An Interview with Desha Dunnahoe – By Jordan Garren

Welcome to a continuation of my interviews with the winners of the 2005 Indieshare Composer Competition. This time out, I’ve interviewed the beautiful and very talented Desha Dunnahoe, who took second place at the contest for her "Six Gun Gold" piece. Since the contest, it seems to be business as usual with Desha. On her main website, http://www.scoregarden.com, there’s a slew of musical cues that she has composed for a variety of genres ranging from Romance to Horror to Action and then some! Seeing as how I seem to procrastinate a lot, I was overjoyed when Desha willingly agreed to answer some questions on short notice. She was very pleasant and had a lot of great info about her current career as a composer.

Desha, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview, and congrats on your second place win in the 2005 Indieshare Composer Competition. "Six Gun Gold" was great! Can you give any insight on how you developed your musical score for the movie clip from Mike Conway’s "The Awakening?"

You’re welcome, Jordan, and thank you. The contest clip was a military action clip, generally speaking. I decided to go mainly orchestral with some amped up percussion for the chase at the end. I started out fairly simply with strings to set a dramatic tone and tried to accentuate the drama when the character talks about wanting to save his wife. I then brought in some brass and snare as they’re planning their tactical response and deploying the team. I used mostly rhythm as they were sneaking around and tried to set a suspenseful tone, like something was going to happen but you didn’t know when, and then just went for full-on driving action once the chase started. The difficult thing about doing an isolated scene like this is that you don’t really have the benefit of having set up certain themes or instruments for the different characters or places that you can then reprise and use like you would if you’ve done the whole film. The fun thing in a contest like this is getting to see all the different approaches everyone took – I love that.

Not to flirt or anything, but as I was checking our your website (www.scoregarden.com), I couldn’t help but look at your picture on the main page and think to myself, "She looks like Renee Zellwegger, but with brown hair." Would you say that that’s a pretty good assessment? 😉

Hmmmm, never heard that one, but I’ll take it!

Again, not to flirt but are you married? I’m just asking out of complete professional curiousity. 😉

Ah, now you’ve got me blushing . . .

Ok, getting back on track here, when did you begin composing music professionally, and are you a self-taught musician, or did you get private lessons or other schooling?

I’ve always been writing music in one way or another, whether it was songwriting or putting music to picture. I am both trained and self-taught. Piano is my main instrument – years of lessons as a kid. But I love to play around on any instrument, so I either took lessons or taught myself to play a myriad of other things. You never get really good at any of them when you do that, but I have had lots of fun and been able to play everything from flute to french horn to marimba to drums to clarinet to bass guitar, etc, etc, for various different groups. I just like to play. I did major in music in college and have continued private composition lessons. The learning never stops, really. Music is a vast universe – there’s so much to explore, so much to know!

The compositions featured on your website hail from a variety of genres. Is there a particular genre you prefer to write music for? (e.g. Horror, Suspense, Action, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Romance, etc.)

I’m a sucker for anything moody or dramatic. There’s a bit of that in any genre, and I love it when I can bring that out and it works. When you put music to a scene and it makes you feel some emotion more fully or deeply – there’s just nothing better.

Is there a certain musician or composer that has helped inspire any of your own music?

Too many to mention. There are the obvious choices – trite but true – such as John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, James Newton-Howard, Thomas Newman, etc., etc. They’re all A-list guys for a reason and they all have an influence on me in some way. Two guys whose names you may not know are Inon Zur and Gregor Narholz. They write some incredibly powerful and beautiful stuff. They’ve both inspired me a great deal.

You’ve done work for major television networks like ABC, NBC, and FOX. Was there a lot of pressure involved in coming up with musical cues and music promos for these companies?

Quick deadlines can always be stressful but somehow it always manages to get done. There’s pressure involved in any music job, whether it’s for the big guys or an indie director. Music in a scene is a huge responsibility. At least I take it that way. You’re helping to bring a director’s vision to their audience. If the music is inappropriate or just plain kinda sucky, it can really ruin an otherwise good piece of work. Once I know I’m on the same page with the director and the music is working, I can relax and finish the job.

Can you give any information on any major upcoming projects you’re going to be tackling in the near future, or is that all top secret for now?

Never tell before they’re done and in the can!

You’ve done music for two short films, namely "The Collector" and "The Light." Were you given complete creative freedom for the music on each film or did the film makers stress exactly what they wanted?

Actually I’ve done more than that – I’ve been horrible about updating my site! Some directors know exactly what they want. A lot of the network stuff I’ve done has been really specific. They know exactly what they want – what style, how fast or slow, where to start, when to stop. The indie stuff has been a lot more open. Most of the directors I’ve worked with may have a general idea of what they want but have been very open hearing my ideas. I just finished a 25-minute short a couple days ago where the music I submitted was really quite different than what they temped it with, but they thought it worked really well and went with it.

Do you plan on doing the music for any other independent shorts or full length feature films in the future?

All I can get!

I’ve noticed that you enjoying playing live music with your "partner in musical crime" Steve Adams (http://www.steveadams.net). Do you get more enjoyment out of performing live before an audience than you do from scoring music for films, television, and other projects?

They’re both so different. I love to jump around a stage playing rock and roll. It’s pure energy. You forget about everything and just play. Spontaneous. Instant gratification. A lot of fun – interaction with your bandmates and an audience. You don’t get that from sitting in your studio alone with all your little blinking lights composing for a scene. When you’re scoring it’s a completely different experience because it’s a solitary endeavor. Creative for sure, but also more cerebral in a way. Methodical. Technical. When you write music that works for a scene and it makes someone cry, or makes someone feel something, or it just simply makes that scene more effective and takes it to its full potential because of the music you wrote for it – there’s an incredible personal satisfaction and enjoyment I get from that. For me, the satisfaction comes at the end of the process when the music is finished and it works

So I guess the short answer is that I get something different from each and I hope I get to continue doing them both!

Well thank you very, very much for your time Desha. Do you have anything you’d like to add before this interview ends? Perhaps some advice to other composers and musicians who are just starting out?

Don’t give up! It can be a brutal business in many ways – it takes a lot of hard work with absolutely no guarantees of any success whatsoever, and there are a ton of really good composers out there. But if you really love it, then learn all you can, meet everyone you can, take any job you can, and keep on plugging – the very least you will walk away with is some great music you never would have written otherwise, and the very most you can walk away with is that your big dreams may actually come true!