Smithfield composer shines at Hollywood Music in Media Awards

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Christmas-themed piece wins best epic/orchestral composition


Smithfield composer Stephen Melillo spent the evening of Nov. 16 at a friend’s home eating dinner, and trying very hard to resist the urge to check Facebook to see who’d been nominated for the 65th Grammy Awards.

He’d been hoping to see his album, “The Grey II-III,” a 142-minute collection of instrumental compositions, listed among the nominees. It was a long shot, but “I prayed anyway,” Melillo said.

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After tossing and turning in bed, he finally broke down at 1:23 a.m. the next morning and checked his phone.

As he’d expected, “The Grey II-III” wasn’t nominated, but there was an unexpected message waiting for him from 2021 Grammy-winner Danaë Vlasse.

“I’m at the HMMAs – congratulations my friend – you and Cindy won!” the message read.

The Hollywood Music in Media Awards, or HMMAs, serves as a red-carpet event honoring original music in film, television, video games and other visual media across the globe. Among this year’s winners were “Lift Me Up,” performed by Rihanna for the blockbuster movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” in the category of best feature film song; Simon Franglen’s “Avatar: Way of The Water” for best fantasy film score; and “Reprise from Love Conquers All” by Melillo and lyricist Cindy Paulos in the category of best epic/orchestral genre composition.

Paulos, a music producer and longtime announcer for radio stations in Hawaii and Arizona, had approached Melillo in 2020 to write music for her album, “In the Hands of God.” “Reprise from Love Conquers All” is the 10th of 11 songs included in the duo’s second joint album, titled “Love Conquers All, When Heaven Merges With Earth.”

Melillo didn’t think to enter the work in the HMMAs, but Paulos did.

The album, which Melillo and Paulos produced on a zero-dollar budget, ended up winning over nine other nominees, some of whom had access to $300,000 orchestras.

The album’s mix of vocal and instrumental compositions, according to Melillo, is inspired by the Christmas story and intended for a stage musical or television production.

“It follows the timeline of the Magi, who Cindy calls ‘The Astronomers’” and their journey to meet the newborn Jesus Christ, Melillo said.

It was intended as “a demo of sorts,” Melillo said. Paulos, he said, is forging ahead with the possibility of staging the work.

One of the album’s songs, titled “Love Conquers All, the Gift,” is performed by Smithfield High School and Smithfield Middle School students. Melillo recorded the students in May.

Melillo, originally from Port Chester, New York, attributes his interest in instrumental compositions to his teenage years when he first heard Austrian composer Gustav Mahler’s music.

“I listened to a 20-minute excerpt from his 10th symphony 100 times without stopping. Play, rewind; play, rewind,” Melillo said. “Years later, I did the math. I had listened for 33.33 hours. His music had a profound affect on my life.”

He took up writing his own music in high school, publishing his first composition with Bourne Music Publishers in the early 1990s. By 1992 he’d founded his self-publishing entity Stormworks. His now more than 1,320 works include four symphonies and 15 film scores, including the 1990 Academy Award-nominated “12:01 P.M.” He’s also the author of several novels, including “Ahab, a Love Story,” intended as a prequel to Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” and a sequel titled “ Death to Moby Dick, a Love Story.”

Melillo relocated to Smithfield in 1994 to work with the Langley Air Force Band, which had commissioned a composition titled “David.”

Melillo’s most recent compositions include “Embracing Sorrow,” an album he released Nov. 26 as a tribute to the Ukrainian Holodomor, a manmade famine engineered by the former Soviet Union under Josef Stalin that killed an estimated 3.5 to 7 million Ukrainians from 1932-33, and “The MASS,” which sets a Catholic mass to music.