Smile Politely

The sound of a House of Cards

The increasingly iconic television series House of Cards, about a congressman vying for political revenge, has garnered significant praise and attention for its rather scathing portrayal of politics and its almost immaculate production and acting. A major contribution to these accolades happens to be the compositions of the four-time Emmy award winning composer of the series, Jeff Beal. This Saturday, he will be making a special guest appearance playing a trumpet concerto during CUSO’s Power of Music series of shows. In addition to this, Beal will be hosting two pre-performance lectures this Friday at OLLI in downtown Champaign where he will answer questions about his work both on the show and off.

Beal, a jazz player himself, has created several full-length albums of improvisational jazz before settling into a career of film scores.  As a result, a large part of his playing is deeply influenced by this trademark improvisation and classical music as a whole. Drawing on this illustrious set of influences, he has composed for several other well known series and films such as Rome, Blackfish, and Monk, providing his iconic sound to set the the mood and overall pacing for the audience.

I was graced with the opportunity to speak with Mr. Beal to get a better grasp on what exactly will be in the shows and lectures.

Smile Politely: I understand that there will be two prior lectures in the days approaching the show. Could you you share with us the subject matter of both (if they are different) and if there might be any academic background needed for them?

Jeff Beal: I’ll be showing some clips from my work. If students have never seen Pollock I’d recommend they see that film, as I’lll probably show a few clips from that. I show and talk about a few clips from House Of Cards. If they’d like to watch either House of Cards chapters 1, 26, and or 32 I’ll be discussing clips from some of those. I also plan to show some “work in progress” types of scenes — recent projects I’ve worked on, first with the “temp music” usually put in by the film editor, and then show the same scene with what I’ve composed to it.

Film music is a great way to show the creative process, and I think the lectures will be of interest to both the music students, but also anyone interested in the arts, storytelling, or film making or theater in general.

SP: In prior interviews you have stated that you were and still are influenced by jazz improvisation. Does the new Trumpet Concerto have your signature improvisational flair as a result of these influences?

Beal: Absolutely. The Trumpet Concerto, Alternate Route, is composed for orchestra and improvising trumpet soloist. Although the majority of the solo trumpet part is composed and notated, there are places in each of the movements where the soloist is given only chordal changes, without specific notes. This allows for the soloist to take inspiration in the movement, to react to what is happening, and create a solo. As I am a jazz musician myself, having released seven solo recordings as leader, trumpet and composer for my own jazz groups, I feel that jazz improvisation is part of my compositional language which I still enjoy exploring.

SP: I see from the program that the night will begin with selections from House of Cards, some of your darker, more intense work, and end on a brighter note from your earlier days, with selections from Pollock. What do you see as the main reason for the contrast between the two?

Beal: Both of these works are inspired by powerful characters and portrayals by world-class actors. I am motivated by the depth of the actors’ performances and characterizations. In House of Cards, Kevin Spacey gives bravura performances as Frank Underwood. Robin Wright, and the rest of the cast — as well as the superb writers and directors, give me a wealth of inspiration. The music for this series is dramatic, at times conspiratorial, dark and threatening, at other times, when dealing with Frank and Claire’s marriage or other relationships, the music can reflect love, intimacy, heart break and yearning.

Pollock, the film inspired by the life of artist Jackson Pollock, was directed [by] and stars the inimitable Ed Harris. Ed’s portrayal was inspired and I loved collaborating with him. He studied painting and worked hard to recreate Pollock’s athletic, almost balletic style of painting. Ed gave me a blank canvas (pun intended!) on which to create, and I loved the experience of composing for his portrayal of the creative, more manic episodes of Pollock’s life, as well as his marriage and romance with Lee Krastner, and his darker, depressed and alcohol-fueled episodes.

Both projects connect to the full spectrum of the human experience, the heights and depths.They both have allowed me to use my compositional voice to reflect my own emotive understanding of human drama.

I’m very fortunate to enjoy my scoring work—filmed drama has provided me a springboard to explore a variety of compositional styles, yet still infuse the music with my own voice.


After listening to the soundtrack, I am eager  to go and see it myself, particularly the trumpet concerto that he has planned. I am especially fond of the Pollock album and its quirky attitude that will be showcased at the end of the show. If you’re a fan of the TV series or of any of the  films he has scored, check out the symphony for a new way to enjoy his work.

The performance is Saturday, January 30th, at  7:30 p.m. Beal will lecture at OLLI this Friday at 11 a.m.  in the M2 Building at 301 N. Neil St, Suite 201, Champaign, and requires pre-registration. Another presentation of this lecture will be held directly preceding the concert, at 6 p.m. in the Krannert Center Lobby, and is free and open to the public. Tickets for the performance itself are $40 general admission, $36 for senior citizens and $5 for U of I students and youth (high school and younger). Flex pricing is also available. Tickets are available online or by calling the ticket office at 217-333-6280.

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