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Feature: ASCAP honors Mark Snow

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   April 25, 2005 at 5:14 PM
LOS ANGELES, April 25 (UPI) -- "The X-Files" composer Mark Snow is being honored this week by the American Society of Composers and Publishers for a career that in many ways exemplifies the technological and cultural changes in TV and movie music over the past three decades.

Snow's composing credits date to the 1970s. After contributing music for the cop drama "The Rookies," Snow got his first high-profile gig on the cop classic "Starsky & Hutch" -- and went on to write for such '70s hits as "Hart to Hart" and "The Love Boat," as well as the John Travolta TV Movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble."

In the 1980s Snow wrote music for such hits series as "Dynasty," "Cagney & Lacey," "T.J. Hooker" and "Falcon Crest" -- and dozens of TV movies including "Something About Amelia," for which he earned his first of 12 Emmy nominations. He wrote the score for the feature film "Ernest Saves Christmas" in 1988.

Snow is perhaps best known for his music on the "The X-Files," which earned him six Emmy nominations in the 1990s, and for the 1998 feature-film adaptation of the Emmy-winning TV show. Most recently he has composed for the TV series "Smallville" and the new remake of "Kojak" starring Ving Rhames.

At this year's 20th Annual ASCAP Film and Television Awards Snow is being honored with the Golden Note Award -- a prize that has previously gone to pop, R&B or country-music icons such as Sean Combs, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Tom Petty and Jay-Z. Snow is the first movie-TV composer to receive the award, which is given to songwriters and composers "who have achieved extraordinary milestones in their careers."

ASCAP President and Chairwoman Marilyn Bergman told United Press International that one of Snow's remarkable milestones is that he has won at least one ASCAP award every year since the organization established its awards in 1984 -- including the award for "Most Performed Background Music on Television" for seven years running.

"The awards are for distinguished work," said Bergman, "and that's part of what makes his work distinctive."

Several of the TV series Snow worked on helped define their era. "Starsky & Hutch" evokes images of flare pants and open shirts for men, just as "The X-Files" conjures up a time of political restlessness and uncertainty.

Beyond that, though, Snow -- as much as any other film and TV composer who has been working since the 1970s -- has adapted to changing technology and public taste along the way.

"I guess the biggest change from then to now is the technology," he said. "With home studios and synthesizers and sampling and such, the big news is that 90 percent of TV shows are scored in home studios."

When Snow broke in, it was commonplace for TV-show scores to be recorded in big studios with live musicians. He said the change to home studios started around the mid-'80s.

"I was basically told, 'If you don't get on this bandwagon you might lose out,'" he said. "It took me a good two years to get comfortable with manipulating machines as opposed to humans."

Snow often gets just two or three days' notice to come up with a score for a TV project. He said it would be impossible to do that if he had to copy the scores and assemble musicians on top of writing the music.

He said a few TV shows still use live players, but for the most part the demand for live players is pretty low. Still, he said that live studio recording of music scores is in no danger of becoming a lost art.

"The movie-scoring world is alive and well with live orchestras all over the world," he said. "That part of the business is pretty stable, and has been. A lot of the musicians were really concerned that synthesizers would start doing orchestral scores, but that really never happened."

This year's ASCAP awards will also honors John Debney with the prestigious Henry Mancini Award. Debney was nominated for an Academy Award for his score for "The Passion of the Christ," and also has composed for such pictures as "Elf," "Bruce Almighty" and "The Princess Diaries."

He joins a list of Mancini award winners that includes Quincy Jones, Randy Newman, Alan Silvestri and Howard Shore.

There will also be a centennial celebration of legendary composer Harold Arlen, who was born Feb. 15, 1905. Arlen's list of credits includes some of the world's most popular and honored songs -- including "Somewhere over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather" and "The Man that Got Away."

Bergman, who wrote the Oscar-winning song "The Way We Were" with her husband Alan Bergman and composer Marvin Hamlisch, said Arlen's songbook presents its own sort of guidebook to American culture during a large chunk of the 20th century.

"It covers the early days of the jazz age and the Cotton Club in New York, right through the sophisticated things of the '50s," she said. "The list of songs he wrote -- and particularly to a songwriter -- it's overwhelming."

The 20th Annual ASCAP Awards will be presented in ceremonies Wednesday night in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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

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