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Interview: Composers Velton Ray Bunch and Mark Leggett Talk Netflix's Dolly Parton's Heartstrings

Interview: Composers Velton Ray Bunch and Mark Leggett Talk Netflix's Dolly Parton's Heartstrings The composers of Netflix's Dolly Parton's Heartstrings, Velton Ray Bunch and Mark Leggett, took the time to speak with us about their work on the show and their careers.

Tell us a bit about your backgrounds. How did you both get into composing?

RAY: I graduated college with a music theory composition degree from East Carolina University and ended up in Hollywood. I initially worked as an arranger and music director for many artists (Pointer Sisters, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Lionel Ritchie, Mac Davis, among others), which eventually lead me to composing for television and films.

MARK: I came out to Los Angeles as a guitarist and songwriter. After a few years I signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell and had a couple of songs chart. Soon after, I drifted into writing for a few small films and television. Now I've written music for hundreds of productions and am also fitting in enough time to devote to being a guitarist.

You've both collaborated with Dolly Parton before, how did the two of you begin working together and also working with her?

RAY: I worked as Dolly's music director on her ABC variety show several years ago. We've had a wonderful working relationship over the years. It's an honor to work on her projects.

MARK: I first worked for Dolly on her Coat of Many Colors movie for NBC. Ray and I have collaborated many times, so when he got the call from Dolly, he asked me to co-compose with him.

Most recently you worked on Netflix's Dolly Parton's Heartstrings, what was it like working on that show?

RAY: It was challenging and rewarding. Eight movies, each completely different, based on Dolly's songs is a tall order. It was quite a brisk schedule for most of the year. We had the luxury of using an orchestra recorded at Capitol Recording Studios for each score. We also had Dolly's vocals to enhance the music, which was a joy.

MARK: Yes. We could use Dolly's voice as we wrote the music. Quite a wonderful and unique opportunity. "These Old Bones" is a period piece set in Appalachia in the 1940s. Instrumentally, I played dulcimers and many Appalachian-style instruments to evoke that world. Adding Dolly and the orchestra really made it shine. 'Two Doors Down" is in a contemporary middle-America setting where we utilized more electric guitars with the orchestra.

What was it like doing some of your own arrangements of Dolly's songs?

RAY: Really fun. We arranged the song "If I Had Wings" a few different ways. One version is Dolly and a string quintet. It came out great. We also did a rather ethereal version with a celeste and a small rhythm section.

MARK: "Jolene" was utilized a few ways as well. We could weave the signature guitar riff, or Dolly's vocal in the middle of the cue and it was quite effective. We just tried to use the song elements tastefully and creatively.

Did you use any unconventional instruments to create the sound of the show?

MARK: Each episode had a different musical identity. On "These Old Bones" we used small rocks in a wooden box as a signature sound. We could rattle them and create an ambient texture. Rather spooky when you surround it with strings and woodwinds. We also used bouzouki, charango, and various stringed instruments to create motion on several pieces.

I know each episode of the show is set in a different era and region. Did this create any challenges in making the score for the show sound uniform from episode to episode?

RAY: That's where the orchestra comes in. It was the common denominator across the series. It allowed us to bring the necessary emotion to each score, regardless of the time or place. Orchestral music brings that timelessness.

If each of you could use three words to describe the overall sound you created for Dolly Parton's Heartstrings, what would they be?

RAY: Appropriate (we hope), supportive, and heartfelt.

MARK: Sincere, organic, and emotional.

Is there one person each of you would love to collaborate with that you haven't had a chance to yet?

RAY: Gustaf Mahler (probably won't happen)

MARK: Anyone making a good film!

When you're not working, what do you enjoy doing?

RAY: I love baseball and still play on a weekend team regularly.

MARK: I continue to play and write for the guitar.

Do either of you have any upcoming projects you could tell us about?

RAY/MARK: Yes, an ABC special on the great Garry Marshall, plus a few documentaries. Always something going on. Also Mark's new CD "Guitars and Blackbirds" is due out in early 2020.

AND.... hoping for a season 2 of Dolly's Heartstrings!

Photo Courtesy of Velton Ray Bunch and Mark Leggett

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