CD Review: Cheshire Adventures

I first became aware of Edwin Wendler‘s music a few years ago when Screen Archives sent me a promo copy of his delightful score to WRONG HOLLYWOOD NUMBER with a big CD order I had placed. His album, CHESHIRE ADVENTURES, furthers the promise I heard in the earlier score.

CHESHIRE ADVENTURES is a series of shorts filmed as part of the film camp at Zeno Mountain Farm, an organization that runs camps for people with and without disabilities. The organization has homes in such varied places as Vermont, Florida, Guatemala, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Mexico, and Nantucket. Each camp has a the me filmmaking, theatre, and music, to high challenge sports, adventure travel, and art.

The Cheshire Film Camp began in 2004 in Venice, California. For two weeks every year, 40 actors gather to create a film. The films are not about disability but many of the actors have disabilities. While the films may not be up for Oscars anytime soon, they are heartwarming, inspiring, and pretty damn funny in spots. The actors, disabled and non-disabled, seem to be having a grand time and their passion is infectious.

CHESHIRE ADVENTURES brings together Wendler’s scores to three of those films. The scores are rich with melody, a variety of moods and styles, and genuine emotion.

The album begins with “The Return of the Muskrats,” a quasi-musical full of singing pirates, sword fights, and a damsel in distress. Wendler’s swashbuckling themes, pulsating rhythms, and chanting chorus give the score a touch of Korngold panache and excitement, yet it would sound at home in any summer blockbuster.

Cheshire Adventures – The Plank & Rescue
Click Track: The Plank & Rescue

In “Sky Squad Eagle Eight,” comic book aficionado Billy receives a mysterious message and joins his friends and an intrepid band of quasi-superheroes on an adventure to save the world. The score has more of a synth sound than the others on the album, but with its rousing main theme, it reminds me of those long-ago days when superheroes didn’t have so many issues and their accompanying scores had fun, memorable tunes.

Cheshire Adventures – Sky Squad Eagle Eight
Click Track: Sky Squad Eagle Eight

In “Selling the Future: The Adventure of Lenny Maloney,” Wendler gets to explore a variety of styles as Lenny travels back in time to find his uncle to borrow money to help his family’s failing car dealership. The musical moods shift from sci-fi sounds to pulsating action cues. In the “Time Travel” cue, Wendler musically accompanies Lenny’s travels from cavemen through the Renaissance (with a particularly amusing Jewish monk) and a folk guitar accompaniment for his stop during the Summer of Love.

Cheshire Adventures – Fixing Time
Click Track: Fixing Time

All of the staff at the various Zeno Mountain Farm camps are volunteers and receive no pay and no budget for their projects, and that includes Wendler. As such, he created all of the scores using orchestral samples. But don’t let that turn you off. It’s amazing how far technology has come from the synth sounds of the early 80’s, and the quality of the music is too good to let the non-acoustic element get in the way. While it would have been nice to hear the music performed by a live orchestra, the budgetary restraints prohibited it.

Without sounding condescending, this is music written from the heart. Evidently Wendler felt inspired by the professional and non-professional actors onscreen and, as a result, these scores are something special and rare. The music, while a thoroughly enjoyable listen on its own, takes on new life and poignancy when heard in context of the stories.

Make sure you visit the Zeno Mountain Farm site to see the films, and visit Wendler’s site or iTunes to hear more audio samples and to purchase the download release. If you don’t know his work already, you may discover a new composer, and 100% of the profits from the album sales go to funding the next film camp.

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