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Sound of solace

Charles Denier (Handout)

 The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Isao Tomita


Sound of solace

Charles Denler’s latest album is a landscape of beauty and hope

The Colorado-based composer Charles Denler writes music for soundtracks. As such, he belongs to what one might call the music industry’s “invisible” ranks.

As invisible careers go, however, Denler’s has been prolific and successful. His music has accompanied more than 50 films, documentaries, programs, and commercials and won numerous accolades, two Emmy Awards among them.

His latest project is a recording of his 36-minute suite, Moment at Dawn.

“People often feel that composers need to be categorized,” Denler told me. “Classical composers, film composers, modern composers, etc. I am just a composer. All that matters to me is that I am reaching my audience. Where they happen to be sitting is of no importance.”

His audience has at times been seated in pews (Denler spent 14 years as a “worship pastor” at various churches before composing soundtracks), at other times in classrooms (he teaches at a branch of Colorado Christian University). But with Moment at Dawn, Denler has aimed more broadly.

The album is, simply put, beautiful. Executed by the Colorado Symphony orchestra, the Colorado Symphony Chorus, and, on one track, The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, its 14 pieces evoke expansive vistas. Trumpet and violin lines emerge shaftlike through clouds of strings. Piano parts (played by Denler himself) sparkle like dewdrops. Vast stretches of euphony shimmer in slow motion.

Moment at Dawn sounds, in other words, like just the sort of music one would compose if, like Denler, he lived in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains with a back-porch view of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

The album began as a series of excerpts from Denler’s 10-movement Portraits of Colorado. Subtitled An American Symphony No. 1, it had accompanied tourism-soliciting TV commercials that emphasized Colorado’s scenic wonders.

But Denler believed the music had greater potential. Last fall he embellished and mixed recordings from the symphony’s live premier, eventually arriving at Moment at Dawn. He said his goal was “to present an image of hope.”

One way to appreciate his achievement is to juxtapose Moment at Dawn with the music Denler composed for Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story. A 2010 PBS documentary about a Ukrainian Holocaust survivor, it required Denler to create much more somber moods.

Yet, somber though it was, it ended happily. Because it did, the new album could almost be heard as a sigh-of-relief sequel.

Moment at Dawn,” said Denler, “is that moment when you suddenly realize that you have made it through to the other side—and you’re going to be OK.”

Man on synth

The Japanese composer-musician Isao Tomita died in May at the age of 84. He was best-known as a pioneer in the use of the Moog synthesizer.

Tomita created his most famous work, Snowflakes Are Dancing, during 14 months in 1973 and 1974. The album comprised renditions of Debussy “tone paintings” that did for Debussy what Walter (Wendy) Carlos had done for Bach with the best-selling Switched-On Bach four years earlier.

It also demonstrated the Moog’s capabilities with striking ingenuity and made Tomita and synthesizers synonymous.

More “synthesized” classical albums followed, some more gimmicky than others. But Tomita never settled into a rut. Whether inventing elaborate methods of concertizing or composing, he followed his experimental instincts.

When he died, he was composing a soundtrack for a dancing hologram.

“Music,” Tomita said in one of his final interviews, “even if it’s something new using synthesizers, is always something that can be appreciated by anyone, no matter how old they are or where they’re from. That’s the whole concept behind all of my projects.” —A.O.