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DOG GONE – Emily Bear

February 1, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Dog Gone is a family adventure-drama film, directed by Stephen Herek, starring Rob Lowe, Johnny Berchtold, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. It’s a heartwarming true story about a college student named Fielding Marshall and his epic search for his beloved dog, Gonker, who goes missing on a hike and has to be found quickly as he is ill and needs a life-saving injection. Fielding’s search for Gonker becomes a local cause célèbre, making the news, and inspiring the community. It premiered on Netflix at the beginning of January and, normally, it’s not anything I would give a second thought to, based on the film itself. However, I want to take some time out to write about Dog Gone’s score, which was written by 21-year-old composer Emily Bear.

The fact that a composer like Bear is even writing music for a reasonably high profile film at the age of 21 is something quite astonishing in its own right. I‘m trying to think of a comparable event from the past involving a composer this young. James Horner was 29 when he scored Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. Cliff Eidelman was 24 when he scored Magdalene and Triumph of the Spirit in 1988/1989. Even Erich Wolfgang Korngold was in his 30s when he scored his first film, Captain Blood, in 1935. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who was working in film music in this way when they were this young. The point I’m making is that scoring a studio movie when you are barely out of your teens is something that rarely – if ever – happens, and yet here’s Emily Bear, doing just that.

To say that Bear was a child prodigy is something of an understatement. She was a virtuoso on the piano almost before she could talk. She performed at the acclaimed Ravinia Festival at the age of five, was making appearances playing Mozart on the Ellen DeGeneres show from the age of six onwards, and started writing her own original piano music thereafter. She was performing at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Montreux Jazz Festival before she was a teenager, and then, guided by her mentor Quincy Jones, she started writing her own jazz music. She changed tack somewhat in 2018 and released an album of jazz-inspired pop songs called ‘Emotions’. Then, in 2021, she won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for ‘Bridgerton: The Musical,’ which she co-wrote with her friend, singer-songwriter Abigail Barlow. All this is just scratching the surface – her Wikipedia page is amazing, and lists even more achievements – but it was probably only a matter of time before she turned to film scoring. She wrote an original piece of music for Ellen when she was just six, and claimed it took her just 20 minutes; when Ellen asked her how she did that, she shrugged and said “it just came out”. This feels like a natural progression from there.

If her score for Dog Gone is anything to go by, then this is likely to be the start of an excellent new film music career for her. It was recorded in Macedonia with the F.A.M.E.’s. Project orchestra and it’s a wholesome, defiantly old-fashioned orchestral score of the type that people like Michael Kamen, Marc Shaiman, Bruce Broughton, John Debney, Mark Isham, David Newman, and others wrote with consistent regularity in the 1980s and 1990s. The whole thing overflows with charm and warmth, and is awash in beautifully sentimental string passages, backed by appealing woodwind writing, and enlivened with moments of sprightly piano-led effervescence, light comedy, and entertaining action featuring lively guitars and jovial percussion. Some of the music occasionally has a country twang, both in its orchestrations, and in some of the slurred accents at the end of the string phrases, which increases its tonal appeal.

In a score which is consistently enjoyable and dramatically engaging throughout, several moments stand out. The first three cues – “Old Girlfriend,” “Fielding Meets Gonker,” and “The Warm Feeling” – introduce the core ideas of the score and are by turns sprightly and lively, warmly nostalgic, and playfully comedic, with the latter cue making especially excellent use of some bouncy brass. The score’s main theme is briefly referenced in “The Warm Feeling,” but really comes into its own in the title track “Dog Gone,” which is a superb burst of energy and positivity. The theme comes back prominently in several cues, notably as a pair of fun and quirky action interludes in “Fox” and “Choosing A Stick”.

One thing that I feel like I ought to mention here are the orchestrations which are, on the whole, terrific. Bear and her lead orchestrator Susie Benchasil Seiter bring a sense of sparkling movement, and a lightness of touch, to the whole work, and they really allow the entire orchestra to shine. Throughout the score there are little darting flute runs, brass fanfares, twinkling glockenspiels, snare drum rhythms, and many other such seemingly random touches moving about behind the prominent strings, which just give the entire work an inviting and engaging personality. At a time when so many scores dial out these accents in favor of the most basic chords and harmonies, the fact that Bear brings so much life and gaiety to her music is a delight.

There are more serious moments in the score too. “Memories of Oji” introduces a nostalgic, magical idea that is related to Oji, the dog that Kimberly Williams-Paisley’s character owned as a kid, and which died tragically. The Oji theme has a James Horner-esque feel to it, and when the ideas come back later in “Oji in the Snow” and during the score’s finale the effect is lovely. Elswehere, “The Vet” embraces a darker mood of dramatic writing for strings and brass which emphasizes the seriousness of Gonker’s medical condition.

The score’s central sequence, which underscores Gonker’s disappearance and Fielding’s subsequent search for his beloved dog, has a more intense and dramatic tone, full of determined-sounding chords and urgent string textures backed by inspirational writing for woodwinds and light percussion. I especially like the second half of “The Search,” which uses more prominent brass in a forceful, energetic way that is very effective. I also like the lightly dissonant clattering percussion and the melancholy string chords in “He’s Gone,” which bring a real sense of weighty drama.

“Rush To the Shelter” underscores the film’s climactic action sequence as Fielding and his friends desperately look for Gonker inside an animal shelter; Bear scores the desperation of the moment, and Fielding’s consuming desire to be reunited with his pooch, with a really excellent action cue full of thrusting, driving percussion, anxious string runs, and a tangible sense of urgency. Everything comes to a head in the superb finale, “Reunited/Goodbye Oji,” which underscores the scene where – spoiler alert! – Fielding and Gonker are finally reunited, and Bear offers a wonderful, sweeping moment of emotional catharsis full of singing strings and joyful orchestral expression. The final cue, “Sleep Aid,” is cheerful, cheeky, and quirky, pizzicato textures and whimsical woodwinds ending the score on a happy note.

Dog Gone is a short score – just a touch under thirty minutes – which means it’s gone in a flash. Some people will find the meager running time frustrating, but despite its brevity there’s still a lot to enjoy here, and the music is able to offer a variety of emotional touchstones and interesting thematic explorations in a limited timeframe. As I mentioned earlier, anyone who gravitated towards the warm and engaging light orchestral scores that people like Bruce Broughton and David Newman wrote in the 1990s will find this score very much cut from the same cloth; I am one of those people, and so I found Dog Gone to be an appealing, nostalgic delight.

I feel I have to reiterate again, though, that composer Emily Bear is 21. She was born just a couple of months before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, came out, which breaks my brain a little. Although her prodigious talent as a piano virtuoso, songwriter, and jazz composer, is well documented, prior to this she was entirely untested at film scoring, and was a complete novice when it came to conveying the dramatic needs of storytelling in music. The fact that she has passed this test with such flying colors on her first attempt is quite astonishing, and I can’t wait to hear what this exceptionally talented woman has to offer in the future.

Buy the Dog Gone soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Old Girlfriend (1:56)
  • Fielding Meets Gonker (0:35)
  • That Warm Feeling (0:46)
  • Dog Gone (1:45)
  • Missed Graduation (0:32)
  • Fox (0:47)
  • Memories of Oji (0:56)
  • Choosing A Stick (1:18)
  • The Vet (2:36)
  • Gonker’s Lost (1:00)
  • Oji in the Snow (1:32)
  • The Article (1:21)
  • The Search (1:07)
  • Fielding Can’t Sleep (0:57)
  • He’s Gone (1:58)
  • Fielding’s My Compass (1:05)
  • Nate (1:52)
  • Rush to the Shelter (2:59)
  • Reunited/Goodbye Oji (3:24)
  • Sleep Aid (1:33)

Running Time: 29 minutes 51 seconds

Netflix Music (2023)

Music composed by Emily Bear. Conducted by Oleg Kondratenko and Susie Benchasil Seiter. Orchestrations by Susie Benchasil Seiter and Edith Mudge. Recorded and mixed by Jay Marcovitz, Laurent Koppitz and Aude Nassieu Maupas. Edited by Michael T. Ryan. Album produced by Emily Bear.

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