Composing a soundtrack fit for the rockets’ red glare

Fireworks music fills 25 minutes of thrills

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Not planning on heading to the Fort for the show but want to hear Blake Sakamoto's soundtrack? Tune in to KGW, Channel 8, at 10 p.m.

Not planning on heading to the Fort for the show but want to hear Blake Sakamoto’s soundtrack? Tune in to KGW, Channel 8, at 10 p.m.

While thousands of eyes are being dazzled by Vancouver’s July 4 fireworks displays, Blake Sakamoto provides something for thousands of ears.

He makes sure the booms and crackles are buffered by sweeping symphonics and iconic tunes from the great American songbook.

Sakamoto is the guy who puts together the soundtrack for the Fort Vancouver’s fireworks show.

After all, they can’t just pop in the same CD at 10 p.m. every July 4.

“We want to keep the music current and fresh,” said Cara Cantonwine, director of programs for Fort Vancouver National Trust. “We want patriotic music, we want to make sure we’re keeping up to date and incorporating some current music, relevant to attendees. We want to keep the show new and exciting.”

It’s Sakamoto’s job to fit as much of that as possible into a 25-minute slot.

“The tricky part is that in a 25-minute set, you can only play so many songs from top to bottom, so it involves a lot of editing,” said Sakamoto, a Portland musician and producer.

“That is where my creativity comes into play, taking a four-minute song and making a one-minute piece of music. I’ve watched enough ‘American Idol’ to see they only do a minute of some fabulous songs: intro, verse, chorus, bridge and your big finish,” he said.

He also wants smooth transitions.

“It’s like watching the end of the movie, and as the credits play, the songs are seamlessly moving into each other.”

Sakamoto doesn’t start with just one playlist.

“I start right after Christmas, with three or four full-length versions, and whittle them down,” he said.

“We were going through the final drafts in February,” Cantonwine said. “We sent the audio to Western Display (the fireworks company) on March 15 or 16.”

Picking a song often is just one part of fitting in the music. If it’s a classical piece like “The Planets” by Holst, there are a lot of recordings available. Sakamoto has to decide if he likes a version by a Czech orchestra better than a recording by the Boston Pops.

He didn’t want to reveal the playlist, but one of this year’s additions is “Firework” by Katy Perry. It’s a pop hit that happens to fit nicely into the theme.

“I want to hear some version of the Star Spangled Banner up top,” Sakamoto said. “I like the idea, too, of ending with ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ There is no better finish than that song.”

And, when you have a familiar finish, Sakamoto said, “It tells people it’s time to pack up their stuff.”

There’s also a perennial segment at the beginning, one that nobody ever hears.

“I still don’t understand the reason why, but I have to put in one minute of silence before the music starts,” Sakamoto said. He thought it might help Western Display synch up its fireworks launch.

Sakamoto said he has to make sure KGW Channel 8, which televises the show, has its own copy of the sound track.

That telecast has given Sakamoto a chance to review the match between music and pyrotechnics.

In the past, he’s recorded it and then analyzed the show. “Knowing the score inside out, I thought, ‘That’s cool! They’re exploding when they should.’”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or