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DF Interview: William May roars to successful music career with ‘The Lion King’, other films
By Byron Brewer
The year 2019 has been a good one for Disney. Between its own brand of eye-popping entertainment combined with Marvel, Star Wars and its other brands, the studio is riding high in Hollywood. And not quite but most certainly a part of that lion’s share of credit for Tinsel Town glory belongs to Disney’s CGI remake of its classic animated feature, The Lion King.
Having racked up an astonishing $1.6 billion at the global box office [as of this writing], the second film to be honored by the name also boasts something else: the featured end-credit of a former resident of my hometown.
William May, originally (as am I) of Frankfort, Kentucky, has been a member of the LA Opera Orchestra since 2008. He was appointed principal bassoon in 2011, a position he has held with New West Symphony and the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz. He has enjoyed playing with several orchestras across Southern California, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pacific Symphony, San Diego Symphony and Santa Barbara Symphony among others. And in his free time, he enjoys traveling, yoga and participating in triathlons.
When I was a trumpet player many moons ago, William’s father Bill May and I played in high school marching and concert bands together as well as jazz bands; Bill the Elder is quite the accomplished drummer as well as being mayor of Kentucky’s capital city.
DF wanted to know more about William’s involvement with that film and others, and how I came to spot a familiar name rolling across the movie screen just as I was leaving the second Lion King showing of the evening.
Dynamic Forces: William, how does it feel to have been a credited part of a film, the new computer iteration of Disney’s The Lion King, which, as of this writing, has earned $1.6 billion at the box office, the seventh highest-grossing movie of all time?
William May: It’s always exciting to be a part of a successful film, but really it’s just another day at work. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I have in Los Angeles.
DF: Tell us how you came to be a part of The Lion King, and what you do as a part of the film.
William May: Like all the musicians, I was hired by a major contractor who is responsible for hiring musicians for film and TV projects. Each film is hired separately, there is no contract or regular group of musicians, but the same pool of players tends to do most of the work.
DF: Have you and your contrabassoon ever performed on other film scores? If so, which films?
William May: My main instrument is bassoon, the contra is a lower pitched version with a slightly rougher and less refined tone. It is usually used to represent funny or scary situations or characters, because of its low yet comical sounding pitches. I am principal bassoon for the LA Opera company which is my primary job and the TV and film work is supplemental. I have played on several other scores including The Jungle Book, Jumanji 2, Aquaman, It 2, and the TV series Empire.
DF: Tell readers about becoming a musician in a film score. Is it similar to trying out for an acting part?
William May: There are no auditions. You either get recommended by colleagues or reputation or are requested by the composer.
DF: Into the WABAC Machine for a moment: I know that your father was (and still is) a talented drummer, still performing sets when he is not being mayor of the capital city of Kentucky, Frankfort. Is your interest in music a case of the apple not falling far from the tree?
William May: I was certainly fortunate to grow up in a musical household, but I always pursued music out of my own interests. I am very grateful for the support of my parents who never pushed or forced me into music but put me through school and bought my first instrument.
DF: You were one of four contrabassoon players who performed on the score for The Lion King. Tell readers about your choice of instrument. Do you perform on other instruments as well?
William May: I also play sax and am trying my hand at jazz piano. Always loved playing sax in jazz band in high school.
DF: When not making music on blockbuster films, where else do you make a joyful noise?
William May: Primarily my position with LA Opera and also as a sub in other groups such as the LA Philharmonic and San Diego Symphony.
DF: Elephant in the room (very appropriate, eh?): Have you seen The Lion King? Were you a fan of the animated classic? Can you give us your thoughts on the film on which your name appears?
William May: I remember seeing the original Lion King as a kid and it is special and nostalgic to be a part of the remake. I thought both were great films with incredible scores and hit songs.
DF: William, where are some of the places you will be performing in the near future?
William May: I’m currently playing La Boheme at LA Opera and also performing Magic Flute during the holidays as well as Handel's Messiah with the LA Master Chorale. I will be recording the new Jumanji 3 film in October.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank William May for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Lion King will arrive on 4K Blu-ray on Oct. 22nd!
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