The song began as a burst of inspiration, years before anyone was thinking about an Olympic theme. In his loft apartment in Toronto, Stephan Moccio cradled a newborn baby swaddled in white flannel as he belted out a snappy jingle into his own telephone answering machine, a handy substitute for a tape recorder: “Da-na-Naa-daa-Na-na-naa-Naaa!” Beneath his baritone, his daughter gurgled. “Ideas for potential Vancouver Olympics 2010,” he added at the end. Four years later, Moccio plays that original clip in his Toronto studio. The melody merges into a trumpet fanfare, then blooms into a majestic anthem orchestrated with rich horns and sweeping strings. The 37-year-old pianist and composer’s songs have already been recorded by stars like Céline Dion, Sarah Brightman and Josh Groban. His latest spark, conceived while he was bleary from new parenthood, has evolved into the new CTV Vancouver Olympics theme song.
Over two decades ago, living in his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., Moccio was so inspired by David Foster’s Calgary Olympics score he told his new girlfriend, now his wife, he’d write one someday. And so he did. When Vancouver won its 2010 bid, Moccio seized the home-court advantage. The tune came to him in a flash—but he had no idea how to launch his own Olympic bid.
Moccio simply guarded his musical brainchild for the first couple of years of his own child’s life. Then he played it for friend and collaborator Alan Frew, lead singer of Glass Tiger. Frew knew what to do: he hosted a dinner party for Moccio and another friend, Keith Pelley, who just happened to be president of Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. Moccio played the song on the piano and Pelley “loved” it. Frew added lyrics, Pelley played the theme for three CTV execs, who gave it the nod, and the rest will soon be history.
Over the past 18 months, Moccio has travelled to Montreal and L.A., laying down tracks with orchestras and choirs that will serve as the components of the Olympic soundtrack. In his orderly basement studio in Toronto’s “design strip” district, he reworks the theme into 208 tidy cues for CTV’s broadcast of the Winter Games. One version—the “Extreme” cue, which plays over a snowboarding clip on his computer screens—features the melody in a hip-hop-rock idiom, the words “I believe” pulsing over synthesizers and drums. The “Feelings” variation, written to accompany figure skating spills and ski jumps gone awry, is a stream of strings and choral harmonies. “Even though I’m a classically trained musician,” he says, “I’m a chameleon.”
Indeed, straight out of the Royal Conservatory and the University of Western Ontario, Moccio signed with Sony/ATV Music Publishing as a songwriter, session player, and arranger. In addition to working with Groban and Dion (for whom he co-wrote A New Day Has Come, the chart-topper that titled her Las Vegas show), he has played keyboards for Prozzak, collaborated with Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings, and played piano with the Philosopher Kings. To nourish his classical roots, he has arranged music for Toronto Symphony Orchestra recordings. Four years ago, he recorded his debut album, Exposure. An original collection of elegant piano solos, Exposure shot to number one in Quebec and tenth in Canada—the highest-charting instrumental album in more than 25 years.
Back in the studio, Moccio manipulates 57 tracks over the 200-odd Olympic cues. Their tempos match. Their key signatures mesh. Of course, he wants the music to do more. “I want it to be better than great,” he says. There are the inevitable tussles with the network. The current debate is about the vocalist. CTV pursues a big name. Moccio staunchly backs an unknown with a pure voice. A decision was due weeks ago. “Stephan needs to concentrate on music,” says his assistant, Sven Heidinga. “The politics drive him crazy.” “When I was fresh out of Western,” Moccio says, “my classical training would paralyze me. I needed to un-program myself. I’m at the right balance now. Mid-thirtysomething.”
The piano still inspires Moccio’s work. He positions himself at his Yamaha grand as one of the “Feelings” cues plays in surround sound. Tracks of a boys’ choir singing “J’imagine” float through the studio. A metronome keeps time. Moccio’s fingers dance; his foot pulses; his head bobs gently as he weaves his original Da-na-Naa-daa-Na-na-naa-Naaa motif into the orchestral cue that envelops his studio. Theme and variation, variation and theme.