At the invitation of Ray Chew, Musical Director of Dancing With The Stars, I visited Hollywood in late October. Ray and I have been corresponding for about 18 months. I'm a huge fan of his orchestrations. He creates soundscapes using the textures of instruments and voices, he blends electronic instruments with traditional instruments in a way that sounds fresh, and he knows about music that was made before he was born. On Thursday, October 20th, I flew to L.A. My hotel was right across the street from the TV studio. Although DWTS is broadcast on ABC, they use a studio at CBS, probably because it's set up for the special demands of live music and dance.
On Friday, October 21st, I attended the orchestra rehearsal. Ray walked me around the entire set and gave me a backstage tour. I met Mark Ballast and Lindsey Stirling. Backstage, all the dressing rooms and costume rooms are in a circle around the dance floor. The band plays in an orchestra pit right behind the stage, and they are sometimes seen on camera. At first, I was watching from a seat in the audience. After about 20 minutes, Ray asked the crew to get me a set of headphones and a stool. He told me to walk right down into the pit. One of the singers ran to the greenroom and got me some snacks and a bottle of water. Everyone was very comfortable having a visitor there. What a pleasure to hear the band up close. He made a point of showing me the orchestration and mentioned that it was notated on software. Ray's musicians and singers really love their work, so they play with wonderful energy, even during rehearsals. No one was "saving it" for the show. I was there about two hours. At one point, the singers were learning close harmony parts for a 1940s swing number.
On the weekend, I did the L.A. tourist thing with two friends who live in California. We went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where I snapped a photo of Johnny Mercer's star, which is now providing daily inspiration as the wallpaper on my phone. We saw the Capitol Records building (which looks like records stacked on a turntable). We did the WB Studio Tour, which was first-rate throughout. On the front steps of the Warner Bros. Records offices, we discovered a shrine to Tom Petty, who had recently passed away.
On Monday, October 23rd, a friend and I went to the studio to see DWTS live. It's very different from watching the show on TV. Sometimes, our view was momentarily blocked by scenery or cameras. At other times, we could see people onstage before they went live on camera. It was every bit the spectacle it looks like on TV, but it was lots of fun to hear the warm-up comic work the crowd during the commercials. I've been a DWTS fan for years, because I love to see creative people reaching for their best. But mainly, it's Ray Chew's excellent orchestrations that keep me watching. We were there for a night of dances saluting genres of classic films. After the 1940s swing number was performed live, just before the commercial, I looked back into the pit and gave a thumbs up to the singers. When they recognized me, they gave me a thumbs up, too. That was fun! It was a great trip, and I just might do it again sometime.