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NPR's Special Coverage Theme Music

audio iconTheme Music

NPR has received a number of e-mails inquiring about the music we are using to introduce our special coverage of the war in Iraq. It was written and recorded by Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr, a producer in NPR's Arts Information Unit. In an essay for, Freymann-Weyr writes about the process of composing the piece.

I was working for NPR's classical music show Performance Today at the time of Sept. 11, 2001. As it became clear that the United States was going to be doing something military in response, the question arose, was there a fitting piece of music that might be used if there needed to be "Special Coverage" -- either for another crisis in the States, or, as it happened, an attack on Afghanistan.

The difficulty in finding an appropriate pre-existing piece for this unprecedented situation led me to try to write something of my own, in my home studio.

The challenge was that it needed to be serious but not gloomy, not overly militaristic or flag-waving; but, as NPR coverage would seek to be, trustworthy. I also was aware that an event sufficiently big to cause NPR to break format and go into extended coverage would likely bring with it an enormously wide range of reactions, emotions and opinions.

I experimented with several ideas. Although trumpet, timpani and military snare drums are a bit of a cliché, it didn't feel right not to use them, given the history of music in times of war.

In the first draft that I played for NPR Senior Vice President for Programming, Jay Kernis, the opening theme in the trumpet was a little more simple. Ultimately, I tinkered it into its current shape during a phone call from my home studio, holding the phone up to speakers and trying one thing, then another.

One thing I tried to do in the harmony was to introduce the ambiguity that (I hoped) would keep it from going too far in either direction -- overly traditionally patriotic, or overly morose. Even though the piece is centered around the key of C, I purposely avoided the one note that would make it either major or minor -- all of the "C" chords, instead of E or E-flat, have a D and F natural instead. (I realized, after the fact, these intervals are a 9th and an 11th above the root.)

The bombing of Afghanistan began on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001. I was putting the final touches on the music as I heard the news. I wrapped it up as quickly as I could, and drove the music to NPR. It was on the air starting the following day, primarily as a temporary theme for Talk of the Nation, which was stretched to double its normal size, providing news updates, analysis, and coverage of live press conferences. (This was also in the midst of the anthrax mailings).

Fortunately, there followed a fairly long period during which my theme sat on the shelf, so to speak.

As NPR was preparing to cover the war in Iraq, I was asked to make a few subtle changes, and to provide alternate versions of varying lengths for use throughout programming hours. Now, when events warrant, and the determination is made to go to continuous coverage, the theme I wrote is used. (Although Morning Edition hasn't used mine, they have been using an alternate theme recently.)

I have to say I'd much rather my music got this kind of exposure under different circumstances, but I'm glad to have had the chance to contribute in some way to NPR's coverage of these monumental events.

More of Freymann-Weyr's Music

audio iconMusic for the NPR classical music special "Milestones of the Millennium, edited together by Jeffrey

audio iconDuet from "Flowerskin Fields"

About Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr
Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr is a producer for NPR's Arts Information unit. He was a music theory major at the University of Michigan School of Music, and worked as a radio news anchor/reporter for two years in New Hampshire before going to Berklee College of Music in Boston to study film scoring. He worked at two recording studios in New York City, and has written music for advertising, film and dance. His wife, Garret Freymann-Weyr, is the author of several young adult novels.