February 4, 2012

Composer’s work makes ‘Joyful Noise’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 12:44 am by dinaheng

Every song in the new Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Joyful Noise” stands on its own as a piece worth listening to, a feat due in no small part to five-time Grammy Award winner Mervyn Warren, the film’s composer and music producer.

Warren, an original member of the group Take 6, produced, co-wrote, or arranged most of the award-winning songs on that group’s platinum and gold albums. He’s since worked on numerous films, including scoring “The Wedding Planner,” and producing and arranging the platinum-selling soundtrack  to “The Preacher’s Wife.”

Warren, who met “Joyful Noise” writer/director Todd Graff while working on “The Preacher’s Wife, says Graff contacted him in 2009 about the inspirational comedy that centers around a church choir trying to win the National Joyful Noise Competition. The film stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as two women struggling to take the choir in different directions, but it’s the music that steals the show.

“When Todd called me, he was planning a table read to sell the idea to investors,” Warren says. “He wanted the actors to actually sing at the reading, and I put together some arrangements for him. Most of those actors are not in the movie, but they performed it for the investors, who loved it and decided to do the movie right there.”

Several months later, after the script was refined, Warren began creating the final arrangements. When Dolly Parton joined the cast, she wrote several songs, and Warren wrote a piece before the cast went into the studio to record. Warren wrote the underscore for the film, then mixed the movie and soundtrack scores.

“Music is very important to any movie,” Warren says. “It magically causes scenes to gel and move along that might seem longer, otherwise. The music underneath supports the drama, and helps viewers shape the experience. It brings the emotion, along with the acting, to the screen.”

The evolution of gospel music from traditional spirituals to include rock, hip-hop and R&B is clearly reflected in Warren’s arrangements for “Joyful Noise,” which make you want to get up and dance.

“There’s a bright, happy sound to gospel,” Warren notes. “Gospel songs tend to be uplifting, even if someone’s singing about their problems. There’s an energy and a timbre of voices singing together.”

The popularity of TV competitions ranging from “American Idol” to “The Voice” seem to indicate that many of us yearn to be professional singers, no matter how, uh… awful we may sound. Warren laughingly agrees, and notes, “I think people should sing because it makes them feel good, even when they don’t sound good. It lifts the spirit, and it’s fun.”

Warren, who started playing piano at age five, says he knew then that music was his calling in life. He started writing songs at age 10. The first time he wrote for a television show — a cable network religious show no longer on air called “Breath of Life” — his parents were floored when he brought home a check for $500, at age 16.

“I feel very lucky that I found what I wanted to do at an early age,” Warren says. “It’s what I have to do, and I never allowed anyone to talk me out of it. Success requires a combination of talent and tenacity. A lot of people have one and not the other. Fortunately, I have both.

“My parents are college professors, and were concerned that I be able to make a living. So I have two degrees in music, and thought I’d use my  masters to teach until I got a break. But I never had to teach.”

Luckily for us, he made a “Joyful Noise” instead.


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