Writing the music to catch crooks by Annapolitan composes for TV's 'Most Wanted'

April 29, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Whenever she has a free Saturday night, Carol Nethen plunks down on the sofa to watch Fox TV's "America's Most Wanted."

But it isn't the gritty crime re-enactments that interest the 43-year-old Annapolis woman. It's the music that underscores the action that she wants to hear. It's her music.

Ms. Nethen has been writing the scores for "America's Most Wanted" for six years and watches the show frequently. "But I always hear the mistakes and am immediately imprinted with the thought, 'I'll never do that again,' " she says.

Despite the mistakes she hears, others must be impressed with her work. She says she has written about 9,600 works for schools, businesses, even the president of the United States.

About 2,400 of the compositions have been heard by millions of people nationwide as they watched one of the country's most popular TV programs.

"It's challenging, [and] it involves a lot of work," Ms. Nethen said.

Usually, she has 10 days from the time "America's Most Wanted" producers call until the episode airs. Much of that time is spent sending tapes back and forth and making requested changes.

"It's like working in an emergency room on a busy night," said Ms. Nethen. Her deadline is 48 hours before the episodes air on Saturdays, but "you never know what's going to happen next."

"Someone might hear it and want something different. That's when I have to decide whether to stay up all night or not."

To aid revisions, she has 12 synthesizers, a mixing board and a computer linked to her VCR. The computer times the music to the scenes, which helps Ms. Nethen write according to the situations in the show.

Ms. Nethen said her compositions for "America's Most Wanted" have three basic elements: high pace, an ability to be sympathetic to the victim in the scene and lots of percussive sounds.

But percussive doesn't just mean banging on drums, she says. With her synthesizers, she could get the sound of a hammer hitting an anvil, combined with shattering of glass and the boom of tympani.

The producers "want the music to be involved as much as possible in the shortest amount of time," she said. "I like to work with synthesized sounds in an unusual way, and 'America's Most Wanted' likes that."

The career is one that Ms. Nethen had dreamt of ever since she was a little girl growing up in Severna Park.

She began playing the piano when she was 5, graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with a bachelor's degree in music education and received a master's in music composition and production from the University of Miami in 1984.

That year, Ms. Nethen returned to the area when Maryland Public Television offered her an internship to write and compose music.

For the next three years, she worked beside MPT co-founder Don Swartz, learning the trade and honing her talent.

One of her proudest achievements was composing and conducting the musical accompaniment to an MPT documentary called "While Soldiers Fought."

With the help of the Annapolis Brass Quintet and members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Nethen created music she called a "social statement."

"That in the 20th century and in the 21st century, the boundaries will be stretched, and we will have to learn new ways to get along," she said. "It was very powerful and very meaningful. I couldn't speak at the end of the take."

Ms. Nethen left MPT in 1987, citing a desire to create her own work and make more money. She spent several thousand dollars for keyboards, sound mixers, and computer equipment and opened a free-lance composition business in an Eastport waterfront studio. There, she wrote and produced music for educational programs and businesses.

In 1990, Ms. Nethen released a contemporary instrumental album called "A View From the Bridge." Shortly after, she received a call from a friend who worked for "America's Most Wanted" and asked her to compose music for the show. She has been at it ever since.

"Whenever she's available, we snap her up for our segments," said Dave Bolton, a producer with the show. "She's a very creative person with a wonderful sense of picture and sound. When she composes music, it fits well with the picture."

In September, Ms. Nethen was commissioned by the U.S. Information Agency to compose and produce the music for a satellite broadcast to China. She wrote the score for President Clinton's entrance before he spoke to the Chinese audience.

For the next month, Ms. Nethen will be writing music to go with two children's books -- a different challenge for her.

"With children's educational music, you have to captivate their minds. They like to move around, they like repetition, and they like to sing songs that have meaning for them in their worlds."

Ms. Nethen is content with what she's doing now -- even if it means some sacrifices.

"I couldn't even go to my own funeral if I wanted to," she joked. "I'm beyond the point of no return."

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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