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By Esther J. Cepeda
"Elena of Avalor" recording session with Tony Morales.Disney Channel

NAME: Tony Morales

AGE: 43

HERITAGE: Mexican-American father, French-Canadian mother

HOMETOWN: Born in California, now in Los Angeles


Tony Morales is an EMMY-nominated film/TV composer whose most recent project was composing the score for Disney’s animated series “Elena of Avalor.”

He has created music for Netflix’s original series “Bloodline,” CBS's “Scorpion,” the sports documentary “Fastball” and the Discovery Channel’s “Alaska: The Last Frontier.”

What’s it like being a Latino film and TV composer working in hyper-competitive Hollywood?

I benefit from coming from a traditional composition background but with rock 'n’ roll beginnings.

I think to be a composer in today’s business and industry it's pretty crucial to have some diversity to your palate, especially in a place where the opportunities are scarce and the competition is fierce.

But really, it’s just a lot of hard work, it’s about grooving and improving, continuing to hone skills and develop as an artist and be very disciplined.

There’s no just settling for “I got this one job and now I know everything;” it’s a constant evolution of my abilities and it’s exciting because there’s always something new.

"Elena of Avalor" recording session with Tony Morales.Disney Channel

Your score for “Elena of Avalor” has been described as incorporating unique instruments and influences from magic, mythology and folklore. What were some of the challenges of scoring a show that you knew would be scrutinized for authenticity?

We did a lot of research! You do that for every show you work on, of course, but everyone on the show was committed to making sure all the aspects would be as authentic as possible.

Still, even though we were focused on including some of the traditional Latin and Hispanic heritage tones into the music, at the end of the day the music I’m doing for the show has to have that traditional Disney enchantment feeling.

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So we’re doing that – making the Kingdom of Avalor Disney-magical — but running through it is a Latin influence. Musically speaking we have a lot of different styles to incorporate from the Latin world and we bring those in based on the story line. So depending on what’s happening there might be Mariachi influence, Latin pop, salsa, Chilean hip-hop.

"Elena of Avalor" recording session with Tony Morales.Disney Channel

With the diversity of Latin American music, there are endless possibilities, but my job is to give this work its sound and be consistent from episode to episode. So, a Disney feeling with Latin overtones, almost like Latin folk music played by an orchestra.

It’s really fun putting that all together, there’s really great energy in Latin American music that translates really well to an orchestra and especially well to an interesting and bold character like Elena and the other characters of show. It’s an exciting exploration and we’re just at the beginning stages.

You started out in music by begging your parents for a guitar at the age of six and eventually playing in rock and metal cover bands in middle and high school. When did you begin to realize that composition was going to be where you focused your musical energies?

Once I started taking formal lessons in high school and getting into the advanced theory courses, I knew I wanted to study music in college. I got into the Berklee College of Music in Boston and thought I’d be going into performance but actually, that’s where I discovered composition for film which I hadn’t even considered before.

I got an introduction to some of the great film composers and became obsessed with what they did and how. The fact that they got to write music for the orchestra and make it so moving, and to work with the picture on the screen was really exciting. So I switched my major to film scoring.

Any words of wisdom for young music makers out there who want to also make it big in Hollywood?

You’ve got to be persistent – you have to. Besides the obvious advice – which is to study hard – if you have the opportunity to learn, give it your best.

Be persistent and do not give up. Anytime someone says “no” to you, just keep asking because someone, somewhere will eventually say “yes.” You absolutely have to have thick skin for the part of the work that involves selling yourself, so stay persistent and be confident.

Esther J. Cepeda is a Chicago-based journalist and a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

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