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Feature: Composer celebrates 'Home'

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   March 22, 2005 at 6:49 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, March 22 (UPI) -- Chris Walden had steady work as a film and TV composer in his native Germany, but his profile there really started to rise after he left his home several years ago to work in Hollywood.

The 38-year-old native of Hamburg grew up in a musical family, as the son of a Swiss soprano. He began his music career in the late 1980s, while still in his teens, composing for the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra and for a radio Big Band.

Walden grew up -- as so many of his contemporaries did -- in a media environment that featured large helpings of American movies, TV shows and popular music. During the disco era he tended to favor bands like Earth, Wind and Fire -- but when those around him segued from disco to heavy metal and punk, he went for jazz.

"I was kind of the nerd, the only guy in class listening to jazz," he said. "Europe was always, for American jazz artists, a great field to express themselves and to tour."

Walden began composing for German film and TV projects in the early '90s, developing a reputation for creating passionate music -- an approach that he eventually decided was just the sort of thing that American audiences would embrace. So, in 1996, he headed for Hollywood.

"It was the best thing I ever did," said Walden in an interview with United Press International. "I learned so much more about film music and how to orchestrate for big productions."

Walden continued to work on German productions, including the TV series "Dr. Stefan Frank" -- which Walden described as sort of a German version of "ER." Once he moved to Hollywood, Walden said, he noticed he was getting more attractive offers from the German entertainment industry.

"Once I was here, the work I was offered from Germany was on a higher level," he said. "But it's hard to say that's because of being in Hollywood or because I was taking my progress and development to a higher a level. I think if I had stayed in Germany I also would have risen to a higher level."

In any case, Walden said once he began working in Hollywood he was able to take his music to a new level as well, because of his exposure to a richer variety of musical styles.

"I was exposed to a lot of these productions that I never would have been exposed to if I had stayed in Germany," he said.

But even with the latest advances in communication and travel, he said the logistics proved to be problematic for many of his German employers.

"On the one hand, the production company liked to use my being in Hollywood as a promotional fact -- 'We have a composer in Hollywood,'" said Walden. "But on the other hand, they were also complaining that it was more difficult to communicate and the cost had become more expensive."

Walden estimates that there are thousands of film and TV composers working in Los Angeles, but just a few hundred making a living at it. He has made his living writing music for such projects as the 2003 Hallmark TV movie "The Last Cowboy" and the 2001 CBS miniseries "Blonde," based on screen legend Marilyn Monroe.

His work is currently being heard on the SciFi Channel series "Alien Siege," and he has also composed the music for the upcoming SciFi Channel project "Crimson Force."

He also had a hand in Barbra Streisand's "The Movie Album," orchestrating the André Previn-Dory Previn composition "You're Gonna Hear From Me."

On the side, Walden is also pursuing his affinity for Big Band music, with the new CD "Home of My Heart." The set features music from other movie composers -- such as Oscar-winning composer John Williams -- as well as American standards such as "How Long Has This Been Going On?"

He takes the band out for live gigs occasionally, but it is decidedly a not-for-profit enterprise.

"I could not make a living playing Big Band music," he said. "That's something I do as a hobby and to build up my reputation. I spend more than I make playing Big Band."

Fortunately for Walden, by now he has a catalogue of TV and movie work that generates royalty income. He's looking to expand his arena beyond basic cable and network TV movies, eventually to composing for feature films.

"My next step would be from these cable movies, to move up to better cable movies like HBO or Showtime," he said, "and then from there to feature movies."

--

(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

© 2005 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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