Series finale of ‘Once Upon a Time’ receives Emmy® nomination for Outstanding Music Composition
Recording music with a full-scale orchestra of experienced session players is making a mark in high-quality television productions.
Once considered only for films, sweeping orchestral scores are growing in popularity on the small screen due to technology of TVs that deliver sound comparable to a cinematic experience.
One network that has been delivering on this and employing many musicians from Local 47 and AFM is ABC Studios. “Once Upon A Time” has been doing exactly that for seven seasons, over 156 episodes. The series ended this year with a happy ending for the music. Oscar-winning composers Mark Isham, along with Cindy O’Connor and Michael Simon, received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series for their work on the episode “Leaving Storybrooke.”
“Once Upon A Time” positions classic fairy tale icons like Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin in our contemporary world, and music performs a vital role in adding the mystical, magical atmosphere that allows these fanciful characters to operate alongside automobiles and smartphones. Whether it’s accompanying a trio of burly elves whistling while they (prepare to) work, providing a doom-laden mood while Rumpelstiltskin alter ego Weaver (Robert Carslysle) talks about being stripped of his immortality, or just creating a classic happy ending, the show’s orchestral scoring adds a movie-sized emotional scale to the small screen. Lead composer Mark Isham is no stranger to awards — he won an Emmy for his theme music to “EZ Streets” and has been nominated for both the Oscar and Golden Globe — but for him, the nomination for “Once Upon A Time” is special.
“It is fantastic to be recognized with an Emmy nomination for ‘Once Upon A Time,’” the composer said. “I share this with my wonderful composing collaborators Cindy O’Connor and Michael Simon. A huge shout out to ABC Studios for their terrific support over our seven-year run, supporting us in maintaining the musical quality of the show by recording weekly with a live orchestra right here in Los Angeles. I joined the Musicians Union when I was 15 years old and I am proud to be affiliated with these talented players.”
Cindy O’Connor, a longtime member of the musicians union, has become part of a growing wave of female composers finally earning recognition and credit in a field that has been largely dominated by men. She is also the only female composer nominated in the scoring categories this year. O’Connor cites the scoring team’s work with Los Angeles’s legendary scoring session players as one of the luxuries of working on “Once Upon A Time.”
“We’ve been so fortunate to work with L.A. union orchestras — the best players in the world — since the very beginning of the show,” she said. “Dawn Soler, ABC’s Music Chief, is a great advocate for scoring with live musicians, and the showrunners Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis really appreciate the emotional power that an orchestra brings to a score.”
Recording live players for complex, nuanced orchestral music week in and week out requires players who are at the absolute top of their game, which is what Isham, O’Connor and Simon get. “It’s always fun when a guest at the session asks, ‘How much rehearsal time do the musicians get?’” O’Connor said. “You should see their faces when we say, ‘None! They’re seeing the music for the first time right now.’ The sight-reading ability of L.A. players is off the charts. And they’re not only playing all the notes correctly but playing with emotion and musicality right from the first take.”
Additionally, Michael Simon — also a proud member of the union — praised the players for bringing the final, magical touch to the three composers’ music. “It was never lost on me how much of a gift it was to be able to have your music played week after week by musicians who are at the top of their field,” he said. “Whether it was a lively pirate-y solo played by Julie Gigante, an earnest and haunting alto-flute solo by Chris Bleth, or the soaring magical voice of the ensemble as we guided the story through its epic highs and lows, we always left our sessions feeling a profoundly elevated sense of accomplishment due to the performances.”
“The level of integrity that a live orchestra brings to a project is unparalleled, and we are thrilled that this year’s Emmy voters recognize this,” said AFM Local 47 President John Acosta. “From the composers, music prep personnel and performing musicians who brought this music to life, everyone involved is deserving of this honor.”
The score album for the final episode “Leaving Storybrooke” is available from Walt Disney Records.
‘Once Upon a Time’ Music Personnel
Julie Gigante – CM
Robert Brophy – 1st
Victor De Almeida
Andrew Shulman – 1st
Michael Valerio – 1st
Daniel Higgins – 1st
Chris Bleth – 1st
Joseph Stone – 1st
Kenneth Munday – 1st
Amy Rhine – 1st
Katie Kirkpatrick – 1st
Michael Simon – 1st
Aaron Meyer Valarie King
Michael D. Simon