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Shark Week: Composer J. Ralph hopes music can help change the public's perception of sharks

by Michelle Lanz and Natalie Given | The Frame

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Composer J. Ralph. C. Taylor Crothers

J. Ralph is an Academy Award-nominated composer best known for creating song and scores for many documentary films of the last decade, including "The Cove," "Virunga" and "Chasing Ice." 

But his latest project is on a much smaller scale and a much smaller screen. Ralph composed an original symphonic work for Discovery Channel's Shark Week, which is currently underway.

"Shark Week" is the week of shows in which the cable channel hopes to promote the awareness of these endangered and misunderstood animals — though the network’s been criticized in the past for featuring programs with questionable science.

Ralph's intentions with this new work are to give a makeover to the majority of the population's pre-established notions regarding sharks. By composing a piece that evokes feelings of awe and power, Ralph says he believes we can begin to associate more positive emotions with an animal that's important for the survival of our oceans and the health of our species. 

Composing, Ralph says, is something that is not easily done unless motivated by the importance of an issue.

It's very hard for me to do anything that I'm not completely invested in. I don't have an on/off switch that allows me to throttle down the intensity of how I get involved in something. If it's somebody that I feel really needs to be known because it would be incredibly inspiring for the world to embrace this person, then I kind of have to do it. If it's a critically important issue that I feel is affecting many people then I need to get involved.

Ralph's six-and-a-half minute composition named after his daughter, "Theodora," is a 151-piece symphonic work that was recorded at Arthur Pingrey by the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Voices Choir and solo violinist Joshua Bell. Ralph says he named the piece after his daughter in order to draw attention to how the next generation will be affected by the declining shark population.

I wanted to name the piece for her because it is her generation that will inherit the problems of the ocean, and her generation who could save and change these problems. We wanted to focus on the majesty and awe of these incredible creatures. They've been around for about 450 million years. They regulate the entire ocean and the coral reefs. About 100 million sharks are being killed each year. If the sharks fall and the oceans become unregulated by them, then we become affected by them. So we're in a symbiotic relationship with them. If we don't help preserve them, we're going to be in a big trouble.

Ralph's piece differs from what was previously associated with sharks. While Ralph holds John Williams' "Jaws" score in high regard, Discovery's Shark Week requires a different ambience because of its differing nature.

Well I mean, it's one of the best pieces of music ever written, undoubtedly. John's score there is exactly perfect for that story and that emotion. This is just a different perspective. We're just focusing on a different element of this incredible species that is so important to our survival.

However, hopefully the music can cast a lasting and contrasting impression on how the audience views sharks — the same way Williams' piece did — and create dialogue about how, as frightening as sharks may be, they are essential.

 We set out to provide people with a different perspective to look at. You can't just put everything in the world in a perfect box. Sometimes things that are dangerous are essential to our survival. All we can hope to do is start a conversation about how important they are as a species to our survival. 

For more information about "Theodora," head to SharksRescored.com.

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