A Q&A with Composer/Songwriter/Producer/Pianist Denise Gentilini

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  1.  Denise, what is your background in music, and how did you get started composing, songwriting, and playing the piano?

    For as long as I can remember, I have always played an instrument. My parents purchased an organ when I was eight – and from there I went to guitar, then to piano, writing original songs at a very early age. I attended junior college for 3 years studying music but decided not to continue. Having always played by ear, it was important for me to learn music theory and to speak the language and having that knowledge helped me further my career.

  2. You have done so many amazing projects!   I am curious to hear about We Are Voices ‐ For A Future Without Genocide, which won a regional Emmy (and you have won 3 of these awards throughout your career, if I’m not mistaken).  Can you tell us about this project, what inspired it, and how you accomplished it?

    Having grandparents who were survivors of the Armenian Genocide provided the inspiration to write songs that tackled difficult issues and created awareness. When I relocated to Colorado in 2002, I discovered a wonderful music community. Working with new people got me thinking that I could create an educational concert with genocide scholars who could speak to the history and current world issues and I could surround those speeches with original music that spoke to the cause. And who doesn’t want to hear their own music played with a full orchestra? What a treat that was and it garnered me a Regional Emmy® award for the audio mix. (To date, I have won 4 Regional Emmys.)

  3. In addition to composing , you are also a songwriter and producer.  I’d love to hear more about how you wear these different hats, and what work resonates the most with you.

    I loved to write songs when I was young – but what I also loved was recording. I had two cassette decks and I used them to create “multitrack recording” – before there was such a thing. I used to love to add my vocals, guitar, bass and sometimes even drums – all instruments that I would play for fun. It taught me how to arrange which led me to producing later in life. Once I began writing instrumentals, I discovered my interest in film scoring. I produced many artists when I was still living in Los Angeles but since I’ve been in Colorado, I now mostly produce my own projects. Composing, songwriting and producing all live under one hat for me.

  4. You scored and produced The Handjian Story: A Road Less Traveled, which is about your own grandparents.  What was it like working on a story that I assume is quite close to you?  What is it like both producing and scoring a film?

    The Handjian Story: A Road Less Traveled was truly a labor of love. I grew up knowing my grandparents and their history so as they were nearing the end of their lives, I knew I had to capture their stories. This project was also my first feature length film score. The amazing part of the journey was having my mother translate Armenian to English and while doing that she actually learned things about her parents that she did not know until that moment. So many Armenians were reluctant to speak of the atrocities and relive the horrors – so it was no surprise that previously unknown stories were discovered. This film score was the first Regional Emmy award I received, among other awards that my grandmother was present to witness. Those moments were probably the most rewarding of all, to have her there.

  5. Not only are you an accomplished musician, but I see you’re also involved in raising awareness for social issues.  I’d love to hear more about how music and activism  intertwine for you, and if you combine these two passions for projects?

    Springboarding off the We Are Voices Concert in 2009, I embarked on writing my first musical. In 2014, as we were approaching the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in April 2015, I wanted to do something new to bring awareness – so a musical seemed the logical choice. I invited my co-writer, Lisa Nemzo, in to help. After three fully produced shows, 2 in Denver and 1 in Glendale, California, the project came to an end when I produced a “Concept Recording” of I Am Alive – the musical – containing thirty-five songs. I invested seven years on this project and it remains one of my greatest accomplishments to date.

    In addition to genocide awareness, I have written songs that speak to LGBTQ rights, Autism awareness, homelessness and I am currently working on a new song and music video for climate change awareness. I have always been motivated to write about issues, though I do love a good love song!

     

  6. I know Carly Simon has been an inspiration to you throughout your musical career, are there any other influences you feel inspire you in your craft?  People or projects? 

    Carly Simon was the reason I taught myself to sing and play guitar and then piano. I think I copied a lot of her style of songwriting, too. She had a style that made sense to me and I created my own style from listening to her, Carole King and James Taylor. As for other influences, well, what film composer doesn’t admire John Williams? I spend a lot of my time studying his work and using it to hone my skills as an orchestrator.

  7. Have you got any exciting projects you are currently working on?  Are you able to share with us?

    As I mentioned earlier, I am currently writing and producing a song that speaks to climate change and global warming. I am bringing in musical theatre singers along with mainstream singers to create a kind of “We Are The World” type production. There will also be a music video to accompany the song. I am very excited about this project as it involves the kind of big production.
    Check out the AWFC directory for Denise

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