A few years ago, a call came to the music studio at "One Life to Live" and a young woman asked, "Is this Mr. Howarth?"
Music Director Jamie Howarth, now in his eighth year on the show, figured the call was from a music student. The young lady offered several compliments intended for the show's other Howarth, the actor Roger Howarth (no relation). Finally, she asked for an autograph and Howarth wondered how a student could possibly be so enthusiastic about the music on a soap.
"Where exactly did you say you were studying?" Howarth asked.
"Huh?" she replied.
"Are you at Juilliard?" he asked.
"Is this Roger Howarth?" she asked.
"No, this is Jamie Howarth," he said. "I'm the music director for "One Life to Live.' You want the actor."
There was a long pause, then she said, "Could you please transfer me back to the operator?"
They may not enjoy the flattery and attention afforded other members of the ensemble, and they work at the tail end of post-production. Yet Music Directors Paul S. Glass and Jamie Howarth are the guys who take a "One Life to Live" script and give the show a uniquely influential, if invisible, voice‹the music: music that can play anywhere throughout the show and, as we learned, often makes all the difference in the world. Their job is music direction, which means maintaining a commissioned library of music, and then deciding what music to use and where to put that music in a given scene.
"We're the last chance to tell a story," says Glass. "If something didn't get covered by the time it gets to us, we can still tell a story." Glass has been at "OLTL" for a total of six years, the last three of which have been full-time, and he has just finished scoring his first film, Danielle Faraldo's award-winning "The Floys of Neighborly Lane." He and Howarth split the soap's music-directing chores equally.
Glass explains that, while an actor may need 20 seconds to portray something, music is faster. "Music has a quick turnaround," Glass says. "With a short segment the audience knows right away, "Okay, something's not right here.'
"That's why we are last," he adds. "Some music is chosen during taping, but most of the time we score to a locked picture [a fully edited videotape]. We're also storytellers, and we're familiar with the long story. We can put the moment in there and help make it sad or hopeful."
One of the technical things that distinguishes the music on "One Life to Live" from some of the other top soaps is that Glass and Howarth work the way filmmakers do in Hollywood‹they commission works from leading composers such as David Nichtern, Dominic Messinger, Lee Holdridge, and Kevin Bents, and then marry the music to the picture once the visuals have been fully edited.
"In the early '90s the producers asked me if there was any feasibility to doing the music for "One Life to Live' closer to the film style," Howarth says. "We really started to think in terms of a new horizon, switching from the live-to-tape format [scoring the music before the video is edited and locked in] which is imprecise and dreadfully fraught with peril, and moving to post-production, like in film.
"It was frustrating with live-to-tape: If a scene took 36 seconds in rehearsal and wound up being 39 seconds long in the actual take, those three seconds threw everything off. Let's say you're writing an entrance and building to a button [where music and video end simultaneously]. The idea is that the music comes to a crescendo and stops at the end of the scene. When you don't have the locked tape, you've basically got a moving target."
Glass and Howarth say that with post-production they can exercise choices based on knowing exactly what they're doing, and where they are, right down to a single frame. In the past, the trick was simply to unobtrusively fade music in and out. This led to the live-to-tape clich style of soap music.
"When we went over to post-production, we were able to do more," Howarth says. "Like character themes, and through-composed music, which is to say we are able to offer full phrases and full motifs rather than the clich "ostinato and pads' style, which often sounds droning and repetitive."
Glass and Howarth describe two key phases of their job‹editing and mix supervision‹and they toggle between the two. "On a given day, if I'm mixing," Howarth says, "Paul is editing."
"We're talking to the same composers, and we're talking to each other constantly," Howarth says. "We both adore music, so we're fairly close. Stylistically, there's going to be a difference because we're different people and we bring different things in. Occasionally we might even have a respectful difference of opinion, but whoever's show it is rocks [makes the call and runs with it]."
Another critical aspect of their work is spotting.
"Spotting a scene is a very interesting challenge," Howarth says. "It requires you to make personal choices, like where you feel the scene turns or where the music should or should not be. There are lots of wrong ways to spot a scene, and maybe a couple of right ones."
"If you spot carefully," Glass adds, "you intensify and support the action and emotion in a scene. A bad spot is something that wasn't going to help the scene or was coming in too loud or that somehow broke the flow of an emotion. Everybody hears their own rhythm‹the writing, acting, and directing all have a flow when the thing is happening."
By following dialogue and the arc of a scene, Glass and Howarth say they choose approximate cues that match the curves of the action. Then, using their commissioned library, they begin piecing the show together. The trick here is to commission terrific original music for the library in advance, based on the story, and then place it so that it all appears to be scored to picture.
The marriage of music and visual images is a task that requires balancing the most creative aspects of music with the strict technical demands of television. Paul S. Glass and Jamie Howarth may not get that many calls from fans demanding autographs, but with each episode of "One Life to Live" they know they've accomplished something that only a handful of people in the world can do.