A Small Light – Ariel Marx & Este Haim | Exclusive Interview
Just ahead of the release of the finale of “A Small Light” arriving on Disney+ and Hulu, Hollywood Records is releasing two new albums featuring the original score and an album featuring all of the original covers from the series.
Based on an inspiring true story, Miep Gies (Bel Powley) was young, carefree and opinionated — at a time when opinions got you killed ― when Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber) asked her to help hide his family from the Nazis during WWII. Told with a modern sensibility, A SMALL LIGHT shakes the cobwebs off history and makes Miep’s story more relevant than ever, forcing audiences to ask themselves what they would have done in Miep’s shoes; and in modern times, asking if they would have the courage to stand up to hatred. Some stood by; Miep stood up.
Recently, I got to speak with the composer of the show, Ariel Marx and Este Haim, who is the executive music producer for the series, and asked them about their highlights working on the show and much more.
Check out the full interview below:
How did you develop the overall feel for the music for “A Small Light”?
Este Haim: I grew up listening to the music of the 40s and the 50s with my Bubby Blanche, so I had a pretty good grasp on music of that era. When I first started playing bass, jazz was kind of my main focus. I was really into Felonious Munk and Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. And so when I was asked if I wanted to do this, I jumped at the chance. I already had kind of a pretty good knowledge of music of that era, but it was really, really fun to then go back in and really get into the nitty-gritty and the minutiae of the music of that era.
Ariel Marx: So with the score, definitely there was some research in terms of what would’ve been in the early thirties and early forties of what that music would’ve sounded, like popular music of the time, like Benny Goodman and all of the Swing, and then how that was reduced during the wartime. So there was less big bands and more small ensembles, but that I would say was a little bit less of an influence on the score because there was also an effort to modernize it and kind of make it more timeless too. So it’s also drawing on Neoclassicism and sometimes more experimental electronic work. So it’s a big spectrum, but definitely, the more acoustic stuff and the improvisation has, it is definitely influenced by the music of this time.
What was the biggest challenge working on the music for “A Small Light”?
Este Haim: I’m going to be honest, Roger. Not a lot of challenges here. I’m really lucky that everyone that I asked to be on this soundtrack said yes. And honestly, that was the biggest challenge that I thought I was going to come up against was getting the right people to do the soundtrack. And I was lucky enough that everyone kind of jumped at the chance as well. And I think that has a lot to do with not only the story of Miep and Anne Frank, but also, I think, just the material itself. I think people were like, yeah, I want to delve into an Ink Spots song. I’d love to cover Edith Piaf songs. So I was very lucky that that was kind of my journey in this project.
Ariel Marx: I would agree with Este that basically everyone involved on the show just knew how special it was and how important it was. And everyone cared so much, the editors, the mixers, everyone just really put in everything that they could. I would say if there were a challenge, in episode 7 there’s a big, big sequence where the annex is finally stormed and it’s all about navigating a very internal panic with meat, with very external large consequences. The show is very tasteful in terms of not showing the parts of the story you think you will see. And so making those unexpected choices with music too, that was a really, obviously exciting but very challenging sequence
What was the biggest highlight of working on the music for “A Small Light”?
Este Haim: Highlight was becoming friendly and friends with everyone that I worked on. Again, I went into this wanting to curate, if I could have my ideal dinner party, I have carte blanche on who the guests are, who would it be, and that literally is the playlist of this show. And also, I got to work with my sister where I was in the driver’s seat, and I got to be the producer. That was very cool and very fun. But I think being in the studio with Kamasi Washington was the highlight for me. We went to the studio in LA called Valentine, and it’s almost like a time capsule. All the board and all the gear, and the walls are fuzzy. It basically closed in 1964 or 1965 and then reopened not, but five years ago. So that was an incredible experience to record an 8- Piece Band, and also to do a Charlie Parker song was just so much fun. And they’re all just so talented. It was insane.
Ariel Marx: Highlight… it’s really hard to choose one, but I will say I really want to highlight my clarinetist, Josh Plotner. I’ve worked with him on so many different projects, but he completely embraced this. He’s playing bass clarinet and clarinet throughout the score. And, he always gave me options in terms of how expressive or how bold, and his playfulness is improvisation, like when they’re jumping into the canal, was one of my favorite pieces to write because of his performance. So, that was a real joy.
How did you feel about Disney releasing the series across Disney+, Hulu and linear networks?
Este Haim: One word – Stoked, very excited. When they came to me, and like there’s a show for Disney+, I honestly was jazzed, for lack of a better word. I grew up watching Disney movies and being obsessed with the music from Disney movies, and it’s a really fun family to be a part of. I’ll just say that.
Ariel Marx: The whole mission of the show is to get it into as many living rooms as you can, right? And I think they did that. Especially in the way that it’s written and the way that it’s directed and just the sensibilities of it are really accessible in a way that I think is so valuable with the story that we’re trying to tell. So it was very exciting. And the awards campaign for it and the push for the premiere has been really impressive. And, all of the care and excitement of the studios behind it, you really feel it.
“A Small Light”, an original score by Ariel Marx, is out on digital platforms on May 19th 2023 and “A Small Light: Songs Grom The Limited Series” will be released on digital platforms on May 23rd 2023.