The Music of 'The New Heroes'

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The PBS documentary The New Heroes tells the stories of a dozen social entrepreneurs, people who are committed to helping their communities escape poverty's grip. Producer Derek Rath examines the role music played in shaping the project.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Scotland this weekend, the leaders of the world's richest nations are meeting to discuss how to help the world's poorest. They might try to catch the conclusion of a new documentary series on public TV tonight. It's called "The New Heroes." It's about socially minded entrepreneurs whose business plans include alleviating poverty in their communities. Derek Rath talked to "New Heroes" producer Robert Grove and composer Christopher Hedge, who worked on music for the series and its accompanying CD.

DEREK RATH reporting:

"The New Heroes" runs like a reality TV show that for once lives up to the moniker. Devoid of prefabricated trauma and romance, it focuses instead on social entrepreneurs, people finding solutions to such problems as child prostitution in Thailand, sustainable farming in Africa and the recovery of hope for the hopeless right here in America. The optimism and inspiration in these stories is made manifest through the craft of the series' creators and their passion for the subject.

(Soundbite of music from "The New Heroes")

RATH: Robert Grove, co-producer with Michael Malone, is awestruck by the sheer determination of these social entrepreneurs.

Mr. ROBERT GROVE (Co-producer, "The New Heroes"): Number one, they look at a problem and they refuse to take no for an answer. They also refuse to wait around for somebody else to help. They don't believe in the bureaucracies or anything else. They believe that if you can give people a level playing field, if you can give them the tools with which to work and just inspire the human spirit and set it free, that people will, indeed, be able to do for themselves.

RATH: To bring their message home to a Western audience involves lights, camera, action and music, and that's why Robert sought the services of musician Christopher Hedge.

Mr. GROVE: We realized from the beginning that music was going to be a very, very important part of this program. And nobody else's name came up other than Chris' because we knew we could rely on two things. One is his depth of talent, which is only exceeded by his depth of character, and he has been fully committed to this and made this just come alive. He's given the show its voice.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: Christopher has a reputation for recording real sounds in the field with microphones attached to his head at ear level. He uses this technique to create an audio virtual reality that can be later incorporated into a studio environment.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HEDGE (Musician): Before the directors ever left to go shoot, I e-mailed and talked to them each about this idea of letting the `New Heroes' and the environments that they're in actually become the music. And so I had asked them to record and to capture things like, you know, if you're with a mother who's singing a lullaby to her child--OK, well, that's something that happened. If you're with a school group, make sure that you record those things because you know that I will be using those as the instruments.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: Chris' approach works well for "The New Heroes" because in many parts of the world, music is an integral part of daily life. As such, it becomes part of the narrative. Producer Robert Grove brings up the story of a Zambian farmer sheltering AIDS orphans.

Mr. GROVE: Now when we saw that story on paper, we knew it would be a good story, but we thought it would be a very dark, morose piece for all the obvious reasons. And, in fact, in that story, we had more music than any of the other pieces because these children start every morning and end every day gathered together singing a common song.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: We all look bright, huh?

Group of Children: (In unison) Yes.

Unidentified Woman: Can we have a common song before we have some announcements, please?

Group of Children: (Singing) Everybody's talking about love, everybody's talking about peace, everybody's talking about togetherness to make their way.

(Soundbite of music)

Group of Children: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. HEDGE: When you're seeing these stories, it's not really about the music or it's not about production, even the editing.

RATH: Christopher Hedge.

Mr. HEDGE: Those things in a way need to be transparent so that all of our attention is on the significance of what we're really seeing in front of us in these stories. They matter.

(Soundbite of "The New Heroes"; crowd noise)

Mr. KAILASH SATYARTHI: To begin with, I called the boy and asked him to tell his name. He was very timid. He was very slow and very shy.

RATH: Kailash Satyarthi risks his own life rescuing India's untouchables from bonded slavery.

(Soundbite of "The New Heroes")

Mr. SATYARTHI: Then I called another boy from Dejen who has lived in the same conditions. He was also a slave boy.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Mr. SATYARTHI: And each time they speak their name loudly, some sense of self-confidence grows inside.

(Soundbite of crowd noise; applause; song)

Group of Children: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: Often as not, these social entrepreneurs have little more than those they seek to help. Stark realities such as these have left musician Christopher Hedge and "New Heroes" producer Robert Grove humbled.

Mr. GROVE: I've been in broadcast 27 years. I've worked for, you know, all the major shows, the "Entertainment Tonights," the MTVs, the CNNs. I've never seen 12 stories like this in my life. These people really are the better angels of our nature. They're the new heroes of our time.

Mr. HEDGE: By being able to concentrate on these people and on the subject as the entire motivation for every single note is really an honor. So, yes, I would say being humbled is a perfect word.

RATH: For NPR News, I'm Derek Rath in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of song)

Group of People: (Singing in foreign language)

CHADWICK: The conclusion of "The New Heroes" airs tonight on PBS stations.

(Soundbite of song)

Group of People: (Singing in foreign language)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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