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HOME ON THE RANGE - Q&A with composer Alan Menken

Composer Alan Menken is an eight time Oscar winner and one of the most prolific writers of music for the movies. His list of big screen successes includes THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, POCAHONTAS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and HERCULES. He teamed up with lyricist Glenn Slater to create the songs for HOME ON THE RANGE.

What makes a classic movie song?

ALAN MENKEN: Something that captures all of a character's quirks; something that has a memorable melody and phrase so that as soon as you hear it, it conjures up that moment from the film. So you can relive that film just by hearing the music.

How did you go about deciding the bits of classical music that would be featured when the yodelling begins?

ALAN MENKEN: That was fun. In there we have the William Tell Overture and Beethoven's 9th and at one time there was The Ride Of The Valkyries and I had fun demo-ing them. But the best was seeing the animators going hog wild. The whole concept for that character was that he takes yodelling so seriously and everyone else thinks it's so silly. So what better way to show that than to have fragments of classical music in there.

Was it tempting to have a bit of Ennio Morricone in the music?

ALAN MENKEN: There is a wink at THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. It was fun to lampoon a convention. It's also fun to be lampooned. SOUTH PARK have lampooned my songs and I was very flattered.

How does it feel when people say they've been moved by the music you've written for an animated feature?

ALAN MENKEN: It can be overwhelming. At one point The Make A Wish Foundation had a girl whose wish was to have me in a room with her and playing my songs and talk to her about them. That was overwhelming.

What are your tips for writing songs?

ALAN MENKEN: Regardless of anything else, write one song every day. When you write the song, think about a specific singer or situation that it would be written for. Don't ever write a song if you don't feel passionately about what you are writing. Don't be afraid to write an entirely new song for the same assignment because every time you write a song it is always better. Listen to criticism and be grateful for them - don't ignore them but don't take them personally.

Why have you not issued a Best Of Alan Menken disc?

ALAN MENKEN: I have thought about doing a one-man show on Broadway and then to record an album of that. But it's a lot of work. I'd rather write three new projects than do that, even though I love that and dream of doing that. I just had my first songbook released.

Which song of yours would you take to a desert island?

ALAN MENKEN: Under The Sea would work well for a desert island. But I guess it would have to be a song that I would never get sick of. But I wouldn't wish that on my songs so I respectfully reject the entire assignment.

Did going on a cattle drive help writing the music for HOME ON THE RANGE?

ALAN MENKEN: No it didn't help anything except that I loved doing it. [Laughs] We were on an authentic 19th century cattle drive. So there were no motorised vehicles and no electricity. But I really did love it. It was a great getaway. I would do it again if I had the time. One of the wranglers who came with us had a guitar and he loved singing old cowboy songs. He would sit by the campfire singing. I loved hearing those songs. That was a little bit of an influence.

What's the strangest place that you've had inspiration?

ALAN MENKEN: On ALADDIN when Tim Rice came on board the project we were under pressure to write a new ballad for the magic carpet ride, a new market place song and a song for Jefar. It was a lot to do. I knew I was going over to England in a couple of days to work on the stuff there with Tim Rice, and I thought that I didn't want to go there empty-handed. I remember I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night and I thought I had to do it right then. So at 2am I went to my studio and - bing, bing, bing - A Whole New World, One Jump Ahead and the song that the music for Why Me? Sometimes things just sort of tumble out of you, but it's usually when the pressure builds up.

You must be running out of space to store your Oscars?

ALAN MENKEN: I have an awards cabinet. It is very packed.

Is the thrill still the same as the day you got your first Oscar?

ALAN MENKEN: It is disbelief. Every time I get up to win an Oscar in front of the world I think to myself 'They don't want to hear me talk. They want Nicole Kidman or Tom Cruise up here. So talk fast and get off the stage.' I'm so grateful to be associated with these projects. I still do not think that I have absorbed the fact that I have more Oscars than anyone else who is alive. It's kind of bizarre.

Is this your first project with Glenn Slater?

ALAN MENKEN: We worked together on WHO DISCOVERED ROGER RABBIT? and that was shelved. That was irritating but its part of the game that you are involved in. Then again if everything I ever did worked out right away I'd lose my mind. We have finished The Little Mermaid for Broadway and have written 12 new songs. I think that is one of the best things that I have ever been involved with. We also have a musical version of A Leap Of Faith, an adaptation of the Steve Martin movie, which we still have to finish and I'm working on A CHRISTMAS CAROL film and he is completing the musical of A Hudsucker Project. Gospel music drew me to the project for A Leap Of Faith.

HOME ON THE RANGE seems different from what you've done before?

ALAN MENKEN: It is different from the other animated features I've done. It's a hybrid kind of music and is not as break into song. But it is not the kind of story that would support full break into song. I love the fact that it allowed me to work in an entirely new genre - western music. So all in all it has been a really neat experience.

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