If you happen to go to Mass in downtown Charleston on a random Sunday and hear Coldplay floating down to you in the heavenly fugue notes of an organ, you're probably hearing Alex Collier. He's somewhat of a musical prodigy, actually. His first gig as an organist came at the age of 12, when he went to Mass at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, as usual, and the regular organist didn't show. Collier sat down and played the entire service without any sheet music. "A year after," he says, "I had all these jobs."
It won't surprise you that music runs in Collier's family. "Music was always around," the 25-year-old says. "My mother played clarinet and bass clarinet at Bishop England High School, so I would look through her classical records and sheet music, trying to figure out how to play the parts by ear on the piano. Slowly the sheet music started to make sense." His parents hired a piano teacher to fill in what he couldn't teach himself, but, as is the case with many who first learn by ear, formal instruction had its challenges. "I remember it as being frustrating because I felt that I was beyond the beginners' book. I knew all of my scales and most of the key signatures because of my ear training."
Collier's musical education diversified as he grew. He tried out the trumpet, progressing from the beginners' to intermediate band in just two months. It was around this time that he found the organ. He'd sneak up to the choir lofts early to watch Charlton Singleton and Timothy Tikker play, and he was, in a sense, star-struck. He began taking lessons, practicing in church at night, and later — after that fateful day when his organist predecessor absenteed himself out of a job — playing for services.
All this time, Collier kept up his trumpet playing. He attended Charleston County School of the Arts, which is where he met his future best friend and business partner, Josh Smoak. They attended Berklee College of Music together as well, with Collier majoring in film scoring and music business. After graduation, Collier and Smoak returned to Charleston and officially launched a company that they'd been talking about for years: a music house called Sunday Ent.
"Sunday Ent. really started in high school," Collier says. "[Josh and I] were both trumpet players. ... We quickly realized that we loved Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Phillip Glass, Jon Brion — music, movies — film music. I remember coming back to my parents' house from a party, writing a song influenced by Hans Zimmer's Gladiator score, looking up Hans Zimmer on Google, and calling his studio to talk to him. We got to his assistant."
Such was the beginning of Sunday Ent., which has continued to live up to that opening number, composing music for companies like Nestle Tollhouse and Nasonex, feature films like Up in the Air and Waiting for Superman, and local web design firm Blue Ion. Not bad for six years.
When Collier talks about his and Smoak's vision for Sunday Ent., it's easy to see how they've been so successful.
"Our vision hasn't deviated too much from the early days. We want to compose ... and work with amazing and talented artists. We have to be open to new ideas ... being realistic and innovative about how to get there. There is so much going on that we absorb ourselves and find beauty in everything. If it takes us out of our element for a second, allows us to adapt and adjust ... that's the start of our creativity."
Seeing the beauty in everything. Not allowing a pre-conceived notion to stand in the way of creativity. Sounds like someone who would give an under-appreciated, stereotyped instrument a chance.
Lunch and Recess' short film King of Instruments, which profiles Alex Collier, will be screened at the Charleston Film Festival Sat. March 3 at 4 p.m. See terracetheater.com for more info.