Few, if any, contemporary classical composers have anything on Tom Hedden and Dave Robidoux. Though they work in a boxy office building on what was only months ago a soybean field in exurban Philadelphia, their warren could be, perhaps, as inspirational as the Paris of Debussy or the Vienna of Strauss.
Actually, their work may better be compared to the great American themes of Aaron Copland, for Hedden and Robidoux are staff composers at NFL Films, the audio-visual mythmaker of the great American sport of professional football. And as America wends its way to the great American event -- the Super Bowl -- the works of Hedden and Robidoux may be in circulation just about any time.
Though none of their oeuvre can be found on CD, Hedden's and Robidoux's music is ubiquitous. During these weeks surrounding the Super Bowl, NFL Films provides more than 100 hours of programming to ABC, the Fox Network, ESPN, ESPN2 and HBO, most of which has music, a great part of that composed by Hedden, who has been NFL Films' music director for 15 years, and Robidoux, an 11-year veteran of the company.
On "Road to the Super Bowl," which will air on ABC today, a running back dashes through Hedden's "Rife With Possibility," a French horn-infested homage to the Marlboro theme song. Or maybe you will be more attuned to "Choose Your Destiny," a Robidoux composition of triumphal magnitude, full of low bass and cellos and rising to a slew of bass drums. Then, too, the show will have "Counterpunch," another Hedden piece, this one sounding a bit like "Bolero." It's catchy and you can dance -- or gang-tackle -- to it.
None of these, to be sure, is as long as a Beethoven symphony -- or maybe even a Bach etude.
"We might have 45 pieces of music in a half-hour show," said Hedden. "Most of it would be something a producer picked out of our library and cut to fit the film, but there is a lot of our stuff in there."
Hedden estimated that there are 1,700 musical pieces that have been commissioned by NFL Films since 1965 that are in the library and that he and Robidoux have written at least 300 each. Most of them are lush, orchestral, almost-symphonic music, descended from the master who created the sound, Sam Spence.
Ed Sabol, who founded NFL Films in 1962, was looking for a better class of music for a 1965 documentary, "They Call It Pro Football." He had already hired John Facenda, a longtime Philadelphia radio and TV news anchor who was being phased out by the CBS affiliate there for younger talent. Facenda, though short, had a booming, sonorous baritone, which soon became known among football aficionados as "The Voice of God." His was the voice of NFL Films until his death in 1984 and grown men still get teary-eyed when they hear an NFL Films classic with Facenda intoning, perhaps, "Pro football is a mirror of early America, reflecting toughness, courage and self-denial."
No longer, then, could Sabol use the tinkly high-school marching-band stuff that epitomized early films. Through a reference, he found Spence, an American expatriate conducting and writing in Munich.
"What I remembered from when I was a kid at camp in the Poconos were songs like 'What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?,' these spirited things that had a beat and a melody," said Steve Sabol, Ed's son, who worked with his father after playing football at Colorado College and is now president of NFL Films. He also said he loved leitmotif, a symphonic device in which the musical theme is repeated with variations throughout. "Like in 'Peter and the Wolf,' where you have the wolf as French horns and the grandfather as a bassoon."
Spence and the Sabols hit it off immediately, and soon there were French horns and bassoons and, especially, a lot of bass drums and timpani, crashing to slow-motion, saliva-flying, crunching football hits. Oddly, for all this, Spence was never a football fan.
"I couldn't tell Sam about the Lions and Packers playing at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, but I would explain it in terms, say, of a midwinter battle at the gates of Moscow. That, he understood," said Steve Sabol.
Hedden and Robidoux need no such instruction, though they both went to Berklee School of Music in Boston, where, to be sure, there is no football team.
"I would say our expertise is knowing how to play against type," said Hedden. "The typical NFL Films piece will have, say, slow music against fast cuts, or vice versa. The main thing, though, is that they all have a lot of percussion and a good melody."
Hedden and Robidoux have no problem working quickly -- often producing a piece in a day.
"I go back to Cole Porter, who said something like, 'The only inspiration I need is a producer with money giving me a phone call,' " Hedden said. Robidoux said he gets ideas for music just sitting around his house and runs to the piano immediately to sound it out. But it is at work where he gets his best inspiration.
NFL Films last fall moved to new headquarters, the equal to any Hollywood studio in terms of technical equipment and audio rooms. There are 14 of these sound studios and the recording studio is based on the Beatles' old Abbey Road studio, down to the Argentine mesquite wood floors for the proper reverb. Those who record NFL Films music are both top studio musicians and, often, members of symphony orchestras in nearby Philadelphia and New York.
Sometimes other companies license NFL Films music and Hedden and Robidoux find their compositions in the most unlikely places.
"I saw 'Blood Brothers' on HBO and there was something I wrote for 'Six Days to Sunday,' so that was an honor," said Robidoux. "Of course, then I saw the latest Subway [sandwich] campaign and I heard some of my stuff there, too. It's a bit humbling."
And just like any great artist, Hedden can be humbled right in his own living room.
"My daughter is a softball player and we were watching the NCAA Softball World Series together on TV. They used some of my music for features," said Hedden. "I'm looking proud and she just says, 'Yeah, Dad, it's finally being used for a real sport.' "