The haunting score and theme song is an integral piece of what made Dallas director David Lowrey’s 2017 movie “A Ghost Story” such subtly epic experience.
Hell, the trailer alone gets me in the feels every time.
Hart just told us, via Twitter, he composed the music for “Calypso,” the latest audiobook from hilarious essayist David Sedaris, who, this time around, focuses his observational super powers on middle age and mortality.
I wrote the music for the new David Sedaris audiobook CALYPSO pic.twitter.com/s5gjHGtIIU
— Daniel Hart (@danielmwenda) June 6, 2018
Hart also wrote the score for Ira Glass produced podcast S-Town. Carried along on a current of Daniel’s music, the odd, winding, engrossing series was a hit. Listeners downloaded a record-breaking 10 million times in the first four days following its March 2017 debut.
When Glass called him, he thought it was a prank, he says. But why was he surprised? After all, the 41-year-old Richardson High and SMU graduate from Lake Highlands—among other accomplishments—did a stint with pop rock choir Polyphonic Spree, made a solo album produced by singer-songwriter sensation St. Vincent as well as several musical beds for programs and movies. He composed the score for “The Exorcist” on FOX; for the documentary “Eating Animals,” produced by Natalie Portman; and for four feature-length movies by Dallas-based director David Lowery, including Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” and “A Ghost Story,” starring Academy Award winner Casey Affleck.
Hart’s dad Kenneth says Daniel even taught Casey Affleck to play piano, enough to get by in two scenes, at least.
Daniel and his brother Justin began their musical education at an early age, with Daniel playing the violin before he was 3. Music was a family pastime, “something we all wanted to do,” Kenneth says.
It did not take long to realize Daniel had a gift — specifically, two lessons, Kenneth says. Daniel had a unique vocal ability, phenomenal for a child.
Daniel was 10 when the family came to Dallas. Kenneth took a position teaching at Southern Methodist University.
The kids took lessons and sang in choirs, Daniel, from a home studio in Los Angeles, recalls of childhood. For fun, the family played a lot of board games. “And there was religion, and religious music, and Bach, which is also religious.”
Daniel attended Northlake Elementary, Lake Highlands Junior High and Richardson High School, the district’s arts magnet, where he participated in orchestra and drama.
“In theater I learned to be full of myself and see how great I thought I was,” he jokes.
During a senior-year jazz concert Daniel had a solo and performed his own music.
“That began a lot of things for me including not just playing what others had written,” he says. “I started writing songs in high school — they were terrible. I had yet to learn there were much more interesting things than love ballads with awful lyrics.”
At SMU, Daniel earned a degree in playwriting, laying off the music for a year or so. The theater program at SMU was intense, Hart says, and everyone is good — among his fellow theater majors was Amy Acker, a hardworking Hollywood actor, also a Lake Highlands native.
“Well, I learned I was not as great as I thought I was,” Hart says.
When he returned to music, it was as a member of a band called Doubting Scholars, led by SMU composition professor Kevin Hanlon …
In 2011 Hart turned much of his attention to scoring films. Through Polyphonic Spree, he met (another Lake Highlands native) Toby Halbrooks, a musician-cum-producer, writer and actor, who is friends with Lowery.
At the time Lowery was making short movies. He and Hart clicked.
Lowery’s first film with a budget, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” in 2013 earned praise for its evocative strength. Wrote The New Yorker’s Richard Brody: “It gives me a sense of having seen a great deal, of having been through a teeming microcosm of powerful emotion …”
Hart’s music, such as the instrumental “Ruth and Sylvie,” contributes to that sensation highlighted by Brody and so many other critics.
“Saints” was Hart’s second foray into full feature (he wrote some of the music for Lowery’s “St. Nick”). There was some back and forth, some disagreement, but generally he and Lowery had the same ideas, and they “approach storytelling in the same way,” Hart says.
Lowery liked Hart’s work so much that when Disney tapped him to direct a reimagining of “Pete’s Dragon,” Lowery pressed until Disney hired Hart, a virtually unknown composer, to score the big-budget picture.
It was a risk, Hart says.
For him, it meant going from arranging music for a six-piece ensemble to a 104-piece orchestra.
It was high pressure and he worked tirelessly and learned as he went along, he says, “but we were really proud of the work we did.”
It also was the first movie “Uncle Dan” made that his 8-year-old niece, brother Justin’s daughter, could watch. (Justin is now associate chair of the history department at Texas Tech University.)
Hart excels at and prefers darker, soul-searching sound, one might assume. Not entirely true, he says. While that indeed comes most easily to him, he also loves the big, epic, inspirational, feel-good stuff. “Like ‘Enchanted.’ Have you seen ‘Enchanted’?”
It’s a live-action, musical, fantasy, romantic comedy, and Hart calls composer Alan Menken’s score one of his favorites.
The new Lowery collaboration, “The Old Man and the Gun,” is slated to hit theaters in mid-2018. It is rumored to be Redford’s last hurrah.