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Utah composer Chance Thomas scores big with soundtracks, ads for the LDS Church

SHARE Utah composer Chance Thomas scores big with soundtracks, ads for the LDS Church

Chances are you may not have heard his name. But if you play video games, you've heard his music.

Chance Thomas is an Academy Award-winning video-game composer who has worked on such games as "Peter Jackson's 'King Kong,' " "Lord of the Rings Online," "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance," "X-Men: The Official Game," "Littlest Pet Shop" and "Warcraft III," among many others.

Oh, and you can add the soundtrack to the much-anticipated video game "Avatar," based on the upcoming James Cameron epic film, to the list. The "Avatar" video game will be released Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Still, video-game soundtracks aren't the only things for which Thomas is famous.

In 2002, Thomas won an Academy Award for the short film "The ChubbChubbs," which was Sony Pictures' introduction to big-budget animated films.

He also has an Emmy Award for his work on 1996's "Rise Above the Blues," a TV ad for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And he has an Aurora Award for scoring the short film "Inspire: the Chicago Spire Art Film" in 2007.

Furthermore, Thomas is also what Utahns might call a "local boy." He lives in Bountiful.

However, his journey through life didn't start in the Beehive State. It started in Oklahoma City in the 1960s.

His mother was a violinist and opera singer. Classical music was always playing in the house.

"I was fascinated by the piano and violin," Thomas said in an interview with the Deseret News. "The piano was easier. So I took lessons for about a year."

One day his mother brought home a soundtrack album for "Hair." And that was a life-changing moment for Thomas.

"She put it on and I said, 'Wow! Music can do that?' " Thomas remembered.

Growing up in the '70s, Thomas discovered his own music and enjoyed bands such as Kansas, Boston, Styx, Foreigner, Elton John and Yes.

"I tended to gravitate to the more classically inspired bands," he said.

Throughout high school, Thomas formed and played in progressive rock bands until he was called to Italy on a mission for the LDS Church. When he returned home in 1982, he met his bride-to-be, Pamela, at a singles ward family home evening.

"She came up and introduced herself and called me a couple of days later," Thomas said with a grin. "We went out and she had the audacity to make me wait 1½ years before she agreed to marry me."

During that 18 months, Thomas worked at UPS, putting his music on hold to earn a business degree at Oklahoma State University.

A torn shoulder muscle reopened the music door.

"While I was in rehab, my friend called and told me about a pizza restaurant that was looking for entertainers."

Thomas dusted off his keyboards, pulling together some songs for an audition.

"I got the job, which paid better than UPS."

That led to another gig at another restaurant, which was beneficial because he and Pamela had just been married.

The couple moved to Utah so Thomas could attended Brigham Young University's School of Business on a full-tuition scholarship.

"Within a week, I discovered they had a music studio on campus," he said.

Thomas switched his major (and his scholarship) to music, and in 1987 graduated cum laude from BYU with a degree in music.

His wife was working for an oil company that was going bankrupt. He was playing at the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley and the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird. And he knew he needed to get another job.

Another musician friend, who played music on sea cruises, told Thomas to try out.

"I sent resumes out and got a call saying they booked duos and trios," said Thomas. "So that night, when my wife got home, I told her she was a singer."

After securing the Regency Cruise Line gig, the two sang all over the Caribbean from 1987 to 1990.

When the couple returned to Utah, Thomas started up byChance Productions where he wrote and produced music for local and regional advertising agencies. He also started his lasting relationship with the LDS Church's audio/visual department.

To date, Thomas has done about 60 commercials for the church. He just completed another assignment composing an audio signature piece.

In 1996, Thomas was hired by the video-game company Sierra On Line as an in-house composer.

"They had ambitions to create one of the industry's first big, live orchestral video game scores," he said.

Thomas composed the score for "Quest for Glory V," his first video game. Thomas worked with the Utah Film Orchestra and was introduced to vocalist Jenny Jordan Frogley and guitarist Rich Dixon, whom he has called upon for every project since that time.

The "Quest for Glory" soundtrack was a factor in getting the National Academy for Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammys) to create three new categories — Best Score, Best Song and Best Soundtrack for Film, Television and Other Visual Media.

Recently Thomas was the in-house audio director for game studio Electronic Arts and is a full-time freelance composer. His Web site is www.HUGEsound.com.

The pitfalls for a career in music are many, Thomas said. "There are times when you are tempted to compromise your values. But I have found something that helps me do what I love and still look at myself in the mirror without any regrets.

"It's called my family."

His office door is always open to his three children. And he considers his Sunday sacred as well as his Friday night date with his wife.

"It is essential to my life," he said about the date night. "Musicians and composers can get so involved and obsessed with their work that they forget what's really important. Those dates remind me why I do what I do."

Thomas also has another standard: He will not compose music for R-rated films or M-rated video games.

"I made that decision early on in my career," he said. "I love video games and I love how they transport the player to new worlds. And I respect what others have done, but I have decided not to work on M-rated games. It's just something I wish not to do.

"A life making music is one of the most exciting and enjoyable careers I can imagine," he said. "And I'd like to let young composers and musicians know that they don't have to compromise their values to become successful."

e-mail: scott@desnews.com