Film, TV composer visits roots

Published 1:12 pm Friday, April 16, 2010


Rick DeJonge talks with Boston Brass and Air Force Band conductor Mike Mench during a rehearsal for the premiere of a new piece by DeJonge commissioned by the Air Force for a concert in Las Vegas.

And in 2005, what may have seemed like a long-shot aspiration for the 1981 Brandywine grad was realized when he worked with Williams on the 2005 film “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

“The Niles Daily Star did an article on me in 1982, and I remember even saying stuff about John Williams,” DeJonge said. “I wanted to someday meet him and write in his style.

“John Williams is the most recognizable name when it comes to film music,” he continued. “But he was very humble.”

Since beginning his full-time career in orchestrating and writing film music, DeJonge has worked on about 20 different movies and television shows and was the primary writer for four of them. He also writes orchestral music for various ensembles, including the Boston Brass.

DeJonge hasn’t forgotten his roots, though. He will return to his old stomping grounds on April 17 to guest conduct at a concert for the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra and Boston Brass at the Mendel Mainstage at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor.

Taking the plunge

Although the silver screen was always DeJonge’s passion, he “fell in love” with teaching in college.

From 1991-1995, DeJonge worked as the band director and athletic director at Brandywine High School, where he had once been a student and won athlete of the year and the John Philip Sousa award his senior year.

From 1995-1998, he served as assistant principal at Edwardsburg High School and principal at Eagle Lake Elementary.

But during his time in southwest Michigan, DeJonge never forgot his dream. He continued to write music and played piano regularly at the Riverfront Cafe in downtown Niles and a piano bar in Mishawaka.

But in 1998 DeJonge knew it was time to take the plunge and pursue his lifelong passion full time.

He started his own film music publishing company, Dream Notes Music, and applied to the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program at the University of Southern California, a prestigious program that only accepts 20 students per year.

“It’s No. 1 in the world,” DeJonge said. “I got in, so I figured I must have enough talent to go and pursue it, and that opened up all the doors.”

And the doors have been numerous. DeJonge has worked with other composers on TV shows like “Lost,” “The West Wing,” “Beautiful People” and “CSI Miami.”

He also has written scores for four films, including the recent independent film “Fighting with Anger.” A song on his score, which he recorded with legendary musician Willie Nelson, won Best Original Song at the New York Independent Film Festival.

DeJonge said it was a privilege to meet Nelson.

“He was really quiet, humble and enjoyed what he did,” DeJonge said. “He was very quiet until he had the guitar and the microphone.”

DeJonge also has composed music for video games, including the Nintendo DS game “Konductra,” and his soundtrack for the new movie “Deeper and Deeper” is set to release next week with the movie premiering April 26 in Los Angeles.

Setting the mood

DeJonge’s approach to writing film scores is simple. He tries to match the music with the emotion the director is trying to evoke in a particular scene. If he does it well, he will probably work with that director again on a future movie. If not, he might get fired before the movie is finished.

“If you’re not really capturing what the scene is trying to feel, it doesn’t matter how good of a writer you are,” he said.

A big key for successful film score writing is preparation.

When he was helping with the orchestration of the music for the ABC show “Lost,” he and the other composers would watch an episode a month in advance to get a feel for how to approach writing the music for the different scenes.

DeJonge also studies scenes from other movies to help him write his own music.

“I try to get ideas about what worked and what didn’t,” he said.

DeJonge has always been a music buff, but when he goes to the theater, you won’t catch him breaking down the film score.

“I love going to movies. It’s probably my biggest hobby,” he said. “But I never go to check out the music. I just want to enjoy the movie.”


DeJonge always enjoys coming home to the Niles area. He has been back several times to visit family and to see a performance of a symphonic wind piece he had written for the Brandywine High School band.

But DeJonge is particularly excited to guest conduct for the Southwest Michigan Orchestra on Saturday.

The music he will conduct is a 10-minute piece he wrote to be performed by the Boston Brass and the orchestra and is titled “Sounds of Cinema,” capturing four different styles of movie music – adventure, romance, action thriller and comedy.

He is excited to see the community’s reaction.

“When I lived in the area, I was a band director and a principal,” DeJonge said. “It will be neat to come back and be recognized for my life passion. Everyone knows this is what I’ve always wanted to do, and now I’m doing it.”