Joshua Stone rehearsing with students at St. Peters/St. Francis School in Torrington, CT.

Joshua Stone, composer, finds home in Falls Village

January, 31, 2008

FALLS VILLAGE - It's what so many people feel when they move to the Northwest Corner, and the reason why this town feels like such a haven, especially to former city dwellers. It's a sense of community and extended family.

Joshua Stone, who composes music for movies, television shows and commercials, moved to Falls Village in 1999, part-time at first and then full-time in 2002. Computers, the Internet and other ultramodern technologies allow him to live in an old-fashioned house in the center of this rural little burg.

He loves it, especially the feeling that he is part of something larger than just himself, his family, his career.

"I've lived in Boston, New York, Chicago, Boulder, spent a lot of time in Los Angeles and I've never felt anything like the sense of community that I feel in the Northwest Corner," he said.

It feels like home. And for many people, a home feels most like home when there are children running around, one's own as well as the offspring of one's neighbors. Stone has been generous with his time and skills, teaching classes and working with children's groups in the area. He has been particularly active with the Falls Village Children's Theater.

Acclaim for his work has spread, and in addition to being asked to provide theme music for the national ad campaign for one of the presidential candidates, he was also invited this year to create a music workshop at a school in Torrington.

St. Peter/St. Francis School principal Jo-Anne Gauger was seeking an innovative way for her students to observe National Catholic Schools Month in January. The school had sponsored a series of concerts last summer, so Gauger brainstormed with the school's advancement coordinator, Lisa Juliano-Coudriet (she was the event organizer for the concert series, as well as for a schoolwide art project last January). Juliano-Coudriet was familiar with Stone and his work "and it struck me that Josh would be a good fit for us."
They asked the composer to come up with a project that could include every child in the school, from pre-kindergarten to grade eight.

Stone came up with a project that would take advantage of state-of-the-art recording equipment that is tiny and extremely accurate; and the computer composing software that he uses in his work. Each child in the school was asked to answer a question: What does home mean to you? Their answers were layered together in a single choral composition, which the students performed earlier this month onstage for the school community. It is now on the St. Peter/St. Francis Web site and will be used in ads for the school. Students can download the song and use it as a ringtone on a cell phone.

The whole on-campus portion of the project was completed in four days.
Everyone at the school was pleased with the outcome of the project, even the students, including many who didn't realize that they had any musical skills. Stone compared it to the Disney "High School Musical" films.

"Sometimes the kids who get on the choir and band track aren't the most musical kids," he noted. And often there are students who don't get on the choir and band track who do have musical gifts.

One of the most exciting parts of the project to Stone was seeing how much school spirit swelled as the students worked together.

"There were times when I'd work with one group of kids and the rest of the kids in that class would cheer them on, like it was sports," he said. Even when Stone wasn't on campus, "the principal said the kids were singing in the hallways. They really felt ownership of this because they had made it, it was their own piece of music."

Stone hopes to take the project template that he created for St. Peter/St. Francis and bring it back "home" to the Region One School District, perhaps as part of the region's artist-in-residence program. The theme would be similar to "home," but on a larger scale.

"The theme could be 'My Town,'" Stone suggested. "And each school could create their own piece of music about their town."

Such a song could live on for years, on Web sites and at school assemblies. Perhaps an equally important legacy would be the excitement that Stone seems to generate in youngsters for music. He is an ebullient man to say the least, a veritable Ricochet Rabbit of creative energy when he is surrounded by musical instruments and computers.

Young people pick up on his energy and excitement, and learn something from him that is perhaps the most important lesson one can share about music: It's fun.

At school, music is often presented to young learners as something historical and static; great pieces composed a century or more ago are presented for study. This project brings music to life.

Stone credits his unconventional attitude toward music to the fact that he was never forced to study it. In fact, he sort of "snuck in" after-school classes in music the way that some young people sneak in trips to the mall or the ballfield.

"My parents were big fans of the arts and always said we could take any classes we wanted," Stone said. "So I took a lot of classes, sometimes five at a time."

He studied music in college (somewhat to his parents' chagrin), and then had an early Tin Pan Alley-type career in New York City, accompanying ballet and modern dancers and playing at a comedy club, before he fell into composing scores for film and television. He also spent time holed up in the music library at Lincoln Center, studying orchestral scores and learning that, for him at least, there are really only two kinds of classical music.

"There is music composed for the concert hall, and that's music that is serious and important," he said. "The composers are looking toward their legacy. And then there's music composed for theaters, the overtures and the ballets. They're fun and full of life and have a narrative."

The fun is what continues to draw Stone to composing and he tries to impart that sense of fun in his compositions and to the students he teaches.

"I have access to something that most people don't have access to, the conduit to joy," he said. "That's what it feels like, even if it sounds corny. And I know how to impart it."
And why does music remain fun for him?

"Probably," he said with a grin, "because no one ever told me I had to do it."