Angela Morley


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 Arranger has scored many successes

By Kenneth LaFave
Published in The Arizona Republic

 When superstar composer-conductor John Williams needs a difficult arrangement made or a new film score orchestrated, he sometimes dials a number in Scottsdale. The phone is answered by a woman with an elegant British accent.

She’s Angela Morley, and you’ve heard her work, whether you know it or not. You’ll hear some of it this week on CBS, when the unlikely combination of chanteuse Patti Lupone and cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform a duet with the Boston Pops on Evening at Pops. Williams leads the orchestra as its conductor laureate. (The show will be seen It 8 p.m. Thursday on Channel 8—KAET.)

Williams had engaged Lupone to sing a John Bucchino song called Unexpressed, a Broadway-flavored ballad from her catalog. But, how to fit in the contrasting classical talent of the evening’s other guest, Yo-Yo Ma? That was the challenge when Williams called Morley.

Morley proceeded to boot her computer, grab the mouse and click into place a counter-melody for Ma that lifted the song into an entirely different dimension.

It’s the fate of the arranger to make such major differences while getting minor credit, but that doesn’t bother the 75-year-old native of Leeds, England.

“If I can write countermelodies for the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.” Morley says, pondering, “well, that’s very satisfying, isn’t it? I’m very happy to be in that sort of company.”

Bell and Perlman are still other classical superstars who have benefited recently from Morley’s crossover savvy. But a complete list of performers whose music has owed in part to Morley’s arranging or orchestration skills would go on for several feet. She’s penned arrangements for Mel Tormé, Benny Goodman, Julie Andrews and Rosemary Clooney.

She got into arranging after starting off as a saxophonist in World War II England and she branched into film and television scoring. Morley cinematic orchestrations are unavoidable.

“Do you know the scene in Star Wars where Luke goes down into the Death Star trench and the voice says ‘Use the Force, Luke?’” Morley asks, as if anyone would not know the famous moment. That’s my orchestration.” So is the ice-palace music in Superman. (“Lots of sliding glissando’ she says, in a disapproving tone.) And scenes in a parade of films scored by Williams and others, including E.T, The Empire Strikes Back, The Right Stuff, Karate Kid and The Verdict. She has also provided what the film biz calls “source music,” or music that happens in real time within the movie. The Viennese waltzes in Schindler’s List are her arrangements. Ditto the Christmas songs in Home Alone.

Three Emmies on Morley’s mantelpiece attest to the level of her arranging skills. She won in 1984 for the network special Christmas in Washington; in 1987 for Julie Andrews in Concert; and in 1990, again for a Julie Andrews–related project The Sound of Christmas.

Morley had awful luck starting out in music. Three months after her father got her a piano, he died, and the family’s new circumstances meant that the lessons and the instrument disappeared.

Then there was the incident with the anti–musical grandfather.

“At age 10, I had a month-long love affair with the violin,” Morley recalls.  “My grandfather, a prankster who didn’t like the violin, smeared butter on my bow and very effectively brought my violin career to an end.”

Against all odds, young Angela insisted on a musical career, eventually taking up the saxophone and playing in some of England’s biggest big bands. At age 26, she put down the horn and turned to writing, and she has never looked back.

After scoring films in England, the success of her music for the 1977 film Water-ship Down encouraged her to make the move to Hollywood, which she did in 1980. That began a halcyon decade of TV work, including background scores for Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest.

A self-confessed refugee to Arizona from ‘The very big, very scary” 1994 LA earthquake, Morley now writes less often than before.

“I’ve had my fill of TV and I can’t seem to get any feature films,” she says.

Her most recent passion: the choir of the Alliance Francaise of Greater Phoenix, which she conducts for alliance functions and on two privately distributed CDs.

But when the phone rings and John Williams needs her help, chances are she won’t say no.

Angela's Website is at

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