Behind the scenes of ‘When Calls the Heart’ with composer John Sereda

SALT LAKE CITY — Fans of “When Calls the Heart” have had an interesting season this year, with the college admissions scandal that caused the Hallmark Channel to remove lead Lori Loughlin from the show. But now that Season 6 has resumed, life in Hope Valley is soldiering on — and over it all flows the strains of show composer John Sereda’s music.

Sereda, who was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, didn’t initially have designs on pursuing a musical career. “I was well into becoming a lawyer when music sort of took over my life,” he told the blog, From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring, in an email interview. “(I) can’t really explain it.”

He purchased a bass guitar in college and joined a band. One thing led to another and he eventually found himself helping a friend by composing some music for a theater production.

“I would say that was the start of a real attraction to composing music that functioned in support of a larger vision,” he wrote.

Composer John Sereda wearing his ‘When Calls the Heart’ cap in Egypt during a 2019 vacation. Credit: John Sereda.

Years later, Sereda was approached by Shona Miko, a friend who worked as a post-production supervisor for “When Calls the Heart.”

“They were looking for someone to take over from Lee Holdbridge — a great composer, by the way — after four episodes of Season 1, so very near the beginning,” he wrote. “I was really drawn to the general vibe of the scripts after scoring my fair share of ‘dark and edgy’ TV. I met Michael Landon Jr., the original showrunner, and he was great. After more than 60 episodes of ‘When Calls the Heart’ under my belt, I’m still grateful for that call.”

The appreciation goes both ways. Showrunner Alfonso Moreno, who joined the series in Season 5, said Sereda’s contributions are essential to the successful feel of the show.

“I was a fan of John’s before I met him. Prior to joining the series as the showrunner, I had watched all the prior seasons of ‘When Calls the Heart,’” said Moreno. “I would get teary during some of the storylines and I realized the role John played in that.

“His music really helps set and enhance whatever mood we are going for in a scene,” he added.

A surprising amount of hard work goes into each episode’s musical score. Sereda begins by reading the scripts well before it’s time to start writing the music. “I let the shows percolate inside my head,” he wrote. “I feel it gives me a head start for when I sit down to write.”

In addition to getting his own feel for the script, Sereda also screens to see if there are any scenes in which someone needs to sing or dance so he can have that music ready ahead of time — what he calls “pre-record” music.

Once an episode has been filmed, Sereda enters the “picture editing process” and watches comments that pass back and forth between those involved in the show. “It is important for me to know the ‘intention’ of various scenes in the show,” he wrote. “The general intention is mostly obvious, but there is quite often nuance which may affect how I approach the music.”

When all decisions become final, the episode is “locked.”

“This means that the picture editing is done and no more changes will be made to the picture,” wrote Sereda. “And that is when I sit down with the locked episode in front of me.”

In the Season 6 finale, Elizabeth holds a christening for baby Jack during the excitement of Founder’s Day Weekend. Meanwhile, Jesse plans a surprise for Clara. Credit: ©2019 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter

Sereda then begins the technical aspect of his work. He creates a cue list, determines if previous themes can be used and adapted, and what needs to be composed from scratch. He then applies his unique talents to producing original music that reaches into the hearts of viewers.

“Screen music is powerful and almost exclusively about feeling,” wrote Sereda. “I like to think of the music as an emotional mirror to the scene. It all comes down to making the choices that I feel best allow the emotion of the moment to be reflected back onto the screen.”

When the music is complete, he begins a collaborative process with others involved in the show and makes changes to the score as needed. Once final approval has been received, the actual process of recording the music begins.

Each episode generally takes 10 to 14 days to complete, though deadlines sometimes necessitate a shorter schedule. “Despite best efforts,” Sereda wrote, “the process sometimes gets compressed to seven days. Whew!”

Like writers, directors and producers, the notoriety of a composer is often overshadowed by the high profiles of the actors in front of the camera.

But that doesn’t discourage Sereda.

“The biggest compliment (I can get) from fans is for them to continue watching and support the show.”

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News.

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