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May 23, 2014
Television Music Live in Concert
TV Academy presents small-screen music in a big way by Marilee Bradford

Photo by Marilee Bradford

WESTWOOD, Calif.—Music for contemporary television programs – including such favorites as Downton Abbey, House of Cards and Game of Thrones – was performed before a capacity crowd Wednesday night at UCLA's Royce Hall.

The Television Academy produced the event, a first-ever "concert celebrating music composed for television" titled SCORE! that also included the presentation of a Career Achievement Award to X-Files composer Mark Snow (a 15-time Emmy nominee who has never won).

Host Jon Burlingame (author of TV's Biggest Hits) pointed out that "TV themes are a miniature art form... a minute of music designed to embody the concept, the characters, the setting" of every show, regardless of genre.

Television music, he said, is "an integral part of the storytelling experience, a critical factor in creating mood, setting the pace, reminding us of the place and the people, and most of all conveying the emotion that is ultimately the reason we keep tuning in."

Then Burlingame added, "A little reminder to our network executive friends in the audience: Music always sounds better when it's played by real musicians." The reaction was immediate, with the crowd of 1,700 cheering wildly.

The show opened with a video retrospective (87 classic TV themes in a single five-minute montage) that transitioned into an eight-minute medley of 23 current themes arranged and conducted by former TV Academy governor Mark Watters.

Downton Abbey composer John Lunn conducted a suite of his rich strings-and-piano themes for the popular PBS series, while Dell Hake conducted music from The Simpsons by Danny Elfman and Alf Clausen (that included Clausen's amusing "Stonecutters' Song" from a sixth-season episode). Clausen, who holds the record for scoring the most episodes for a single prime-time series in TV history (currently 534), regaled the crowd with the story of how he got the job in the Fox series' second season.

Jeff Beal conducted his dark-hued music from House of Cards and played flugelhorn on his own lighthearted theme from Monk. Composers Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were in the audience as Suzie Katayama conducted a suite which included their music for Nurse Jackie, Touch, Carnivale and the ethnic-vocal-flavored music from Heroes.

The first half concluded with a unique moment for L.A. concertgoers. Composer Bear McCreary conducted his Emmy-winning theme from Da Vinci's Demons (featuring the Calder String Quartet and a viola da gamba player for a Renaissance sound), segued into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but then halfway through his theme for The Walking Dead was assaulted by "zombies" who entered from the back of the theater, dragged him off the stage, and finished the piece for him.

A second-half highlight was a specially commissioned video that featured 24 actors Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub poking fun at composer Sean Callery ("the TV Academy music concert is running out of control!"). Callery proved an especially animated conductor, leading the orchestra in his music from The Kennedys, Elementary and 24.

Mark Snow receives the TV Academy's Career Achievement Award

Mark Snow receives the TV Academy's
Career Achievement Award
Photo by Marilee Bradford

Actor Tim Daly (Private Practice, Wings) surprised the audience in explaining his appearance on stage as presenter of the award to Snow – who is in fact his brother-in-law – and amused the crowd with anecdotes from their younger years in New York. Snow then conducted his evocative music from Millenium and iconic theme from The X-Files.

James S. Levine conducted his eerie music from American Horror Story, offering a surprising and welcome contrast with his enjoyable vocal harmonies for Glee. Walter Murphy lent the evening a big-band kick with his theme for Family Guy and his risque, politically incorrect song "All I Really Want for Christmas" from the animated Fox series.

The evening's finale consisted of music for period epics on cable: Trevor Morris conducted his themes for The Borgias and The Tudors, utilizing the full 67-piece orchestra and 34-voice choir. As Morris concluded, a troup of stunt artists in medieval garb overtook the stage in an elaborate swordfight that led to composer Ramin Djawadi taking the podium to conduct his suite from Game of Thrones (with its signature dulcimer sound).

Mark Watters conducts medley of contemporary TV themes

Mark Watters conducts medley of contemporary TV themes
Photo by Marilee Bradford

Burlingame, in his closing remarks, urged the audience: "The next time you sit down to watch your favorite show, listen just a little more carefully to the music and think of the composers who have enhanced our enjoyment so much."

Producing the event were Academy veteran Spike Jones Jr., along with executive producers Michael A. Levine, Watters and Lucas Cantor.

©2014 Marilee Bradford
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