An interview 
with 
Dolores Claman

 

 


You were born in Vancouver, B.C. What are your earliest memories of an interest in music?


My father loved the theatre and "showbiz". My mother was a singer - mostly operetta - (e.g. Gilbert & Sullivan) who toured Canada and the U.S., but gave it up when she got married. Still used to play and sing at home with me on the piano bench beside her.

Afterwards, I would pick out the songs by ear. This is around the age of 4. I started piano lessons at about 6. My excellent teacher used to give small recitals in her house with some of her promising pupils.

My favourite composer was Bach at the time. Evidently I seemed to have a grasp of the interpretation of the music at a very young age, though my technique left a lot to be desired.

How did you end up at Juilliard School of Music, one of the most distinguished schools of music?

Went to New York and auditioned, and surprisingly got a Fellowship.

What's the difference between a Fellowship and a Graduate Scholarship?

I think they're very much the same thing - you get your tuition free. Juilliard had two sections - the Institute (normal) and the Graduate School. The Graduate School was the section that accepted who they thought were extra-talented and gave them free tuition.

I auditioned for the Institute first, and was told to re-audition for the Graduate School. It WAS a big surprise to me that they accepted me, believe me!

Was Juilliard an enjoyable experience?

Yes and no. There were a lot of students who were technically a lot better than I was though I found out later that my "interpretation" was the reason I got the Fellowship.

I began to realize that I was not cut out for the lonely life of 6 hour a day practice. I liked going to the theatre, movies and the ballet just as much as music concerts. However, at Juilliard I was able to take classes in composition, which really appealed to me, especially writing music for other media – like ballet and theatre.

Was it there that you began creating original music?

I had started "messing around" with composition a few years earlier.

After Juilliard, was there work to be found in music?

Money - no. During my two years at Juilliard, the worst job I ever had was playing piano for a ballet school in Queens - a school which was overburdened with reluctant tots and ambitious mothers.

Tried teaching piano at night, but probably didn't have the patience that was necessary. Occasionally, I'd sub and play piano in lounges, or ‘saloons’ as Julie Stein called them, but since I only knew a few pop songs at the time, my repertoire was very limited, so Clair de Lune and Da Falla's Ritual Fire Dance were my standbys.

However, during the Juilliard period I started writing music for a choreographer who did "fringe" stuff. We had performances at various venues and at Jacob's Pillow, which was a famous summer-long ballet festival in New England.

I also wrote the score to a ballet that won the Montreal Ballet Festival during this time. During this period, on a summer holiday in Vancouver, I wrote the music for "Timber!" with lyrics and book by two Vancouver writers, Doug Nixon and Dave Savage, which was performed the next summer at Theatre Under The Stars. (I think because it was the only original musical they ever did there, we got tremendous publicity and good reviews). And the CBC did it on radio afterwards. BMI Canada published songs from the score.

Had a very brilliant arranger - Neil Chotem from Montreal - whom I had met when he conducted "my" ballet for the Montreal Ballet Festival. Through the years, he arranged a lot of my stuff, including the Canadian Olympic Theme for the 1984 Games.

After "Timber!" on a trip to London with my mother, and through Chapells - a music publisher, I met Jack Gray, an American lyric writer, and we collaborated on songs and sketches for West End musical theatre revues. "Airs on a Shoestring, "Fresh Airs", "From Here and There"... "Pieces of Eight". Many of these numbers were included in New York and L.A. revues later.

During my second stint in London, I met Richard Morris an English writer and got married.

You were a founder of Quartet Productions, one of the more successful music production companies of its time. How did that come about?

This is not a short story, but here goes…

When Richard and I moved back to Canada, there was very little scope for original musical theatre or TV at the time.

We met Howard Cable, who prevailed upon Jack Arthur, producer of the CNE Grandstand Shows, to hire us to write the production numbers. Howard also talked GM into hiring us to write the GM Dealer's Shows - all original lyrics and music - which continued to be an annual commitment for many years after.

How did you get into jingles?

Richard, who was very experienced as an advertising copywriter, suggested we try our hand at jingles. From what started out to be a stopgap, we found that we were actually very good at it, and the work poured in.

We found that Canadian agencies who had previously had their music done in New York, now stayed home and hired us. Agencies from New York and Chicago started coming north of the border to work with us as well.

With too much work to handle, we asked Jerry and Rudy Toth to join us and we became "Quartet Productions". Some time later, we asked Larry Trudel, who had been a producer at the MacClaren advertising agency to join "Quartet". This was a very successful time for all of us. (We started a sister company that dealt with trade shows and video and the like. That was called "Trio".)

Larry Trudel and Dolores Claman back in the studios. September 2002

During this time, we wrote and produced TV and radio jingles and background music for GM, Ford, Chrysler, Molson, Air Canada, Lever Brothers, Air France, Imperial Oil, Kentucky Fried Chicken, 7-UP, Canada Life, CN, and virtually hundreds more. We won many advertising awards - in New York, Venice, Cannes etc.

I feel that "Quartet" made a great, and hopefully, lasting contribution to making Toronto a desirable creative/production centre.

People that you’ve worked with, such as Howard Cable, have been quoted as saying that Dolores is "one of Canada's greatest composers". Were there other collaborations like that one?

As well as Howard Cable, I worked with some very fine orchestrators and arrangers. Jerry Toth, our partner for many years, Rick Wilkins, Neil Chotem from Montreal, (mentioned earlier)… I also wrote music for some excellent Toronto film directors, like Bob Schulz and Peter Yalden Thompson.

There was clearly a variety in the types of music you were composing… aside from jingles and the commission from the Ontario Government in 1967.

During the "jingle years", Richard, Ted Wood and I wrote "Mr. Scrooge", a musical, which ran at the Crest Theatre for two seasons. The CBC did a shorter TV version a year later.

Richard and I also wrote "In the Klondike" another musical for CBC TV, based on three poems by Robert Service. We were also commissioned to write theme songs for the Young Canada Games, Ontario Place, etc.

I also wrote the music for several award-winning documentaries and, as mentioned above, continued to collaborate with Richard on the GM Dealer's Show, which traveled right across Canada every year.

The song and score for "A Place To Stand (Ontari-ari-ario)" was commissioned by the Ontario Government in 1967 for Expo. This film won an Oscar the following year.

I wrote the "Hockey Night in Canada" music in 1968. Jerry Toth did the excellent orchestration and conducted in the studio. (Still my favourite version for it's classy timelessness). It began as an opening and closing jingle for a commercial with one 4-bar section at the end of the opening part to accommodate voice/over for advertising purposes. Later, those 4 bars were removed and it became purely the "Theme" for the entire broadcast.

How would you differentiate between the role of ‘orchestrator’ (like Jerry was with the "Hockey Night In Canada Theme") and ‘arranger’?

Generally, an orchestrator takes a composition which has been written quite fully and gives the notes to various orchestral instruments, adding little or no new musical material. An arranger could, for example, be given only a lead sheet with the melody (and with luck) some chord symbols, and make a full composition out of it, adding riffs… perhaps changing the chords etc. … often new material.

So generally, as in the case of the "Hockey Night In Canada Theme", I mainly need an orchestrator, though he/she is free to add little goodies… as Jerry did with the French horn/string line in the bridge. At other times, I may want someone to do more arranging - i.e. if it's rock or dance music, I feel other people are better at it than I am.

You maintained ownership of the copyright in all your compositions.

Yes, it was the way we had things set up at Quartet. We had agreed that the actual compositions by any of us belonged to that person. Even when we broke up the company, this was in our parting agreement as well.

For example, Richard and I dealt personally with the Ontario Government about giving them control of "A Place To Stand" as we owned the copyright at the time. It had become very popular and there were many requests to use the song. It became too time-consuming to deal with them all.

Was moving to Spain a kind of getaway from the high volume of work, or just a desire for a change of scenery?

Both are true. With two young children, Madeleine and Michael, and extremely busy and stressful careers, we felt burned-out. On a whim, we had bought an apartment in Madrid while we were dubbing Spanish lyrics with Spanish singers onto the "Place To Stand" score for the Spanish-speaking market. The apartment remained empty until we decided to "take the plunge" and try ‘something completely different’.

In Madrid, though in a more relaxed lifestyle, I continued to write music for Spanish clients, like Iberia, Danone, Libby's, Spanish brandies, toothpaste, detergents etc., and documentaries and films for clients from New York and London (I remember the score for a Xerox film shown at the Lincoln Centre).

Also wrote scores for some "Paella" Westerns, that, while not being exactly first-class, and badly paid, were a lot of fun anyway - mainly for all the strange and interesting people (actors, editors, directors etc.) that we became friends with.

Later, we spent some time in London, working with EMI on their ‘software’ for radio stations, as well as Vancouver… mainly to insure our children didn't forget their "roots" and could continue their education in English as well as Spanish. There, I wrote the theme for the 1984 Olympic Games, and the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, both for the CBC.

Dolores currently lives in London, England and enjoys writing for theatre and cabaret where music continues to be a vibrant way of life.

Dolores Claman (above with John Ciccone) was in town for the recording of the "Hockey Night In Canada Theme" and the anticipated CD release - September, 2002

 

 

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