Dave Pierce '92

Training for the Olympics

  Dave Pierce

When Calgary, Alberta, Canada, hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, Dave Pierce '92, who lived in nearby Okotoks, watched the games with longing. Unlike most of his teenage peers, however, he wasn't dreaming of becoming a gold medalist, but rather of composing the music that added so much to the ceremonies. "I was on the sidelines for the closing ceremonies," Pierce recalls. "During those games, I had this overwhelming drive to be the guy who would do all the music the next time the Olympics came to Canada. For 22 years, every gig I've taken has been to develop the skills I'd need for the Olympics - if the opportunity was to come my way."

Now a composer and arranger with a huge list of impressive credits, Pierce got the chance of a lifetime when he received the call to serve as the music director for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. The work has been all-consuming and has drawn on all the talents Pierce has developed over two decades as a composer, arranger, producer, and conductor. His résumé lists credits for arranging and conducting music for artists such as Carrie Underwood, Michael Bublé, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Petula Clark, Barenaked Ladies, to name a few. He's also composed music for Cirque du Soleil and has orchestrated and adapted scores for the touring companies of such Broadway hits as 42nd Street, Crazy for You, Annie Get Your Gun, and others. Recently, Pierce was commissioned to compose a new work for Queen Elizabeth II, featuring a symphony orchestra and 1,000-voice choir. Suffice it to say that Pierce is completely comfortable creating and directing music for spectacular events.

Over the past year and a half, Pierce has worked countless 12-hour days with his staff to create nearly six hours of music to accompany a vast array of scenarios at the 2010 Winter Olympics. "I'm the music director for the opening ceremonies, the victory ceremonies for nightly medal awards, as well as the closing ceremonies," he says. "This involves a number of different elements including composition and arranging, as well as producing recordings and dealing with the business aspects of cue sheets and music clearance and all those sorts of issues that come along with tying up the worldwide broadcast rights for the music. I've also been arranging music for really high-profile artists and dealing with their management. So it's a very full position."

Shortly after graduating from Berklee in 1992, Pierce got his first break during a recording session for which he was hired to play drums on music for the halftime show of the Grey Cup Canadian football championship game, an event that is comparable to the American Super Bowl. In a scenario straight out of an inspirational movie plot, Pierce overheard the session's producer saying the charts hadn't achieved the desired musical effect. A break was called, and while the rest of the musicians went for coffee, Pierce took out a pad of manuscript paper, and sketched out a 16-bar theme and wrote parts for the big band.

"I took it to the producers and asked, 'Is this is what you're looking for?'" he recalls. "When the musicians returned, the parts were handed out, we played it, and the producers loved it. That night they sent me home with an assignment to write another six or seven minutes' worth of music for the 9:00 A.M. session the next day. I was fresh out of school and ready to take on the world. You have to be ready for these moments, because sometimes you won't get them a second time. I jumped on that one. It was a risky move, but it really paid off." Pierce has since worked for many years with the producer of that storied session to create music for television and stage shows.

Berklee Professor of Jazz Composition Jackson Schultz had stressed to Pierce and his fellow students the need to become fast at writing music. Pierce has reflected on that counsel often. The ability to write good music quickly has been one of Pierce's greatest assets. "There's no time to ponder when the deliverables are large," he says. "I was in a meeting yesterday where someone said, 'Oh yeah, we'll need another eight minutes of that.' And that's pretty much the last directive I'll get before somebody comes up and says, 'Where's that eight minutes of music I asked for?'"

Pierce has also developed a thick skin for those times when a client rejects a cue he's labored over. "Just this morning, I presented a 12-minute piece of music that got thrown out. You can't be married to a piece; if it's not right for the moment, it ends up on the cutting-room floor. There's no room for hurt feelings."

Pierce has learned to give his best every time, and that is a key to why he continues to get calls for big projects. "Everything has to be the best you can write, because sometimes a thing that you just toss off thinking that it's going to be a throwaway ends up getting used four or five different times or becomes the theme. It might even become the most memorable thing from the Olympic Games. Everything you write is important."

On February 12, billions worldwide will tune in for the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics and will hear Pierce's music - a high-pressure gig, to be sure. But one thing you can count on is that, like the athletes, Pierce will give his best effort.