COMPOSER UNDER THE RADAR #4: JOEL MCNEELY

A versatile composer and film music conductor with a great sense for storytelling and orchestral writing – and the same demanding outcry over and over again: Please give him something HUGE!

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As his parents had been involved in music and theater, American composer Joel McNeely saw himself introduced to a world of notes and instruments at a very young age, learning to play piano, saxophone, bass and flute as a child. Later on, he attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and decided to study jazz in Miami which earned him a master’s degree as a composition major at a school of music in New York. After having scored some minor movie projects (mostly for Walt Disney Television), someone became ware of this talent and he was brought in to compose a soundtrack based on the 1996 Star Wars novel “Shadows of the Empire” which showcases his enormous talent for writing orchestral music. It sill remains a wonderful early work by McNeely using Williams’s original themes although it didn’t launch McNeely’s carrer in Hollywood as many would have hoped.

Two decades later, he still continues to compose music under the radar, having written scores for either bad sequels – “The Jungle Book 2” or “Mulan 2” – or other Disney-related stuff like the “Tinker Bell” series. The one and only exception has been his 2014 score for Western parody “A Million Ways To Die In The West” for which McNeely created a classic Western score with a rousing main theme that is only a further proof of his compositional abilities.

Since then, he has built up a relationship with actor/director Seth McFarlane arranging and writing songs featured on his studio albums (reminiscent of what David Arnold’s doing now…unfortunately!).

Also noteworthy is his involvement in conducting a series of re-recordings of Franz Waxman, John Barry and other film composers’ scores for the label Varese Sarabande. As such, he’s responsible for the performances on re-releases such as the ever-popular “Citizen Kane”, “Vertigo” and “Psycho”, all of them written by Bernhard Herrmann.

It’s just extremely disappointing to see him constantly being ignored by Hollywood directors and producers while other composers get to score A-list projects with their mediocre and limited musical storytelling, ultimately failing to provide an interesting narrative (no, I’m not bitching about RCP this time…okay, maybe I do 😉 ). McNeely’s style is way more “classical” – in a good way; he really knows how to work with an orchestra and how to make his music breathe. Just listen to his excellent “The Young Indiana Jones and the Phantom Train” score – now that’s great film scoring! And I just wish we could hear more of this in the future…

 

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