Juilliard Student Niccolo Athens composes new THIRTEEN/WLIW themes

staff | May 5, 2009

At the end of April 2009, 30 talented Juilliard students gathered to record new ID theme music for WNET.ORG productions, and for THIRTEEN and WLIW21 air. In a new collaboration between our companies and The Juilliard School, the music for the spots, which debut on-air May 4 at midnight, was composed by a third-year composition student, Niccolo Athens.

The music for the THIRTEEN IDs was scored for orchestra by Athens, whose work was chosen for broadcast out of three other student finalists. For the WLIW21 IDs, composer Chuck Lovejoy arranged a jazz-rock version of the theme, with additional trumpet and piano added later. Both versions of the theme were performed by Juilliard students in a single live recording session held on Saturday, April 25 at Juilliard.

The three composition students at The Juilliard School selected to collaborate with WNET.ORG learned about the new WNET.ORG brand architecture and worked with video editors over several months. The students were asked to write a three-second musical ‘sting’ that would accompany the new visuals. The sting was required to expand from three seconds up to 60 seconds to accompany future IDs of various lengths.

How did you feel when you first saw your music used?

It was very exciting! For all of the watching of sample videos I did, I felt that I hadn’t really been prepared for the combined effect of the music and images that we had been working to create. It felt like something new.

How was doing this ID different than the composing work you do in school at Juilliard?
Generally I start with a blank slate – all aspects of the composition are up to me. For this project however, my music had a very specific goal to achieve, and I had to work within its confines. This made things easier in way because the music’s purpose was so clear, but it was also sometimes very difficult to find the right sounds.

How did you approach the problem/task?
I watched some video demos and tried to imagine what kind of music would mesh smoothly with them, then went to the piano and improvised some ideas that I tried out on the staff at Thirteen. I was glad to have this opportunity because public television is such a good cause–I learned a lot about how to communicate about music with people who are not musicians. Sometimes the words we use are the same but the meanings are completely different.

Who are composers/musicians whose work you admire/are influenced by?

I want to write music that sounds good! Beyond that I may have some stylistic preferences, but that is the most important thing to me. I love all the greats of the past with very few exceptions. One of my favorite composers of the 20th century is Benjamin Britten.

Did the recording turn out as you’d imagined?
Yes, maybe even better. The players worked very hard and the sound has great clarity.

The theme written by Athens was chosen by a panel of executives from WNET.ORG and its companies. For having his work chosen to be used in the spots, Athens was awarded an honorarium.