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Alumni Spotlight: Danny Troob '70

At the age of 12, Daniel “Danny” M. Troob made his musical debut at Carnegie Hall with a piece orchestrated by himself and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. After graduating from Harvard College in 1970 with a degree in music composition, Troob became an arranger and orchestrator for Disney blockbusters and stage productions. He holds music credits for Disney films such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “Hercules,” “Annie,” “Enchanted,” and “Tangled.” He has also won Drama Desk awards for “Big River” and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” was nominated for Tony Awards for several of his orchestrations, and has been credited on numerous Broadway productions. Although he has worked across the nation and internationally, he has never “really lived anywhere but New York,” where he grew up and currently resides.

The Harvard Crimson: Music seems to have been a part of your life from an early age. Why did you decide to pursue music composition at Harvard instead of a school specifically dedicated to music?

Danny M. Troob: There are a number of reasons. First, I had studied music in the summers at Juilliard-related facilities, and there was also a [summer] program at Dartmouth…. I also attended Juilliard Prep in New York on Saturdays. I had seen what the conservatory approach was, and there was nothing in it for me. Conservatories are really designed to produce concert artists, and that was not my interest. There was no reason to pursue a conservatory approach. The other schools I applied to were Brandeis and Cornell—I didn’t apply to any schools of music.

THC: How do you feel that you benefited from having that liberal arts education alongside your focus on music?

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DMT: I mean, most of my career has been in musical theater or in film, and liberal arts are important. The humanities courses I took were really direct preparation for the work that I do. Of course, the technical work of music you have to know, but I knew that well before I started at Harvard.

THC: Following college, did you immediately know you wanted to compose and orchestrate music for animated films, Disney in particular?

DMT: I knew that I wanted to compose music since I was 10 years old, but the fact that I wound up doing a lot of music… for Disney and other animated film people was because the jobs were available. They called me in for one, it went very well, and they called me in for more. I had started my career in theater in New York, and I still do that, but there was never an abundance of work in New York. It’s always been very dicey. The film and animation industries were very happening when I got into it in the ’90s. Once I got there, it was easy to stay there because that’s where the opportunities were.

THC: You mentioned the differences between classical music and the music that is composed for the stage and for films. How did you learn to compose and orchestrate to fit what the industry was seeking?

DMT: You don’t learn. That’s what the gift is. If you’re gifted, you have an intuition. You find you know things that you weren’t taught, and you’re able to create those things accordingly. Or if it’s less creative work, with orchestration for instance, is what you write on the page what you hear when an orchestra plays it? If you have that sureness of technique, that what you write is what you hear, then you have the most basic qualification for doing that kind of work. It also is a good thing if you happen to have some taste and some style, but the absolute rock bottom is whether or not you can execute.

THC: Could you take me through the process of composing or orchestrating for one of your works, either a staged production or film?

DMT: I can walk you through the process of one of my first stage successes. There was a show called “Big River” based on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and it opened in New York in the season of 1985. I was 35 years old, and it was my first really significant credit in theater, not as a player or music director but as a part of the creative team. Roger Miller was the songwriter; he had a really brilliant career in country, although he didn’t consider himself “country.” Anyways, I was called into that situation by a Harvard friend who had been in a Hasty Pudding show I composed, Ed Strong…. “Big River” had been done at Harvard, actually, and was later done at La Jolla, although I was not involved in those productions. They didn’t really think the music had reached its potential, and I had been given a script and—it was so long ago—a cassette tape. I listened, I had my interview, and they asked me if I would be interested in orchestrating the show. And I kind of reframed the question: I told them I had a lot of faith in the production, but they needed a music supervisor, someone to help make Roger’s songs, which were really quite brilliant but quite terse—two minutes, a minute and half, to bring them to the length required for theater—five, six, seven minutes—to develop the material without trashing it. They did not want it to sound like Broadway, but they did want to sell tickets in a Broadway theater. I felt that I was the right person to broaden the scope of this music. The raw material was Roger’s raw material and lyrics. The final product was Roger’s music and lyrics plus my contributions and the contributions of the vocal arranger and the orchestrators…. I became the other composer, and it worked out very well. We won the Tony Award for “Best Musical” and “Best Score.” There had been some years before then when I was struggling to find enough work professionally, but after “Big River” I was able to stay pretty busy.

THC: Could you describe one of your favorite projects?

DMT: There was a musical called “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel of the same name. It was written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who did the big Disney musicals: “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Little Mermaid.” We were 29 years old, and I was a young musician working on the scene in New York, and they were very gifted writers…. I thought they were brilliant. And I got the job as the orchestrator of the official off-Broadway production, which was not a success. The show had been very effective on the tiny scale, but then when it moved to off-Broadway, it was an uncomfortable size: too big to be small, and much too small to be big. It wasn’t recorded, and it didn’t do much for anybody’s career. Then recently I was asked to reorchestrate the show for a substantial orchestra, 15 pieces, and it was produced this summer at City Center Encores, and I got to hear the work I had imagined it 35 years ago. It’s a wonderful piece: It was filled with the political rage of the 1960s, not camouflaged in any way, an overtly left-wing piece, but the style was mainstream musical music. The song writing was extremely self-assured, that was how I knew Howard and Alan were going to go far. I loved what I brought to it 35 years ago, but I only had five players and not what I would call a competent sound department. This last summer, we had a 15-piece orchestra and a very sympathetic sound department, and it just sounded wonderful. It was just how I had hoped and dreamed it would be experienced. That very rarely happens. Almost always when you get done with something, you’re left with more disappointment than satisfaction. But “Rosewater” was really a pleasure, and I understand that’s going to be recorded—I don’t know when—but just the experience of it at the City Center was extremely gratifying. It was a nice bookend to my active career because it started when I was a neophyte and it ended now when I’m just beginning to start working less than I used to.

THC: You mentioned that you orchestrated or composed for the Hasty Pudding. What other productions were you a part of here at Harvard?

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