Composer Dana Lund Gains High Praise For Her Debut In “The Dark Horse”

By: Marjorie Galas

Native New Zealander Dana Lund was still studying music in college when she got involved with “The Dark Horse.”  Her first involvement was solely on a personal level, sharing thoughts on the story with scribe James Napier Robertson.   Little did she know the project would grow in scope, ultimately leading to her first composing credit.  Her work on “The Dark Horse” also resulted in her first award win, for Best Score in the 2014 New Zealand Film and TV Awards.

“James (“The Dark Horse” writer/director) met while I was in LA studying music,” recalled Lund.  “He asked for feedback as a friend.  I read the first draft in 2009.”

After reading the second draft and sharing additional thoughts, Robertson asked Lund if she would provide a CD of some of her piano pieces.  She had no idea he was listening to her work as he was reworking the script until he asked if she would compose the score.

“I was so excited to be asked,” said Lund.  “At the time, I don’t think I realized how big the film would be.”

In addition to her win for best score, the film received five awards including best script, director and picture for Robertson, two acting awards, and seven additional nominations in the New Zealand Film and TV Awards.  The film has also nabbed top honors in film festivals around the globe and is about to be nationally distributed in the US.

“The Dark Horse” follows a brilliant but troubled chess champion who finds a new purpose in life when he begins teaching chess – and life lessons – to a group of under – privileged youth.  Robertson encouraged Lund to experiment with the sound.  While he described the tone and mood of specific scenes, he provided few notes or direction regarding musical motifs.  His only request was to incorporate chime sounds – relating to a pivotal scene that features a wind chime.  Proficient on the piano, Lund was excited by the opportunity to explore sounds, and chose to learn how to play cello, an instrument that provided the backbone for the score.

“I layered recordings of the cello to create a gritty sound,” said Lund.  “It resembles the gritty part of his world filled with gang life.”

The piano is lightly woven throughout the score, used to emphasize sophistication and intelligence.   To emulate chimes, Lund used glass as an auxiliary percussion instrument, recording the tones made when different types of glass was struck.  The chimes appear at times throughout the score to emphasize creativity and imagination.  Lund experimented with filters, augmenting the cello sounds, creating more of a woodwind sound at times.  Always careful not to create any specific theme, Lund focused on developing a score that would usher the viewer through the roller coaster ride of emotions that Genesis (Cliff Curtis) and his band of protégés experience.

For her second composing project. Lund is reteaming with Robertson on a script he is writing loosely based on Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s seventh symphony.  She’s in the early stages of analyzing the score of the symphony to understand its intentions, both emotionally and musically.  Looking back on her work in “The Dark Horse,” Lund is primarily thankful for the opportunity to have her first professional experience.

“I learned everything about the process; it was all a first,” said Lund.  “It was like I was back in school, doing a tutorial, constantly learning.”