Jeff Jolly wins an Emmy for documentary on Domenici


Thinking in melodies is common among musicians and music composers. While most people have thoughts running through their minds, Emmy-Award winner Jeff Jolly has musical riffs and orchestral harmonies floating in his.

“Almost every waking moment, I have music going on in my head,” Jolly said. “Sometimes it’s someone else’s and sometimes it’s mine, but I’m thinking music most of the time.”

It can be a picture, a landscape or a situation in the street that can translate as a melody or general sounds that Jolly feels matches it.

The Tomé resident and School of Dreams Academy music instructor is a trained classical guitarist, and has also written musical scores for films and documentaries for about 30 years.

This month, Jolly won an Emmy award from the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for a soundtrack he composed.

He wrote the musical score for the documentary film, “Domenici,” which chronicles the historic career of former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici.

The film was written, produced and directed by Chris Schueler, with whom Jolly has collaborated since they were in college together, pursuing master’s degrees at the University of New Mexico 30 years ago.

“The first project I did with him was for his master’s project at UNM,” Jolly said. “He turned (author) Ray Bradbury’s (book) ‘Dandelion Wine’ into a stage play. I wrote incidental music for it and performed it live during the production.”

Schueler’s master’s degree was in theatrical directing and playwriting, while Jolly was teaching and working on his master’s in education.

“We actually met at church,” Jolly said. “He actually walked in one day with his wife in 1982, and I was the choir director.”

Jolly has been the music director at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque for 31 years.

He and Schueler hit it off right away, finding they had a lot of shared interests.

Jolly has composed music for a number of Schueler’s educational television shows, such as “News 101″ and “Adventure Rio,” as well as the PBS specials “The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth,” “Cody,” “Looking In: Teens Who Are Homeless,” “Smashed,” with Safe Teen New Mexico, and several other documentaries.

“I’m very lucky that he asks me to write the music sometimes, when there is budget for it,” Jolly said.

This was the first year Jolly entered his soundtrack in the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences competition, and he was the only music winner out of two nominees.

The judging panel is made up of the members of the academy. They select the nominees, then other selected NATAS members judge the winners.

There were about six or seven different musical pieces with working titles, such as “The Senator,” “Domenici” and several distinctly Russian sounding pieces for the portion on Domenici’s nuclear safety work after the Soviet Union fell.

Jolly recorded all of it using a synthesizer. He overlaid each instrumental section until the full orchestral dulcet was complete.

“The style has just kind of, over the years, been kind of West Wingish or the kinds of things you hear for the president that portray political power and prestige,” he said. “That was the style I was going for, and I know that was the style Chris wanted.”

Working on Schueler’s PBS special “The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth,” Jolly went through photos of grasslands Schueler had taken from around the world.

“Immediately I start to hear great big stuff, wide open sounds, big orchestra things,” Jolly said, “like some of the old, big westerns, Aaron Copland music about Appalachian Spring, or ‘Rodeo’ or Ferde GrofĂ©’s ‘Grand Canyon Suite.’

“I mean, there are so many pieces that have set that up over the years, and so you begin to get this feeling when you see it,” he said. “I hear French horns and I hear strings, it’s just this big open sound. That’s really how I begin.”

The “Domenici” documentary aired on all the New Mexico PBS and NBC affiliates last year, and can be seen in full for free at Schueler’s website by clicking on “projects” at


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