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It’s next to impossible for a documentary score to be Oscar-nominated alongside the dozens of fictional narratives entered each year. But it did happen, just once: In 1975, composer Gerald Fried was nominated for his music for “Birds Do It, Bees Do It,” a documentary on the mating habits of animals.
Fried, now 91, perhaps best-known for his Emmy-winning score for “Roots,” recalls his surprise at the nomination. He believes that his fresh use of the relatively new synthesizer sounds, along with more traditional orchestra, was probably the reason his colleagues noticed and approved.
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No doc score before or since has been nominated. Yet music for documentaries is being taken more seriously than ever before, going by the number of award-season screenings and even live-to-picture concert performances.
“Documentary films have really come of age cinematically,” says composer Jeff Beal, who will conduct his score for “The Biggest Little Farm” on Dec. 4 at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theater, perhaps the most prominent showcase for a doc score this season.
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The film chronicles the eight-year odyssey of a California couple realizing their dream of creating a farm that operates in complete harmony with nature, a more challenging process than they could have ever imagined.
“It’s a small film with big emotions, and a very universal, spiritual and beautiful message,” says Beal, a multiple Emmy-winner whose other documentaries include “Blackfish” and “Boston.” His own family roots reach back to farmers in Idaho, and he felt that this “celebration of rural life” demanded a Copland-esque, orchestral Americana sound liberally flavored with guitar, banjo and harmonica.
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Beal added a bass flute for a beloved pig, plus tuba and accordion for her piglets, “There’s a lot of lighthearted fun that plays to young people,” he points out, “so I felt that doing a little ‘Peter and the Wolf’ coloring was appropriate.”
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