Dinner on the Diner

Dateline: June 23, 2000

Dinner on the Diner is a four-part series on PBS. Taking place in the dining cars of restored, historic trains, master chefs prepare delicacies featuring cuisine from around the world.
But that's not all: for each part of the world that the respective chefs represent, there is accompanying music thanks to New Hampshire-based composer and musician Randy Armstrong. Armstrong researched the music of Scotland, Spain, South Africa and Southeast Asia to create a musical soundtrack that is as original as it is authentic.
The music of Dinner on the Diner is available on a two-CD boxed set (Ellipsis Arts) with an extensive booklet featuring information about the music as well as some of the delicious recipes prepared on the show.

Paula: How did you become involved with this project?

Randy: About 4 years ago, Jonathan Guilbert, the filmmaker/producer, saw my contemporary jazz/world music group; UNU MONDO in concert. He was impressed with the concert and the diversity of instruments and the fusion of musical styles. When it came time, two years ago in 1998, to select a composer for Dinner on the Diner, he gave me a call and the rest is history. The other note is that we only live 12 miles apart. A British filmmaker and World Music composer living in seacoast New Hampshire only miles apart.

Paula: What sort of research did you have to do to compose the music and keep it authentic to the respective cultures?

Randy: A project of this nature requires original music and/or traditional-public domain music based on the budget restraints of paying broadcast royalties. So, I had to either compose new, original compositions that captured the emotion as well as the cultural setting of the documentary film or research and arrange traditional music that fit the mood and the country in which it was film was shot.

I spent many hours listening to traditional music and working with traditional instruments from each country before I began to compose or arrange. Some countries like Spain and South Africa, I was more familiar with musically and of course used plenty of classical-nylon string guitar is performed on the Spanish episode and I used the young voices of the Phillips Exeter Academy Choir singing traditional South and West African songs for the episode with Ghanian host, Dorinda Hafner in South Africa. I also focussed on mbira for South Africa.

For Scotland, I just had to use bagpipes and violin along with low D whistle. Many of the Scottish songs are arrangements of traditional tunes of Robert Burns and J. Scott Skinner as well as originals. Southeast Asia was the more difficult score. I had to do extensive research and it was also the last in the series to be recorded. The time crunch was intense. I composed mostly original works using the sensibility of Thai music except for one adaptation on an old traditional melody.

Paula: What was the process of composing the pieces like?

Randy: The process of composing music for film begins with the "spotting session" where the producer and composer sit down and view a rough or fine cut of the film and decide on the sections of the film that will need the music. Making very detailed notes and determining the timing and emotional content of the music. The composer then goes and works on the the music. Once the music is composed and the ideas are formulated, producer and composer get back together to agree on the content. After that meeting, you begin recording tracks taking it to the final mix. The filmmaker then goes to the mixing/mastering lab and puts it altogether.

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