Composer Peter Davison and his wife Iris are new to the Hill and don’t like leaving. “I’ve made only two trips into L.A. since we moved last year,” said Davison. “It was nice to visit my old haunts in Santa Monica, but now my haunts are here.”
But, he and Iris will have to make one more trip to Los Angeles next month. Davison is nominated twice at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, which are presented on Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Fonda Theater.
Davison’s score for the 26 episode PBS series “The Endless Voyage, The Water Planet” is a nominee for best original score for a TV show or digital streaming series. His second nomination, for best classical composition, has roots locally. “Fern Valley,” which earned the nomination, can be heard on Davison’s CD “Forest Home.”
He won previously at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards in 2010 for best song, “Sip of Wine” from his CD “Future, Present, Past” in the New Age/ambient music category.
This year, Davison shares billing in his score nomination category with composers Sean Callery, “Homeland,” Mark Isham, “Once Upon a Time,” John Lunn, “Downtown Abbey” and Dave Porter, “Breaking Bad,” among others.
Davison has a long track record of shows which he has scored, that have run on PBS, the History Channel, Bravo, Biography, A&E, AMC, Discovery and Showtime channels. Davison’s credits also include scores composed for Warner Brothers (“Batman, the Animated Series”) and Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Fla.
He is a soft-spoken and highly engaging individual who described how his career has unfolded in fortuitous ways that allowed him to concentrate on composition. He plays a variety of instruments, among them flute, tenor sax and bass.
In his early 20s, while playing bass in the famous Hollywood club the Ash Grove’s house band, Davison said he had an epiphany. “I can’t do this anymore,” he remembered saying. “I want to do more than play a three chord [song]. I mean, how many times can you backup a 62-year-old guy singing ‘Hello Little School Girl’ and feel good about being alive?”
He earned bachelors and masters degrees in music composition from California State University, Northridge, where he had the opportunity to work with Aaron Copland, one of America’s greatest composers. “Three students got to work with Copland,” he said. “I was one.”
Davison, who had previously traveled to Bali to study Balinese flute, wrote a piece to be presented at CSUN, at which Copland attended. “That day I forgot to bring my [dress] shoes,” he remembered. “So I got all the musicians to play shoeless.”
In 1976 Davison received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for composition that allowed him to complete “Symphony #1,” premiered by the Immaculate Heart Symphony that same year. Other grants followed from the Foundation for New American Music and the California Arts Council.
In 1988 something happened that forever changed his life. He recalled regularly looking at Variety on Friday for lists of new TV shows to which he might submit his work. “There was a 3⁄4-inch ad looking for a crew for an environmental TV series,” he remembered. “It was a 26-episode for PBS called ‘Earth Revealed.’”
He answered the ad and got an appointment. “I can just hear the theme,” he told his wife the night before the interview. “Then just write it,” Iris advised. “I stayed up all night, wrote it, they liked it and hired me on the spot.”
Since then Davison has devoted much of his composition career to scoring PBS series. All of those opportunities flowed from that single interview. “The advice I give to any struggling musician is, ‘Don’t let any stone go unturned. One moment can totally change your life’.”