Dawn McElligott: Composer Cracks Glass Ceiling on Way to Carnegie Hall

Composer Diane Jones

by Dawn McElligott

Frustrated as a female musician? Fear not! Diane Jones has been featuring women in music on her radio shows and writing new tunes so women won’t be stuck singing the blues.

When Trio Casals performs “Earth Rise,” at Carnegie Hall on February 5th, it will kick off a new year for its Central New York Composer, Diane Jones.

Leading up to the winter concert, Jones had been creating a virtual symphony of synergy for women in music. At the 16th annual Syracuse International Film Festival, Jones debuted her new score for the screening of a century-old film, “The Doll.”

The composer wrote the new score around a jam-packed schedule that includes hosting two radio programs on WCNY-FM: a mid-day show, Diane Jones on the Air, and a weekly program, Feminine Fusion. Feminine Fusion is a syndicated show, broadcast across the country.

Feminine Fusion focuses on “the influence of women in classical music,” asking such questions as “What might have happened to the likes of Aaron Copland, Donald Byrd or Quincy Jones had they not studied with Nadia Boulanger?”

The Syracuse International Film Festival opens every year with a look back at movies from a century ago, screened with a live performance of a newly commissioned musical score.

This year, when Jones was asked to compose for a silent film, she chose Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Doll” (1919). The October 3rd screening of “The Doll” put a crack in the music world’s glass ceiling as the composer and the conductor were both women.

Award-winning trombonist Heather Buchman conducted a woodwind ensemble with percussion to perform Jones’ new music for the movie at the Palace Theater.

Regarding a female conductor and composer for the evening, Jones said, “I thought that was great and Heather is an incredible conductor and her reputation just continues to grow and deservedly so. She’s been conducting for some time now and always does just a great job.”

Before the festival, Jones’ training for scoring a movie had been limited to a “Music in Film” course at Syracuse University where she pursued a Masters in Music Composition on a Billy Joel Fellowship.

While she had composed a few short pieces for a fellow student’s video, she had never written a piece long enough for a feature-length, silent film. The contrabass flutist tackled the task with a methodical approach. Jones described the writing process:

It was long. … Really, the first step is just watching the film and watching it and watching it and watching it. Owen Shapiro, from the film festival, gave me a couple of films to choose from, all of them from 1919 … so in looking at the films, I chose “The Doll,” because it was kind of the cleanest story.

It was a very direct story and very easy to follow, and it kind of follows my style of music. My music is very much a through-line kind of music. It tells a story, even if it’s not an obvious story … then it was a matter of deciding how long it would take to do it and then like most composers, procrastinating.

The process of writing music for a silent film was laborious. Jones continued.

… [I]t was also watching it, knowing the film inside and out, putting together a spreadsheet with all the little scenes, and then I started working on themes because I knew which characters I wanted to have themes for … and then it was just sitting down and writing. … writing in very small increments, writing it, checking to make sure it lined up with the video, writing it a little more, play[ing] it back with the video going so I could make sure everything was lining up.

Jones gave her work the same name as the original, simply calling it, “The Doll.”

Over the years, Jones has been submitting compositions for the Moto series of music, a project of PARMA Recordings in conjunction with Navona Records. For the Moto series, the world-renowned ensemble, Trio Casals, plays music from a selected group of composers.

According to the PARMA Recordings website, the Moto series is a “call-for-scores series … where the composers submit scores and the ensemble takes part in choosing each score for the collection. In this setup, the composer is not expected to fit his or her work into a mold but rather each piece becomes a unique voice within the compilation context.”

At the Carnegie Hall concert, Trio Casals, consisting of Violinist, Sylvia Ahramjian, Cellist, Ovidius Marinescu, and Pianist, Anna Kislitsyna will introduce the newest compact disc in the series, “Moto Celeste.” The CD begins with Jones’ contribution, “Earth Rise.”

Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker who lives on the East Coast. You can learn more about her HERE