You might see an affable new guy around town with his wife and young daughter, getting to know the people and places of their adopted hometown. He’s not an instantly recognizable person; it’s unlikely that Brad, Angelina, Britney or Bono can count on him to distract the paparazzi. You may not know his face, but if you’ve seen the action films “Con Air,” “Training Day,” “Bad Boys,” “Twister,” “Shooter” and “Speed” or the TV shows “Criminal Minds” or “Soldier of Fortune, Inc.,” there is no doubt you’ve heard his music.
A musician par excellence, Mark Mancina has composed the music for dozens of films and television shows. Lest one get the idea that he specializes in the action and adventure genre, consider that he also produced and co-composed the music for Broadway’s “The Lion King” (for which he received a Tony nomination, an Ivor Novello Award for the London production and a Grammy for his production of the original Broadway cast album). Other film credits include 1999’s animated “Tarzan” (on which he collaborated with Phil Collins, with whom he shared another Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album), “Brother Bear,” “Moll Flanders,” “Camille” and Disney’s 2003 “The Haunted Mansion.”
And if none of that sounds familiar, then consider this. When the Magic Kingdom logo appears at the beginning of a Walt Disney Pictures production, it’s accompanied by an updated arrangement of the delightful Jiminy Cricket chestnut, “When You Wish upon a Star.” Yup.That’s Mancina’s work as well.
Given a resume as impressive as his, it’s a delight to learn that Mancina is a great guy—a considerate, insightful, firmly grounded individual, devoted family man and doting father. He seems to take his stunning success in stride.“I remind myself every day that I’m lucky to have this gig,” he muses. Most aspiring Baby Boomer musicians honed their chops by blasting out “three chords and a cloud of dust” style rock and roll. Mancina was more interested in classical music, and that love led him to study classical guitar and composition. While studying at Cal State Fullerton, a week spent with American composer Aaron Copland taught him that “there are really only two types of music: good and bad.”
Not that he didn’t strap on a Stratocaster now and then. He played with a number of club bands, covering the hit songs of the day. But he also formed and composed music for a classically tinged rock band—a style known in the day as “art rock” á la Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis and King Crimson. Mancina is nothing if not tenacious. After nights spent playing in smoky bars, he recalls, “I would get up in the morning and send out demos, trying to get a record deal.” He performed in bands into his early 30s, all the while building a reputation as a composer, climbing the movie business ladder by working on documentary films and television shows.
Working as a film composer requires a measure of ego submergence. “Film music needs to work with the film— it’s not about the music,” Mancina says.
It’s about moving the storyline forward, drawing the viewer into the scene, subtly suggesting the emotions a director endeavors to elicit from the audience. Tension,urgency, sympathy, pain, fear, amusement, suspense, tenderness, nostalgia—all these emotions and more can be and are conveyed by the music that accompanies action and dialogue.
But it’s not always relegated to the background. An upcoming film from Warner Bros. Pictures, “August Rush,” puts Mark Mancina’s work front and center. Scheduled for a Thanksgiving week release, “August Rush” (starring Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terence Howard and Robin Williams) is the story of August, the orphaned child of musically talented parents: a classical musician mother and Irish rocker father. August is a musical savant, filled with the burning desire to communicate with his lost parents. In this case, the film’s score is an integral and central part of the story. It’s not often that a composer is called upon to write a piece that sums up the entire plot of a film and Mancina was well up to the challenge. The plot of “August Rush” builds to a symphonic performance of Mancina’s “Rhapsody No. 1 in C Major,” a remarkably stirring piece of music that serves as the climax.
Because of the nature of the story, the music for August Rush had to be done before the filming began. “Music is typically tacked on at the end of production—when there’s no time and no money,” Mancina laughs. He spent several months composing before the first frame was even shot. Mancina’s love for music extends to the instruments he plays. He owns 75 (“plus or minus”) vintage and custommade guitars and bass guitars in addition to a plethora of other exotic instruments he uses to distinguish his sound.
One such instrument is an eight-string ukulele, an instrument that sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before—try to imagine a mandolin on helium. Many of his guitars were custom made for him by the world’s finest luthiers.They are beautifully crafted of intricately figured woods and are considered to be lasting works of art before they produce a single note.
Mancina has decided to blend his love of fine instruments with Carmel’s rich artistic tradition. He and a friend and fellow collector are seeking space to house a business they call “Guitars of Provenance.” The vision for the shop is to create an environment where the two can share their enthusiasm for the fine instruments they’ve collected. “All instruments have a story—who made them, for whom and why,” Mancina says. This shop will not be a typical music store, where hordes of Eddie Van Halen wannabes sit around showing off their shredding techniques. It will be much more genteel; a nexus where serious collectors and guitar aficionados can celebrate their passion for the instrument.
“I want to do something lasting in this community,” Mancina says. To his knowledge, Guitars of Provenance is a unique idea. It may just give the world another reason to put Carmel on the must-visit list. Career aside, perhaps Mancina takes his greatest joy in his musically inclined young daughter.
“She has been completely Beatles-brainwashed by her father,” laughs his wife. “She knows the words to every Beatles song and they sing together all the time.” It’s that love of family that brought the Mancina family to Carmel. “The natural beauty of the Peninsula and its combination of semirural setting with urban conveniences and interesting, dynamic people fits the needs of my family perfectly,” says Mancina.