Finale Spotlight: Meet Anthony O’Toole, Grand Prize Contest Winner

In recent weeks we’ve met the winners of the runners-up prizes in our “Take Your Music Further with Garritan” contest. This week we meet grand prize winner Anthony O’Toole. Anthony is a busy young composer, orchestrator, arranger, and educator in Philadelphia. Since his website does a great job of offering details about his education, background, commissions, and early introduction to music, we’ll jump right into the questions:

Scott Yoho: How did you find out about the “Take Your Music Further with Garritan” contest?

Anthony O’Toole: I saw it on-line, and noticed that submissions were limited to 90 seconds, so I thought I could enter something. I found out about it pretty late, like two days before it was due, so I composed 90 seconds of music in 5 or 6 hours one night.

SY: That’s surprising as it’s a fabulous piece. The sounds are great too: Did you use any instruments beyond the Garritan sounds included with Finale?

AO: No. I’m not a huge Finale person. I use it basically for engraving purposes. I still write mostly to manuscript. But I do love the program and I do have the sounds. I got Finale when I was in high school, for my 18th birthday, from my mom and dad. 

SY: But your workflow starts with paper.

AO: I do my basic sketches on paper. Once I have all the ideas, and know what I want to do, and it’s basically mapped on manuscript, then I elaborate on it and orchestrate it in the Finale software.

SY: Can you tell us a little about the piece you created for the contest and its inspiration?

AO: CA-91 is a composition for large orchestra that depicts a commute on CA-91 in Los Angeles, one of the most dangerous freeways in America. Although I love Los Angeles (and Southern California in general) I thought that instead of portraying all beautiful beaches, natural wonders, and noteworthy landmarks, why not attempt to portray the fast-paced and dangerous commute?

SY: Can you give us a sense of some of the composers who have been influential for you?

AO: I’ve always been a huge admirer of Copland, and Stravinsky, and modern composers such as Richard Danielpour. I’m trying to think of something similar to what I wrote that I was influenced by. 

One of my many composition teachers here at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) was Dr. Jack Stamp, and he wrote a piece that I played called Cloud Splitter Fanfare, that has this octatonic baseline, and that’s where I got the inspiration to write the baseline that goes underneath the A theme. At the very beginning, where you hear the tubas and the basses, and celli playing “dupie dupie dupie dupie.”There’s a hemiola there – I think it’s a 7/8 hemiola over the 4/4, and that’s all octatonic, and I got that idea from him…

SY: I’m not familiar with the term “octatonic.”

AO: While typical C scale has 7 notes, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C again. An octatonic scale has 8 notes in it, and it’s more on the minor side of the tonality, with half steps and whole steps. But that’s where I got the idea for the baseline. It’s not exactly like it, but it has the same sort of contour and sound of Cloud Splitter Fanfare. So I had that idea, and I wanted to create that engine for the piece – because it’s about a highway and a busy commute and everything – so I wanted to have this pulsing baseline that was going to push the entire section.

On top of it I have these trombones imitating the car horns, the horns doing the crescendos imitating the Doppler effect of passing car horns, so there are a lot of sounds that try to imitate the experience.

SY: The result is great – it makes me think of Carl Stallings music heard in old Warner Brothers cartoons. I have one last question. When time allows you to use your travel gift certificate, will you go visit CA-91?

AO: Not just to see the highway, but when I do take a vacation, I probably will visit southern California, see all the beaches—Huntington Beach, Venice Beach, Santa Monica— I love that area.

I’d like to thank Anthony for his piece and for taking the time to speak with us. Please share your travel plans (or anything else) by clicking on “Comments” below.

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