There was a time when the center of Falls Village bustled with activity. It was home to stores, a hotel, banks and eateries.
Downstream from the power-generating tumult of the Great Falls, industries ranged along the banks of the Housatonic River and employed hundreds of workers. Some even claim that the industrial-era village had its own red-light district.
All that is in the past. Today's village center is a quiet enclave. A garage, a tiny package store and a funky little cafe largely constitute the downtown , and most of the traffic in the center is generated by those doing business at town hall.
But the quiet of Main Street is deceptive. Behind winter's closed doors creativity is afoot. Writers, artists, actors, photographers and musicians call the street home.
Within one short stretch, muralist Clifton Jaeger plies his brushes, while farther up the street freelance writer Ann Bidou divides her time between running Toymaker's Cafe and writing. Nearby, author Betsy Howie shares her home with daughter Callie--the subject of Ms. Howie's popular book "Callie's Tally" --and right in the center of town, in a space once dedicated to styling ladies' locks, Emmy winning composer Joshua Stone applies himself to stylin's of his own.
Mr. Stone is among 34 artists across the state that recently received Artists Fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, awards designed to allow artists to further pursue their work. In his instance, Mr. Stone will write a work to be performed, and perhaps recorded, by an as -yet-undesignated area group.
The composer has lived and worked in the bucolic community for several years.
“When we first discovered Falls Village, we only came on weekends,” he explained. “We found a house and loved it. Then my son, Elijah, who is almost 5, was born, and I realized I was supporting three places. My wife and I decided to move here and from the day we left the city, I have never looked back.”
Mr. Stone, who is now a single father, still conducts business in New York City, but prefers to make day trips. “I work with clients in Los Angeles, New York and Boston, but when I first got here, I realized it would be hard to develop new clients,” he said. “Now technology has caught up. I can deliver music to my New York clients faster now than when I was in the city. I used to have to mail or deliver a disc – now I press a button and they have it in 45 seconds.”
The move has also opened new career vistas the composer never contemplated while working in his New York studio. “After all those years of being alone -- working by myself until the last few hours when you call in the musicians and the singers – I am developing skills I didn't know I had,” he said. “I have become a teaching artist with the Connecticut Commission on Tourism and now I have started the Village Voices – a multi generational group of singers. My youngest singer is 6 and my oldest is 80. I am musical director for the Falls Village Children's Theater and teach classes as part of that – it is something I want to purse. And I found that people like to hear me play and realized I knew how to perform, so I do 15 to 20 dates as a solo performer each year. Being up here, I have been able to diversify in ways I didn't do in the city.”
He dreams of starting a “Select Ensemble,” composed of the best young musicians in the area. “Some of the kids here have staggering musical skills,” he said. He is looking for funding to underwrite the project.
Although his career is moving in unexpected directions, the backbone of Mr. Stone's professional life is still his composition, working for clients such as 20th Century Fox, The Smithsonian Institution, CBS News, MTV, A&E, HBO, MoMA and the like.
Composing is a solitary activity, he said, and it is one he undertakes in a comfortable little studio on Main Street. Quiet and secluded, the studio is equipped with a handful of instruments and a bank of technologically sophisticated equipment on which he “polishes like a gem” the varied music that flows from his fertile mind.
That quality was evident early in life. “I went to a high school class reunion once,” he recounted, “and a former classmate said I had always played 'real' music. I've played a lot of different music, but I always knew I could make it come to life.”
He said that he studied all different types of musical instruments and even composition in his childhood. “My parents were always good like that,” he said. “They would get me lessons when I asked for them. When I was 12 or 13, my mother got a harp and I loved it. Within weeks I had taught myself to play it. I think the first thing I played on it was the music from [the move] 'Deliverance.' I studied wind instruments, stringed instruments, the guitar, percussion – for a while I was a serious drummer and , when I was 10, I studied with the percussionist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“But then I realized that when I went to the piano I could play what I was feeling. If I had gotten a piece of good news, I might play like this” -- he sat at his piano and banged out a rollicking tune -- “but if I were feeling reflective, it might be more like this.” His fingers slowed and he played quieter, more melodious chords. “It was just there in my fingers, he concluded.
Further, he found that the piano answered his musical needs. “Because I needed to be involved with the music a lot, I found that piano was where I could go to make the most variety of sounds. For composition, there is nothing like a piano.”
This musical outpouring had started at age 5, but he was not the only prodigy in his family. “My older brother, Steve, is more naturally accomplished than I am,” said the composer. “He's a great singer and an accomplished songwriter with a natural skill I don't have. For me, making music is an act of will. He was the one who brought home the music and introduced me to his musical idols. Those idols helped me define a lot of things.”
Indeed, Mr. Stone used his musical heroes to help him develop his own skills. “I learned how to copy what my idols were doing,” he said. “It was kind of a parlor trick. I could play the exact parts played by Stevie Wonder or Elton John. I could play Randy Newman's and James Taylor's music – gorgeous complicated piano and guitar pieces. You think you are hearing simple music, but try to play it. It is made to float.”
Later, he carried this intense concentration on the music of others into the realm of classical music, copy scores he took out of the misc library at Lincoln Center. “I don't know how many hours I spent poring over [the Lincoln's Center's] stacks,” he said. “I copied the works of all the great composers. I wanted to understand their scoring – how they got the effects they achieved. I would play the different parts into a bank of samplers and in that way I made a series of pieces that I could use in various ways.”
He studied at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., a liberal arts college that fosters individual programs of study negotiated with with faculty mentors, before making his way to New York City to begin his career. His compositional career was still in the future, though, as he found employment working for a comedy club. “I would play five seconds of music every 15 minutes for five hours,” he said. “It was really fun – Paul Reiser and [Jerry] Seinfeld were both there at that time. Then I would accompany dancers, both classical and modern.”
He was getting along, but his future was about to call. “Along the way, a lot of the guys I came up through school with were starting to produce films and television series and they asked if I could score their projects,” he explained. “I bought an early sampler – it is really primitive now, but I still use it sometimes. Now I have 45 different [electronic] components that all speak to each other and I have learned how to create my pieces on them, to polish the pieces I write to perfection. [When I compose a piece] I know it will work because it will match the project.”
He said that the projects dictate the kind of music composed. “Sometimes a picture will lead me to write something I would not have though of, but that has a life of its own,” he explained. He flipped a switch and filed the studio with the insisted thud of drums underneath a clashing cacophony. He briefly immersed himself in the jungle of sound, playing air guitar, before switching it off and saying, “That was pretty noisy. That was for Kawasaki. Compare it to this.”
Immediately the sounds of a live string orchestra filled the room as his hands moved through the air over an imaginary keyboard.
He followed the string orchestra with a frolicsome piece – the chase scene in the film “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend,” and contrasted that to another chase scene piece created for “Uganda” part of the Hallmark series “Children of War.” In the second piece, an African beat creates a feeling of tension and dread. “That was the music from when they abducted the student from the school,” he said.
In a unique assignment for the series he was asked to write a “language” that meant nothing, but that sounded African to be sung by the Ndere Troupe. He composed the pieces without ever meeting his singers before the recording session. “I built and played all the instrumental tracks before the Ndere Troupe came. We had tracks and tracks of hand percussion. Then we recorded 48 minutes of music in four hours,” he said enthusiastically. “It was such a great experience for me.”
“I do what I can afford,” he continued. “I hire as many players and singers as the job will afford, but first I basically create an image in my mind of a sound stage and picture the people standing in front of me with the instruments.”
Moving from the sounds of Africa, he slipped back to a Depression-era America, recalling an A&E documentary on living Berlin. “I needed to learn swing for that one,” he remembered. But the biggest challenge came in a sequence about Berlin's friendship with dancer Fred Astaire.
Berlin became friendly with Astaire when they were making “Top Hat,” he said. “In one sequence, they played the movie's recording of 'Dancing Cheek to Cheek,' then cut to a narration in a hotel room, and then back to the original recording. I had to write music to link the two segments and record an orchestra in the same key and tempo to go from the movie's music to mine, and back to the original orchestra and make it seamless.”
He declared the results “very satisfactory,” although he gave a share of the credit to the musicians, “some of whom knew more about the music than I did.”
Today, Mr Stone continues to find pleasure in his compositions, but is also finding satisfaction in teaching a new generation of musicians. He said that in his work with the Falls Village Children's Theater, he tries “to make music come to life” for the students.
“The worst thing you can do is force a kid to practice,” he said. “That equates music to something odious. In my teaching, I try to make music fungible, pliable and accessible. I get them to play in time, but at their skill level. Then I try to get them to grow a little, to seek excellence. I just want them to be as excellent as they can be – at whatever level – and to find the joy of being part of making music. It is not the point to try to make them become professionals – the point is that you can do more than you think you can.”