Modern movies and television shows would be nothing without a great musical score. Music is universal and has this wondrous capacity for creating a feeling without saying a word. Without a score, the films we enjoy might as well be silent films.
Recently, we sat down with Velton Ray Bunch and Mark Leggett, the composers behind the incredible score for Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors and Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love. Both artists told us that their careers began with an immense passion for music that began at an early age. Leggett grew up with a father who served in the United States Air Force. As the family moved, Leggett would seek out new bands and musical sounds around his new city and learn from them. He told us that this early exposure to different sounds allowed him to see that music “is all kind of related, once you look at the folk music aspect of things. It’s all about the blend.”
Velton Ray Bunch also enjoyed a vast array of musical sounds and genres. Bunch was born in a small North Carolina town with an active Pentecostal church. Bunch began his career by playing piano for the church choir and learning gospel songs. Soon, his talent with the piano led him to move to California, “to seek my fortune. I picked up a few more instruments, here and there, and eventually Mike Post opened the doors and saw my potential.” That’s multi-award winning composer Mike Post, by the way, who composed such television themes as Law and Order, Magnum P.I., and NYPD: Blue.
Soon, Bunch and Legget would meet and work together on 1989’s Quantum Leap. “It’s been a great ride, because Ray was my mentor, of sorts. He showed me how to put music over film and our work just grew from there.” This natural affinity for teamwork and their incredible method of blending their musical talents and intricate sounds together reaped many award-winning scores from the dynamic duo, like their Emmy-nominated main title theme for The Pretender. It also drew the attention of none other than Ms. Dolly Parton.
She soon approached the duo to help her score her life story biopic, Coat of Many Colors. Bunch told us, “Given our backgrounds, I thought it was a perfect marriage for both of us. I had worked with Dolly before. With my background as a piano player and Mark’s talent for bringing in guitars, mandolins, and whatever else we need […] we knew the scores would have those flavors. We had numerous phone calls with Dolly regarding her vision for the music and discussed what kind of music it should be. Her songs were a pivotal point in the story. Mark is a master at taking her melodies and incorporating it into the orchestra. We tried to include any key songs in the film in the orchestra or in the scoring.”
As we all know, Coat of Many Colors was an instant success for NBC. Leggett and Bunch would be tapped again to create the score for the sequel, Christmas of Many Colors. Leggett explained that “The demands were different on this production in terms of trying to make you feel like you're in Dolly's world in 1955, in the Smokey Mountains and doing that with a modern orchestra. We were able to use some of Dolly's musicians in the score, which is a little unusual. She hires really great people and it’s just a wonderful team to work with. It adds that ‘Dolly’ element to our score. We knew that we’d need to incorporate two or three key Christmas songs. Ray wrote songs that have a Christmas tone to them and then, we added sleigh bells, the harp, and Christmas bells to give it a nice flavor.”
Their preparation for Christmas of Many Colors began back in June 2016, before filming would begin in July. We asked if Covington, Georgia had any influence on the score. After all, Ray has been to Covington before and he told us that “It's beautiful down there.” While the team weren’t able to make it to our fair city, they did take us into account. Their whole score is influenced by southern gospel sounds and music taken from Dolly Parton and from Bunch’s North Carolina roots. Of course, we had to ask what’s Dolly like in person. Leggett told us that “She’s graceful and sincere. She is a wonderful person. Ray mirrored his sentiments, saying she’s “exactly as she appears. No pretense. She is incredible to work with. So graceful under pressure.”
We admit it. We were star struck to have been able to speak with such legendary composers. Velton Ray Bunch and Mark Leggett have expansive and impressive careers. Fast fact! Leggett actually worked with Levon Helm and The Band, scoring the PBS documentary “A Great Drive”. Of course, we had to ask him about that experience! Leggett told us that he was just astounded to be able to work with The Band and said that it was one of his most favorite scores, besides Christmas of Many Colors, of course!
We would like to send our thanks to both Velton Ray Bunch and Mark Leggett for allowing us the opportunity to speak with them. You both were incredibly gracious and such a pleasure to interview. Be sure to check out NBC’s Coat of Many Colors and Christmas of Many Colors, and listen for the incredibly uplifting score from our two favorite composers. Want to learn more about the score of Christmas of Many Colors? Why not head to the source. Visit Covington, Georgia today and walk amongst the shooting locations for both films! You’ll wander through wonder and see how our little town became the inspiration and the setting for Dolly Parton’s biopics. Trust us. You'll be just as inspired!