"A Christmas Carol" is one of the most famous and popular Christmastime stories that has pretty much transcended into the conciousness of everyone in this world. The story is simple, riveting and true to life. Those are the things that have made this story by the late Charles Dickens a cultural institution that been subjected to endless TV films, major motion pictures including Disney's recent animated version and their Mickey Mouse inspired version, cartoons and many books inspired by the story.
Enter Bob Christianson, a composer, arranger and musician who is really passionate about retelling this story and has now come up with alongside his partner, Alisa Hauser, to give the story both a new life musically as well as a fresh retelling of it that not only will please fans of Dickens' book, but also be memorable in its own way. Bob has recently received a well deserved Emmy Award nomination for the show along side Alisa for the show's signature song, "No Trouble" which is the jewel of the show and one that voters positively remembered during nomination time.
For this very special interview, Bob happily shared with me his thoughts on the project, working with Alisa Hauser, how the project has transcended his own expectations and his recent Emmy Award nomination with Alisa that he's truly excited about. So enjoy our most excellent interview!
Hi Bob, thank you very much for granting me the time to conduct this interview with you today and your work is exceptional. Can you please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music in general.
BC: I started playing piano when I was five, and I’ve been writing songs, composing and arranging since I was twelve. As I tell people who ask me this question, “I didn’t pick music.... music picked me”. It was never a question of me going into music (despite family objections :-)...The question was always “in what capacity”? As a composer only or composer, arranger and player. Music for me is not a job, or even a career.... it’s a “calling.
Let’s talk about your recent work on the WTTW-PBS Special, A Christmas Carol – The Concert. Please tell us the inspiration behind the project?
BC: The inspiration came from my love of composing for the “orchestra-rock group-lead singer & choir” ensemble. It’s a group I’ve been writing for since my college days.... I find the whole “orchestra/rock group” collaboration fascinating. I had co-composed another big orchestra piece called “Too Hot To Handel”, and that’s been played by major orchestras for the past 15 years or so. I was looking for another big Christmas show to do, and I thought of “Christmas Carol.” I was lucky enough to talk the amazing Alisa Hauser into collaborating with me on the project. (She wrote the lyrics and adapted the book).
You came up with a rather intriguing and innovative idea of blending a mixture of styles from pure orchestra to a rhythm section with a choir for this new version of A Christmas Carol. Did you want to do something completely different as opposed to that of the standard orchestral or Broadway styled theatrics that most people would recognize the show with?
BC: Thank you! Neither Alisa nor I wanted to write yet another “Christmas Carol” musical... there are plenty of good ones out there already. But at the time we started to write the show, I believe that we were the only people to try to write a “dramatic concert” version of the great Dickens story. Definitely not a musical, and yet not strictly a concert, or a film score, but a “hybrid” of all three. A piece written expressly for the symphonic orchestra, and performed on the concert stage. I wanted the orchestra to be another “character” in the play.... to be on stage, rather than in the pit, like they do in most musicals. In Act 2, the lead cello player even gets to play the “voice” of “The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come” and it had to be a big event, not just another Christmas show. We wanted the piece to have theatre, concert, and film score elements in it, and I think we succeeded in getting a good mix of all three.
Once you had this idea in your head just waiting to get out, did everything you wanted and envisioned the show to be like musically come out on paper or did that take some time to into the proper frame of mind to bring it all together?
BC: It took Alisa and I roughly nine months to write the songs, and another three or four months for me to write all the “musical connecting tissue” for the piece, to give it that “film score vibe” since the piece is “through-composed”. The music never stops... it is used to punctuate and lead the dialogue. Once all the music was written, I had to arrange and orchestrate the whole piece, and once that was fin-ished, we recorded a “full-up” concept album.... more or less of exactly how it should sound, so that we could have something for orchestras to hear. That means I had to “program” all the instrument tracks for each song, and then record them before adding a chorus and lead singers... a very time intensive project. The concept album was released in November 2010, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra premiered the concert in December 2011.
How much music did you end up adapting and writing for the show?
BC: There is absolutely no music “adapted” from any other source for the show. Every note of the show was written, arranged and orchestrated by me expressly for this show... The only thing adapted for the show was the original Charles Dickens novella, and Alisa Hauser did a brilliant job on that. She really found a different “angle” for the story, since we used only the original story as source. There are quite a few parts of the original story that have never appeared in any version of “A Christmas Carol” I’ve even seen, either movie, play or musical. She really made the story “her own.”
What were the auditions like for the show?
BC: For the WTTW Chicago production, we used two of the actors who “originated” their parts when we premiered the piece with the Baltimore Symphony orchestra in 2011. They are Scott Coulter, who plays Bob Cratchet, Tiny Tim, and others: and Kyle Scatliffe, who plays all the ghosts, including Marley, and a few other characters. We auditioned for the roll of “Scrooge”, “The Narrator”, and “Belle” in Chicago. It was a two day long audition, and we were lucky enough to get Michael Aaron Lindner as “Scrooge”, E.Faye Butler as the “Narrator”, and Arya Daire as “Belle”. The roll of “The Narrator” was originally played, and intended as a male role, but in Chicago, we decided to make it a female roll, just to “mix it up” a bit.
How many rehearsals did it take to perfect the show to the way you felt was just right to start to perform live?
BC: Rehearsing for a concert is usually planned in the “exact opposite way” as rehearsing for a Broadway musical. For a Broadway musical, there are usually months, if not years of “readings” and rewrites. Once a Broadway musical starts to rehearse, it’s usually between 4-6 weeks of rehearsal before anyone steps on stage. For the WTTW-Chicago filming of “A Christmas Carol - The Concert,” we had only one long day of music rehearsal in NYC with cast and piano, and then only three days of rehearsal in Chicago. The actors are expected to have their parts down cold before they come to the first rehearsal. We had one rehearsal with the full orchestra and choir (which was filmed in costume for close-ups), and then we performed two shows, back to back on a Sunday. One was with a live audience, and one was without. We then went into Post-Production. The stage director, David Kersnar, did an amazing job staging the show in the limited amount of time we had. We knew going in, that the televised version of the show had to be different from the version we did in Baltimore. It needed to be great for television, and for that we thank him, Scott Silberstein (TV Producer) and Matt Hoffman (TV Director/Editor) for making it happen. For the Baltimore Symphony Concert premiere, we had one three-hour rehearsal with everyone, and in those three hours, we had to not only run the whole 1-1/2 hour piece through once, but get all the sound and light cues down. That’s the way the concert world works.
“No Trouble” is the signature song in your show that has really garnered the most attention with it’s warmth and romance recently earned you and lyricist Alisa Hauser an Emmy nomination. Let’s talk about the song. How did you and Alisa come together on it?
BC:“No Trouble” became one of what I call “a magic song.” That is a song that when heard, tends to bypass the brain, and go directly to the heart. In terms of writing the song, by that point in our collaboration, we were on a roll. I remember the song came very quickly, and it went back & forth between Alisa and I, when we wrote it. A couple lines of lyrics would inspire a bit of music, which would then in turn inspire more lyrics.
How do you feel about the song earning an Emmy nomination? And where were you and was your reaction when you received the news?
BC: Receiving an Emmy nomination for “No Trouble” was a total dream came true. I knew that if we had a chance for any of the songs in “A Christmas Carol - The Concert” to be nominated, it was “No Trouble.” I feel so honored to be mentioned on the same page as the rest of the “Original Music & Lyric” nominees. I was at home when I found out, but only because the Producer, Scott Silberstein, emailed me from Chicago and congratulated me, so he was officially the “first to know” :-)
Was there another song from the show that you also felt should’ve felt was strong enough to earn attention the attention that “No Trouble” has garnered?
BC: I think “A Christmas Carol - The Concert” contains the best music I’ve ever written, and Alisa’s lyrics were just a dream to work on. There are a lot of songs that I personally love in “CC”, but “No Trouble” is the ringer. We knew that by the audience reaction when we premiered the piece in Baltimore.
Please tell us how you and Alisa met and how invaluable her contributions to the show were?
BC: Alisa Hauser and I met a few years ago when we were both attending the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop in NYC. We never got a chance to write together during the workshop, but I always admired her lyrics. When I got the idea to write “A Christmas Carol - The Concert”, she was the one and only lyricist I called. The show was a true collaboration. Alisa’s lyrics “sang by themselves;” her book adaptation kept the heart and soul of the Dickens novella intact. She was an ab-solute dream to work with. There would be no “A Christmas Carol - The Concert” without Alisa Hauser.
Would you like to work with Alisa again in the future?
BC: Alisa and I are already exploring a few writing options, including another big or-chestra piece, and two possible ideas for Broadway musicals. I would work with her again on anything, anytime.
Do you find it enjoyable to work on projects such as these?
BC: Working on projects like “A Christmas Carol - The Concert” was probably the most artistically fulfilling show I’ve ever written, partly because I got to experience it live. There’s nothing like writing a big piece like this, seeing 150 musicians and singers on stage all pulling in the same direction and then having the audience go nuts. It’s the most powerful drug in the world for creative people. And once you experience it, you’re compelled to do it again!
Do you enjoy orchestrating as much as you do composing?
BC: To me, orchestration, arranging and composing are all part of the same thing. When I hear a song in my head, I don’t just hear the melody and chords, I usually hear a version of the final arrangement. In my career, I’ve never relied on outside arrangers and orchestrators, although I totally understand why the big film composers need them. These days, if a film composer has four weeks to compose a film, it’s a lot, and films these days, unfortunately, have “wall to wall music”. It’s physically impossible for a composer to write, arrange and orchestrate everything. He needs a small army of talented people to help him just to get the job done in time.
Who is your favorite show, film or that you’ve worked with so far in your career?
BC: I’ve had quite a few favorite TV shows that I’ve been lucky enough to score. I loved working on “Sex And The City” for HBO. Throughout it’s run, they used more than 60 pieces of my music. I was also fortunate enough to score “Life Is Wild” for the CW that tragically ended after one season. I’ve written about 25 major sports themes for ESPN, CBS, and ABC, but my most favorite one is the theme I composed and arranged for CBS NCAA Basketball, that they have been using for over 20 years.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.
BC: Future projects include mounting a tour of “A Christmas Carol - The Concert” for the 2015 holiday season, writing new orchestra pieces, Broadway musicals, and hopefully scoring more films and television shows. “A Christmas Carol - The Concert” will be re-broadcast on the PBS network this December, and during December 2015. If you want to learn more about the show, go to: http://www.achristmascaroltheconcert.com , and if you want to learn more about what I’ve done, go to : http://www.bobchristianson.com.
I really want to thank you once again Bob for granting me this interview and I really honored to meet you and everything.
BC: Thanks for your interest, and thank for all these great questions!
I'd like to give very special thanks to Bob for being so gracious with his time for doing this interview with me. All the best with your show! I'd also like to extend special thanks to the always reliable Jana Davidoff and Katherine McArdle for always going to bat for me and making these interviews as great as can be.
Please visit the official "A Christmas Carol - The Show" @ http://www.achristmascaroltheconcert.com for more information as Bob stated and when the show will re-air.
Please visit Bob Christianson's official site @ http://www.bobchristianson.com for updates on the show as well as his latest and future projects.
Here's Bob Christianson's Official Bio:
"Bob is the composer, arranger and executive producer of the WTTW-PBS Special, A Christmas Carol – The Concert. It was written in collaboration with lyricist Alisa Hauser (who also adapted the book), and it premiered on PBS nationwide on December 13, 2013. It will be repeated on PBS in December 2014 and 2015. It is a “dramatic concert” version of the beloved Dickens tale, using a full symphony orchestra, choir, a rock/pop rhythm section, 4 soloists and a narrator. It was taped before a live audience this past May at the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts Bob Christianson is a composer, arranger, keyboard player and conductor. He was honored to have the Baltimore Symphony premier A Christmas Carol – The Concert in December of 2011. This is the second of his orchestral works that has been performed by the BSO, the first being “Too Hot To Handel” which he co-arranged with Gary Anderson from an original concept by Marin Alsop.
His new musical, “Take Me America” (book & lyrics by Bill Nabel) recently had a two month run at the prestigious “Village Theatre” in Seattle, which was the original home of the hit Broadway shows “Next To Normal” and “Million Dollar Quartet”. Bob was the most called upon composer for the HBO series “Sex And The City”. He was nominated for an Emmy for his music for ABC Sports, and has scored many series for the Discovery family of networks, including “Secrets Of The National Parks” and “The Blue Angels-A Year In The Life”. His television credits also include “Mysteries Of The Museum” (Travel Channel) and the iconic “NCAA Basketball Theme” for CBS. He has also scored “Life Is Wild” (for the CW) “The Equalizer” (CBS), “Gimme A Break” (NBC) and “The Winter Olympics” (CBS). Bob has written over 25 award winning sports themes for CBS, ESPN & ABC. Bob has also composed and/or arranged over 1000 national commercials, and has won many Clios for his efforts. He has also scored over 15 films. Bob has conducted the Saturday Night Live band, and has sat in with, and arranged for the David Letterman Orchestra.
Mr. Christianson received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY at Potsdam (Crane School Of Music), and has done graduate work in composition at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. After college, he started his career in New York as musical director/conductor for such Broadway Shows as “Godspell”, “Gilda Radner-Live From New York”, and “The Magic Show”. As a successful studio synthesist, he has recorded with such producers as the late, great Arif Mardin, and has recorded with such artists as Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Jan Hammer, Judy Collins, Dianna Ross & Rupert Holmes.
His orchestra works have been performed by The Baltimore Symphony, The Colorado Symphony, The Concordia Orchestra, The Florida Orchestra, and others."