Grant Fonda
composer for film, television, and the concert stage

Blog

My $50,000 Harmonica

In 2013, I received one of the most unusual and yet coolest graduation gifts that I could never think of: a C-Major diatonic harmonica. It wasn't from my mother, grandfather, or any other blood relative. No, this harmonica came from my Alma Mater, the USC Thornton School of Music as a gift for my graduation from the Scoring for Motion Picture & Television Program (SMPTV). My wife and I joked that it was a $50,000 instrument because of the cost of the program. And yet despite the joking, I held onto that harmonica like it was actually worth that much. 

It was a fun and quirky gift. It sat on my desk for a few weeks, made its rounds around our home after dinner and at random intervals when boredom set in, really functioning more as a novelty piece in our home than something functional for my career, which, is probably how it was intended to be used. (I can't imagine the Thornton administration sitting around and thinking "one day, one of our graduates will actually use this to make a living.") After a few weeks, the harmonica went back in its case, packed up, and moved across town to our new home, and then packed into a box and moved again 1 year later to the new studio location. The novelty gradually became forgotten. 

In the last 12 months, I was fortunate to be connected with Graham Kelley of Naknek Design. We hit it off as pals immediately, and have since collaborated on several projects together that have both paid the bills and satisfied our creative tendencies, most of these projects being corporate gigs helping businesses grow their brands through visual storytelling. And then, in January of this year, Graham told me that he was going with Ryan Francis (his business partner) to a small town in north central California to start work on what would be a multi-part narrative short series on hard work. He said that he'd love for me to help score it. I didn't object.

Months went by, life happened, and I completely forgot about the project until Graham asked me if I'd take a look at the temp that they had for their final cut of the first episode about three weeks ago. I'm now scoring the first short in this series called "Sweat of Thy Brow", releasing later this summer. Without giving any spoilers, I'll just say that it's been a blast creating an Americana-esque score that's based around a une. A real, fleshed out, 16 bar tune with a B section! The little things in life... 

As I was scoring today, I was fiddling with various textures and couldn't quite get the right balance between reediness, gritty earthiness, warmth, breathiness, and humanity. I tried building synth patches. I tried over 100 patches in Omnisphere (I mean, c'mon! No one built a patch with ALL of those tags I needed??). I tried singing. Nothing fit. Frustrated, I took a lunch break and then came back up to the studio to file a few pieces of mail that had arrived. Much to my surprise, the solution to my texture problem stared me down from my score-taping table. At some point in the last month, my wife had come across the harmonica again and placed it neatly next to a lamp in the studio, almost as if it was begging to be used again. I thought "what the heck" and brushed up on my harmonica chops (which are minimal), then started playing along to the B section of my tune for Naknek. It was absolutely perfect. The texture, the warmth, the grit, the humanity... it was all there. 

It's been said that live instruments increases the production value of a score. Well, as of today, this small budget project just got a $50,000 score. Fight on!