For our 2018 performance of Magic of Christmas, new Charlottean and Emmy-winning composer Gary Fry composed a Christmas carol fit for the Queen City! Get to know Gary below.
Tell us briefly about how you came to be a composer.
I grew up in Iowa, and my parents were farmers. I loved music from an early age and had public school music training with wonderful teachers who encouraged me to write for high school chorus and jazz band. Following my time at the University of Miami (Florida)--where I met more great mentors in choral music and composition--I graduated with a double major in music composition and music education. I taught middle school general music in New Jersey briefly, began to write arrangements for music publishers, and in a couple of years got a staff position at a commercial music agency in Chicago. I've now written thousands of commercials and began to write arrangements for the Chicago Symphony Christmas program, which I did for 19 years. I still write a lot of music, especially for Christmas!
What's your favorite thing about writing music? Do you prefer composing Christmas music?
Three things. First, the "aha" moment when you think about a concept that really makes a piece work. Second, the moment when you hear musicians bring that concept to life for the first time; and third, when you see an audience respond to that concept the way you had hoped.
And yes, I love writing Christmas music! It's such a joyful season, filled with family and tradition and generosity and good will.
How do you gather inspiration when beginning to look at a piece like "Christmastime in Charlotte?"
Well, it's easy to be inspired when you consider all the things I just mentioned--and then, of course, there's the city of Charlotte itself and the things that make it special and the Christmas activities and traditions that make it unique.
You're from Chicago. What have you learned about Charlotte along this process?
It's been terrific for me as a new resident of the area to become acquainted with the city: learning the landmarks like Independence Square, and street names like Tryon and Trade, and nicknames like "The Queen City," and discovering the things that folks here commonly do at Christmastime (especially without the sometimes frigid weather I knew in Chicago). It's all been great fun, and though I definitely still feel like a newcomer, but that does give me a fresh view of just how dynamic and full of energy the city of Charlotte is.
How does this type of collaboration work?/How much input does the conductor have?
This is very much a collaboration! My first contact was with Mary Deissler (past CSO President & CEO), who has a wonderful vision of what the all-new Magic of Christmas concerts could be for the orchestra and for the city. And then there's Christopher James Lees--what a marvelous conductor and person, whose personality on the podium will really infuse the program with enthusiasm and joy and fun. And in seeking input from both of them, I actually wrote two songs with completely different melodies and musical frameworks, so that they could consider them both and choose the one they thought would work best for the orchestra and the program. And we're still fleshing out all the lyrics, with plenty of back-and-forth about that. They are both invaluable resources to a composer!
How many songs have you written total?
That depends on just what you consider a song! If mini-songs like commercial jingles count, that number would be well into the thousands. But if you're talking full-length, original songs with verses and refrains and so forth, it's in the hundreds. And as an arranger, I've written hundreds more arrangements of existing songs. So... a lot!
What makes a holiday tune "catchy," so you can't get it out of your head?
With a background in commercial jingles that are supposed to do exactly that, it boils down to simplicity, sing-ability, and repetition. The trick is to do that without being boring! I think it's also the way the words marry to the melody, and hopefully a little different sort of twist that sets the tune apart and gives it real identity.
For "Christmastime in Charlotte," my hope is that by the end of the very first performance, the audience is singing along!