.

The ability to work with experienced professionals is a major reason why the workshop is beneficial for the less-seasoned film scorers, Sadoff said.

"The 10-day workshop is highly concentrated in the sheer amount of information garnered and the professional experience gained by working directly with top-industry composers, orchestrators, conductors and musicians," he said.

Hernandez said the veteran composers were very approachable and supportive of the students' work. Participants worked closely with the composers, and their music was critiqued every day.

"They just help you along the way, work on your score," Hernandez said. "It was really cool working with these guys and being part of the process."

Although participants were working like professional film scorers, the workshop was more of a study of film score.

"In the real world, [composers] do it and if the director likes it or not, you kind of work from there," Hernandez said. "This was more like studying on different ways you can do things."

After working through the writing and mock-up stages with the professional film scorers, participants had to transcribe their music into a score -- a task Hernandez is very familiar with.

As a staff arranger with the Army Field Band since 2007, Hernandez creates the sheet music and scores on a regular basis.

"Whether it's a sheet of music or original arrangement ready to be transferred to the band or even a recording, we write the music out for all the players in the ensemble," he said. "It can have its challenges, but that's the fun in figuring out how to make it work."

After completing the film score to his music, Hernandez entered the studio with a 23-member ensemble of musicians from top-tier groups such as the New York Philharmonic.

During his 15-minute recording spot, Hernandez conducted the musicians as they played the music he wrote.

"It was overwhelming," he said. "I kind of had to take a breath there and realize this was really happening."

After the recording session, a producer cleaned up the track with the video and presented the polished demo to Hernandez. He says he now has a top-tier demo he is proud to show to those interested in his work.

The demo can be a stepping stone for getting into the film score industry, Sadoff said. Alum Marcelos Zarvos, composer of the scores for the movies "The Good Shepherd" and "Hollywoodland," used his demo from the workshop to launch his career, said Sadoff.

Although film scoring is a hobby for Hernandez, he called his time at the workshop a "career highlight."

"I was doing what the pros do," he said.

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