February 25, 2002 Vol. VI, No. 11

Professor Helps Give Musical Voice to the 2002 Olympics

Elizabeth Sellers Compiles Musical Medley for Opening Ceremony's Parade of Athletes

It was one of the most moving highlights of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City: several thousand athletes marching into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies as several billion people worldwide watched and listened on television.

As the music swelled, Cal State Northridge assistant music professor Elizabeth Sellers, (right)sitting at home with her husband, was nearly overcome with joy-but for a different reason. Along with the rest of the world, Sellers was now hearing the Olympic musical medley that she had compiled for the opening ceremony's parade of athletes. The melody that accompanied the marching athletes-a mix of already recorded contemporary and upbeat classical music-was in fact a 20-minute medley of 14 different musical segments that Sellers had compiled and blended, working for the ceremonies' music director and executive producer.

Originally, the plan was for the 20-minute medley to be repeated once, giving about 40 minutes of musical coverage for the marching Olympians. But because of the number of athletes and the pace of the February 8 proceedings, Sellers said the medley actually was at least into its third rendition before it was concluded.

As might be expected, the true story of Northridge music professor meets the Olympics also has its own share of Hollywood-esque elements.

In a real-life example of the industry maxim "It's who you know," Sellers' entrée into Olympics music came chiefly because she had previously worked for and was friends with fellow Valley resident Mark Watters, the multi-Emmy Award winning conductor and composer who had been chosen as music director for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Then, the first two months of Sellers' Olympic musical research in October and November-focusing on ethnic music and musical instruments from various countries-came to naught when producers decided not to proceed with that particular idea. So from late November on, Sellers' focus shifted to what finally became the parade of athletes segment.

To compile the medley, Sellers said she spent many hours sifting through music collections, finding likely segments, and taking those to Watters, who then cleared them through executive producer Don Mischer. After some chosen segments were enhanced, Sellers then imported the music onto a computer for mixing and sequencing to get the final CD.

But in an example of suspense to the very end, Sellers wasn't certain, until her musical medley actually began broadcasting, that it would be featured in the Olympic opening ceremonies. She had submitted the final version on compact disc nearly two weeks earlier as Watters left for Salt Lake City, but then had heard nothing since.

Finally, after the opening ceremonies were done and word spread about Sellers' involvement, a common question among her Music Department peers and others was what particular music segments had she used in the medley. But at least until the Olympic Games had passed, Sellers was required to keep mum, bound by a confidentiality agreement.

On a personal level, Sellers nonetheless views her Olympic assignment as a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Indeed, the television broadcast of the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City was the highest-rated ever for the Olympics, summer or winter, drawing an estimated 72 million viewers in the United States alone.

But from a university perspective, Sellers also sees her Olympic assignment as one of the many special kinds of opportunities that come to faculty in Northridge's highly rated Music Department set in the San Fernando Valley, which is the heart of California's entertainment industry.

Throughout the department, faculty members regularly hone their musical crafts in real-world settings, and then bring that experience back to the classroom. "I feel it's critical for us as faculty members to be in the real working world," Sellers said, "because we can't guide our students if we're not active in our profession."

Sellers' role with the Olympics did not surprise Jerry Luedders, chair of the Music Department(right). "This is a normal part of what our faculty does," Luedders said. "We feel the faculty needs to be active in the profession so we're not educating the students just in the abstract or theory."

Other faculty examples cited by Luedders include Matt Harris, who heads the campus jazz program while also keeping busy in the L.A. studio scene as a writer, arranger and performer, and choral program head Paul Smith, who also conducts the World Youth Choir.

Sellers came to Northridge in fall 1999 to oversee the Music Department's media composition program, a newly reshaped option available to Northridge music majors who want to do music for films, television, musical theater and similar ventures. (See the accompanying article at left).

Prior to Northridge, Sellers had completed the score and title song for a yet-to-be-released independent feature film, composed music for documentaries and done session conducting work in Los Angeles. She previously spent 11 years as music director for both the Helena and Bozeman Symphony Orchestras in Montana.

@csun | February 25, 2002 issue
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