While many of television's top producers, directors and musicians partied on Emmy Night at a Manhattan hotel on Wednesday, one nominee opted for a special soiree with his family at their Huntingtown home.
Paul Christianson, a composer who has lived in Calvert County for 10 years, received an Emmy nomination for his score to the documentary "A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America." The film aired on Public Broadcasting Service stations last October.
Christianson, 54, was one of four composers nominated in the music category of "outstanding individual achievement in news and documentary programming." He didn't end up winning, but he said the nomination was honor enough.
"It's wonderful to be recognized by your peers," he said. "I'm elated that I got to work on a project so well-thought out and well-produced."
A miniature Emmy night unfolded in the Christiansons' home on Wednesday, complete with a five-course dinner, cake, champagne and lots of talk about music. Then Christianson's wife, Nancy Calo, and their daughter, Angela--both singers--raised their glasses in a toast.
"It choked me up a bit," Christianson said of the toast and the evening, which also included his son, Paul Jr. "It was one of those family moments where they said, 'We believe in you. We love you.' "
Christianson was too busy to attend the ceremony for the news and documentary portion of the awards--separate from television's prime-time Emmys--but a representative from the film was there and called to tell him the results.
"A Paralyzing Fear" was produced by Nina Gilden Seavey at George Washington University. Christian's score for the film is at times somber, with a forlorn-sounding jazz saxophone bemoaning the debilitating effects of polio from the time the disease first appeared in this country until a vaccine was found.
Somber melodies accompany footage of polio-stricken children in the metal contraptions that were known as iron lungs.
Christianson played up positive events with big-band-style music marking the search for a cure or an afternoon drive by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But sometimes the subject matter was so depressing, Christianson said, that it became difficult to compose. The sad pictures of suffering children reminded him of his own 9-year-old son, Paul Jr.
"I couldn't work on it for more than 20 minutes at a time," he said. "People have forgotten what a terrible, terrible disease this was. The only thing comparable now to polio and the way it struck down children is pediatric AIDS."
Before moving to Calvert County, Christianson taught composition and conducting at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and at the University of Virginia. From campus life he moved to Manhattan, where he wrote advertising jingles. Later, yearning for a landscape that offered some of the open space he had grown accustomed to in his native Minnesota, he moved to the District in 1979.
A self-proclaimed country boy, Christianson relocated the family to Huntingtown when his daughter, now 21, was in grade school. The family's home sits on three acres, with an old tobacco barn and a converted garage Christianson uses as a studio. Southern Maryland is an inspirational setting for a composer, he said.
"I have a view of my tobacco barn, and the trees are 45 feet high," he said. "It's just conducive to peaceful, introspective kinds of things."