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When composer James Jandrisch sits down with a film or TV director to discuss a new project, the main item on the agenda is not the plot or the actors or what kinds of instruments he will use. “We’ll speak in emotion,” says Jandrisch, whose work on TV series such as Human Cargo, The Guard and Cold Squad has earned him two Gemini awards. “We’ll say, ‘I want happiness through here, I want sadness through here, I want empathy through here.’” Then Jandrisch must go away and locate these emotions in himself. “I find working on a drama, I can get pretty messed up,” he says. “I remember there was a scene that I did in one show where a child dies, and you know, you go there as an artist, to try to get wherever you’re going. You imagine your own child passing away.”
Jandrisch has been writing music, in one form or another, since he was a boy growing up in Winnipeg, where he spent long hours indoors (to escape the cold in winter and the mosquitoes in summer), playing around on keyboards brought home by his father, also a composer, who wrote music for Sesame Street. (“If you’re six, and your dad’s doing Sesame Street, how cool is that, right? You’d probably want to do the same thing too, if you were a kid,” he says.) Later on, in the early ’90s, after studying music at Humber College in Toronto, he moved to Vancouver, where he began his career, writing ditties for commercials, many of them in Mandarin, a language he couldn’t understand. He got his big break a few years later when he was asked to write the music for a British comedy called On the Nose, which starred Dan Aykroyd. Since then he has written music for 12 feature films and 16 television shows.
Right now he is working on Global’s new series Shattered, which will premiere this fall and which is about a detective who suffers from multiple personality disorder. Jandrisch had to develop different themes for the troubled cop’s various personalities: Ben, for example, who is serious and responsible, gets a base clarinet and a “traditional score,” while Harry, who is “kind of a yahoo,” is “very much an alt rock kind of guy…and so I’ll give him kind of twangy, out-of-tune guitars…. I have a large toolbox to try to get certain emotions,” he says.
Shattered’s season finale, during which the main character begins to understand certain root elements of his mental illness, is so charged that after watching it Jandrisch says he was affected for hours. “I’m dreading the fact that I’m going to have to write [the music for] this soon, because I know it’s going to f### me up,” he said. “I’m an emotional guy, for sure, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’m hired. You have to go there.”
- For a brief period after he graduated from high school, Jandrisch played professional football for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
- After Jandrisch wrote the theme song for a show about vampires called Blood Ties, a fan sent him a photo of her shoulder, upon which she had tattooed the piece’s lyrics.
- His first rule for composing is, “Get wired on caffeine as much as you can.”