Over the years I have seen first-hand how music has the power to heal, bridge the greatest of divides, and inspire hope in people from every walk of life. What a privilege it has been to see so many hearts moved by music, and how humbling to experience this heart-movement through the music I create. It has always been a goal of mine to create music that draws people into the Presence of God, whether it is solely through listening or actively participating in the music itself. This is ultimately why I became a composer.
Vita Aeterna (“Eternal Life”) is a seven-movement sacred cantata for choir and “hybrid” orchestra (a combination of traditional orchestral instruments combined with synthesized sounds). It was completed in early 2020 and a live premiere was intended, until the pandemic hit. Since then virtual performances have been created one movement at a time. The goal is to complete all seven movements by July 2021 and release a recording in September 2021. A live performance will follow either in the fall of 2021 or sometime in 2022.
To listen to one of the currently completed movements, click on one of the images below:
In 1989, a spark was ignited when I attended a choral music seminar in Florida. I was still in college, had recently begun my first (and eventually longest) church music ministry position. I was searching for God as well as my niche in the music world. The clinician selected Maurice Durufle’s Requiem for 300 of us to sing with a full orchestra.
It was an incredible musical (and spiritual) experience for me. I was so moved by the music that I was unable to sing! I had to pull myself out of the performance to hear the glorious music coming from the stage. At that point I immersed myself in choral repertoire. For some reason I kept coming back to the Requiem as a form, but the purpose of a Requiem (i.e., a mass for the remembrance of the dead, to pray for them and send them off to “eternal rest”) didn’t fit what I envisioned. My faith in Christ over the years has placed on my heart an understanding of “the great beyond” as not just being eternal rest, but eternal LIFE! And this is something we can begin to experience even now (see John 17:3)!
My hope for this work has been two-fold: (1) to bring musicians from all sorts of backgrounds together for a common purpose to be used as God’s instruments, and (2) to bring people to hear the hope of God in a musical setting that is welcoming, inspiring, and perhaps even healing. As I said at the beginning, music is such a powerful healing tool and we have been given a great gift to use to make positive change in people’s lives and point us all to Vita Aeterna.
As part of an on-going mission to produce new music scores for un-scored silent films (many of which have been out of circulation and considered missing for almost 100 years), Turner Classic Movies created the Young Film Composers Competition, an annual event with national coverage. Peter was chosen as the 2001 grand prize recipient. As part of the award, Peter was hired to compose the full score for the 1921 classic silent film version of Camille, starring Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino. After the score was completed, Peter recorded the score in California with top calibre LA studio musicians. The premiere aired on Turner Classic Movies on February 14th, 2002 along with four other Valentino films. This 1921 version of Camille with complete score is now available on DVD with the Greta Garbo version.
When taking on the job of scoring any film, the composer has a challenging role: enhance the content of the film while not distracting the audience. Scenes that illustrate this dual role often involve underscoring dialog. The composer must relate to the characters so that the music supports the emotions and reactions that evolve during a particular scene. The composer must also be cautious not to pull the audience’s ears away from the dialog. This can happen by using too much melodic information, inappropriate rhythms, or too much instrumentation at one time.
In silent film, the challenge is similar except that the music now becomes more important in supporting the film’s content, for now it is the only audio source synchronized to the film. Thus, in a way, the music becomes the dialog. And since there is no other sound source, the music must also keep the listener interested. It’s as if a film and symphony have been meshed together.
In writing the score for Camille I took the approach of most film composers. I watched the film many times, developed various themes for different characters and moods, spent time identifying with the characters and the situations presented on screen, and then wrote the music as the film dictated. Of course every composer has a different approach to what sounds appropriate for a particular scene, and often more than one approach works.
I wanted to support the story, characters and emotions of the film as best I could while maintaining musical interest. The score is primarily based on just a few themes, and those themes are treated differently depending on the mood. In one instance, I used a portion of the love theme when Marguerite (Alla Nazimova) makes the decision to leave Armand (Rudolph Valentino) in order to preserve his family honor. It is a very tragic and intense moment, yet she conveys her deepest love for Armand. So I set the love theme in a minor key, a more tragic setting to portray her grief and sorrow.
The most difficult scenes to score were the party scenes shown early in the film. They were challenging because the music had to portray a sense of frivolity and joy but at the same time reveal the shallowness of the people who attended these parties. I was immediately drawn to jazz elements but did not want the music to become actual jazz tunes. So I incorporated jazz rhythms within the traditional orchestral framework. At the same time I put odd combinations of instruments together thus producing a more peculiar “shallow” sound. For example, in one of the first party scenes the music is scored for bassoon and tuba duet with a sort of swing bass line underneath. This also gave the scene a comic touch.
As far as musical style, I chose to write most of the music in a contemporary manner. That is to say I wrote the music to sound “modern day,” much like you’d hear from any current movie. Even though this film version is set in the early twenties, at the very beginning of the film Alla Nazimova makes a point to include a title card that pondered on a “Camille of today.” Since the substance of this film version movie was set “in the current day”, I felt that a 1920s score wouldn’t work. Not only would it have put a lighter spin on the general mood of the film, but it would have also made it timely rather than timeless.
Thanks for listening,