Article published in on May 15, 2006

Purple PianoComposer Charles David Denler

By Sarah D. Goldstein (co-authored by Dino M. Zaffina)

Charles David Denler began studying trumpet at the age of nine. At age 11 he taught himself to play piano. Later that year he started composing for paino and performing in public. He is 40 years old now and has been performing professionally since 1984, putting out eight albums.

Denler has been fairly successful performing solo on piano, playing gigs in many of the Northeast states, Connecticut, Boston, Pennsylvania, and New York. Many of his concerts have drawn in upwards of 6,000 people. He also toured around the country with other musicians. Denler worked a lot with churches, writing music for big cantatas with choir and orchestra; sort of classical cantatas.

He said, “There was always an undercurrent and my wife Kay of fourteen years, really noticed that; even the tours and albums never felt right. We would joke when friends would come over about me being the ‘King of Almost.’ I almost did this or I almost had this huge record deal. I almost toured with this person, but nothing really panned out.In the fall of 1998, Charles decided to slow up with his music for a time while he took a full-time engineering job at a studio in Connecticut. Not long after, he awoke one morning with the vivid memories of that previous night’s dream. Charles said, “It was weird. I had this dream about a purple piano.” He approached a friend of his who is a luthier (a guitar maker), and he told him about the dream. He said, “I think that I need to make this piano and release an album called ‘Purple Piano.’” His friend agreed, so they worked all winter long and built this baby grand piano from scratch. What was different about it was that it did not have strings; it was basically a huge music box. Speakers were built into it and you could take an electronic keyboard and plug it in.

Once Denler recorded his album “Purple Piano” in 1999 under Little River Music, he all of a sudden found himself on the 5 o’clock news; all these stations wanted to see his piano. This handmade “purple” baby grand piano was the subject of a featured article in Keyboard Magazine, January 2000. He ended up on the cover of three of four regional newspapers. The Hartford Advocate did an article on him. Ironically, he said, “I didn’t sell any CDs from it though, but a producer from National Geographic got a hold of the ‘Purple Piano’ CD.”

Next thing he knew he was under contract for a National Geographic film. Charles said, “I had never written a film score. I didn’t even have the software for it. I started asking my other friends and composers who were film scorers already. They weren’t too happy that the ‘green guy’ landed a job scoring a National Geographic film when he hadn’t scored a film before.”

Charles did not let that stop him or slow him down. He dove into the software. “I just started writing,” he said. “That completely changed my career path. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed writing this orchestral music. It was so different from the pop stuff that I had been writing.”

Within a year after he landed his first scoring job, Denler won his first Emmy Award for his work on Bentley Creek for “Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition.” It was like an instant career change. He was able to move his equipment into the recording studio where he was an engineer. His employer at the studio had no problem if he wanted to work on scoring films. This worked out perfect for Charles since he and Kay had a daughter Moraiah (now 10), and Kay was pregnant with Jack (now 4), and he needed his day job. For a year his employer allowed him this luxury until the films reached a point where he became inendated.

He realized that he had to go out on his own. Charles started his new business on Monday, September 10, 2001. He had a 3 months old baby boy, his wife had just left her full-time job, he had tons of films lined up; Charles was ecstatic. The next day, on September 11th all of his work dried up. He said, “No one wanted to do any work, they were afraid of the economy.”

Denler decided to sit tight. He kept promoting his music and his business. He sent out thousands of e-mails and got on the phone four to seven hours a day, calling producers and directors. Approximately, three-and-half months later things changed for the better. By January 1st he was working on 9/11 films on IMAX and for Dr. Robert D. Ballard the explorer who found the Titanic. From that point Denler’s career just took off.  (Film Credits and Film Score Samples).

Scoring films seems to come natural to Charles David Denler since he can play almost any instrument. He has a knack for picking up different instruments and learning them within a short time. If he already knows what the instrument is supposed to sound like, that sound stays in his head. Charles continues to work with the instrument until he gets it to sound like what it is supposed to.  He can also write pencil to paper on a scoring pad for an entire orchestra.

Although Charles attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, he says that he is not a big fan of over learning, over instruction. “I think that it is good to have tutors and mentors, but I think that college more often than not ruins people,” said Charles. “I believe that it is more important to have support people around you. Surround yourself with peers, people that are going in the same direction that you want to go.”

Denler believes that if musicians, specifically composers, do not strike out to be original they will start sounding like cookie cutters. He says that so much of the music in Hollywood, does not sound original. Even some of the editing seems the same. “You look at television and wonder, can’t these people think of something original,” Denler said. It’s almost frustrating. “We live in a cookie cutter world. We find a formula that works and everybody follows that formula, but really that formula probably only worked for that one person who originally created it.”

Charles spends at least a half-hour a day listening to film scores, to figure out how they got that sound. He studies the scores of John Williams and other great composers trying to figure how they accomplished certain sounds.

Charles is as serious about his work when he brings in musicians for a scoring session. He said, “Ultimately, I am accountable to the director. The director wants the best that a composer can possibly get for their film. So when I hire somebody they have to understand that I am sort of under that director’s umbrella. If they can’t take direction from me, however, I choose to do it, (maybe I play the instrument for them), or whatever I need to do, they need to understand, otherwise we cannot work together because I am responsible to the director. I am very choosy. I make sure that the musicians that I work with are good-hearted. That is part of the business. It is about a director’s vision. Some directors tell you that they want you to play from your gut; other directors will say this is exactly how I want it and that it their vision. It is their film, it is their baby.  Musicians that I work with have to realize that. We all have to be flexible.”

Charles further explained, “I might show the musician by playing the part. I will let them know that they are a better guitar player then I am, but I still want to show them the finger style that I want; the way that I want the cords to be played.”

Once he brought in a classical and jazz guitarist for a scoring session. He wasn’t getting the sound that he wanted and that he could play. Denler said, “For me, that is a frustrating issue because if you bring someone in and the part is written the creative process is over. If I play the guitar myself, the creative process continues because I find that I am making changes and doing things by inspiration that I can’t do when someone else is playing the part.”

Charles was happy, but surprised after winning his first Emmy Award. After he won his second Emmy Award for the nationally aired PBS film, Beyond the Medal of Honor, he was thankful, yet still surprised. He explained, “I am always working to up the bar with what I do with my scoring.” He further explained, “Especially with the Emmys, you scored that film a year and a half ago, so a lot happens in that time. You think to yourself I wish I had done this differently or that differently. I have never been perfectly satisfied with what I do. I am constantly striving to be better.”

He said, “I am constantly putting myself on the edge with technology and new sounds and new ways of scoring. I am constantly striving to be better. My goal is to be better on my next film and every film after that.” Directors will ask Charles “What is the best film that you ever worked on?” Charles says he replies with, “It is the next film that I work on.” He says this because he is always raising the bar.

Ultimately, Denler would like to be holding an Oscar in his hand someday. He said, “I would like to be thanking the director for the opportunity and my wife for putting up with me and for all her support.” He enjoys the creation of music very much. He says that he is more music driven then anything else. “I’ll hear a specific composer’s sound. I think to myself, I got to get that sound. How did they get the strings to sound that way?” Denler said, “My next big conquest becomes making my music sound better, fully, stronger, more thoughtful.”

Charles’ recent credits include: the following “feature films,” Isolated, a 90 minute high action thriller, produced by Alias Film Works and directed by Eric Nichols, scheduled to be released this summer; The Decoy, a 90 minute film that takes place in the early west, produced by Higgins/Kreinbrink Productions and directed by Justin Kreinbrink, also scheduled to be released this summer; and Eye of the Beholder, a short suspense thriller, directed by Tim Russ (Star Trek Voyager). Also, the following “two-hour epic documentaries,”  Ottoman Empire, a History Channel special, produced by Digital Ranch and directed by Rob Kirk, scheduled to be released this June; The Mexican American War, also a History Channel special with Oscar De La Hoya, produced and directed by Jim Lindsay, scheduled to be released this September. And, another documentary, Hope: Surviving the Sentence of HIV/AIDS, produced and directed by Matthew Porter.

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