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Behind the Scenes of The National Parks’ Orchestral Album

While Sam Clawson was a senior studying commercial music, he fulfilled a life-long dream to compose orchestral arrangements for one of his favorite bands: The National Parks.

Before Sam Clawson graduated from the commercial music program in April 2023, he pursued a dream to compose for one of his favorite bands: The National Parks. Sam learned how to arrange, compose, and remix music while at BYU, and he hoped to arrange orchestral versions of songs from the band’s new album 8th Wonder.

Through his wife, Sam connected with Brady Parks, lead singer of The National Parks. He decided to shoot his shot and proposed the possibility of orchestral arrangements to Brady. Sam was pleasantly surprised at the good that came from this simple text. Brady admitted that the band had already considered making orchestral arrangements, but they hadn’t found someone who was a good fit for the style and feel they wanted for their music. Sam sent the band some samples, and things took off from there.

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Photo by Nathan Young, BYU School of Music

Sam had “always dreamed of doing something like this,” and always felt like an orchestra “adds a grandeur” to pop songs. He yearned to be involved in making that happen for The National Parks. He wanted the pieces to sound cinematic, grand, and big. Sam said that during his four-month writing process, assigning instruments to parts in the song was difficult yet rewarding. It took multiple rounds of trial runs and required help from professors. Sam eventually found the right sound for each of the four arrangements.

At the time, Sam was a member of the BYU Philharmonic, and he enlisted the ensemble to help with the recordings. With the money he received from the experiential learning grant, he was able to pay each of the players for their work. Sam couldn’t get the music to the players in advance, but he was amazed at how well the musicians sightread the music—and not just the notes, but the expression, too.

During the recording sessions, the band and several producers came to hear the Philharmonic work. Of the band, Sam says, “They were just wonderful. Before every song, they would come in and talk about the meaning of each song and what they were hoping to come out of the orchestra being added to that song. So it was a really cool experience.” Sam recalls one of the producers being blown away by the Philharmonic, saying they were just as good as any professional studio musicians.

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“Before every song, [the band] would come in and talk about the meaning of each song and what they were hoping to come out of the orchestra being added to that song. It was a really cool experience.”
–Sam Clawson
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One of the sweetest moments of the project for Sam was when Brady Parks shared the intended meaning and feeling behind the song “Great Sky.” Brady wrote the song about his deep relationship with God and how he finds God in nature; the musicians seamlessly translated that emotion into their recording. Music can be used to reflect and strengthen testimonies. Similarly, Sam has found that his testimony and connection to God has come, in large part, through music. “Not even just sacred music,” Sam says, “but all kinds of music.”

Sam’s goal as a musician is to “use [his talents] to bring a little light, a little happiness into somebody’s life.” After the arrangements were released, an Instagram user posted that the orchestral versions “healed” her. This touched Sam and helped him remember his entire goal as a musician. “That was my whole dream with this because that’s definitely what music’s done for me,” Sam says.

When Sam started school at BYU, he didn’t feel like he was anything special. But he learned to grow his talents and stick with what he loved, and much good has come from that. So to all music students, he says to shoot for the stars, because BYU “can make your dreams a reality.”

You can listen to 8th Wonder Orchestral, arranged by Sam Clawson, in the video player below.

This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of the BYU School of Music Journal. Check out the rest of the journal to get to know five new faculty members and catch a 360-degree tour of the new Music Building.

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