Alumnus finds dream career on Sesame Street


Photo Courtesy of Courtesy of Paul Rudolph

Paul Rudolph is on the steps of the Sesame Street set with puppet Abby Cadabby, who is played by his wife Leslie Carrara-Rudolph.

By Elise Guillen, Staff Writer

Paul Rudolph is a composer who works on “Sesame Street” and has earned three Emmys. Before that, though, he was just one of the many students walking through campus every day.

Rudolph came from Normal, Illinois, to study Music Education at the University. He said 90% of the reason he chose the University was the Marching Illini. When Rudolph first saw the ensemble perform during his junior of high school, he said he couldn’t get the image of them out of his head.

After being accepted to the University, Rudolph became a member of the Marching Illini and performed with them throughout his undergraduate career. He became drumline section leader and composed drumline arrangements and drill charts for the halftime shows.

Rudolph learned how to play a number of instruments for his bachelor’s degree, from woodwinds to strings. His main focus was percussion. This skill allowed him to form his band GLANK, which utilized any unique object to produce music.

“Paul believes that any object has the possibility of becoming a musical instrument,” said Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Rudolph’s wife.

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Rudolph graduated in 1989 and went on to teach and direct the school’s marching band and jazz band.

He said he enjoyed teaching but had a dream that never left the back of his mind: composing his own film score. When directing the bands at school, he began to compose arrangements. He said this is when he knew he had to go back to school.

“The bug hit me for arranging,” Rudolph said.

For Rudolph’s master’s degree, he returned to the University to study composition and arranging. He said he holds Illinois in such high regard because that’s where he was able to find his voice with the people around him.

Rudolph’s life now is busy and hectic, he said. When asked what a normal day in his life looks life, Rudolph laughed and revealed there is no such thing as a normal day.

A typical day starts early in order to meet call times on Sesame Street at 7 a.m. in the morning.

The process starts with a potential song demo. They then have to find the range of the song and the key of the character’s voices, which is challenging since it has to sound good but still sound like the character’s voice. Rudolph works with the characters on “Sesame Street” to perfect their vocals to make sure their rhythm and pitch sound great for TV performances.  

The performer and Rudolph then go into the studio to record and learn the song. Rudolph then edits and tweaks it to sound good. After that, the edited sample is sent to give the performers music to lip-sync. Rudolph conducts both the performers and puppets, to make sure their lip-syncing matches the music.

Carrara-Rudolph is the puppeteer for Abby Cadabby. She said what Rudolph brings to “Sesame Street” is special.

“He is a true artist and musician whose passion for the arts is one of my favorite things about him.” Carrara-Rudolph said. “I know he is going to help take my performance to a higher level.”

“It’s uplifting when he’s around and you have a sense of calmness that everything will go smoothly,” said Chris Sassano, an audio engineer who often works with Rudolph.

Although Rudolph left teaching in the classroom, he said his job at Sesame Street allows him to keep being an educator.

“I’m still teaching, even if it’s to talented cast members because it leads to kids being entertained and educated,” he said. “Watching all the work into this and watching it all come to life through the performers is the best, they take it to another level and bring the heart to the music I compose. I pinch myself working with them.”

Rudolph said it is bizarre working there since he has memories of “Sesame Street” from when he was a kid. He said characters like the Count had such an impact on him, and now he’s a part of the “Sesame Street” legacy.

“‘Sesame Street’ is multi-generational and cultural.” Rudolph discussed how people of all ages recognize these characters and learn from the educational lyrics. Rudolph said he composes to make sure any listener can find meaning in the lyrics while also enjoying the rhythm and different styles of music.

“Music reaches all ages, and a composer’s goal is to just write a good song musically,” he said.

In terms of his success on Sesame Street, Rudolph said winning his Emmys has been an honor, and it’s special to see not only himself but everyone who he works with on Sesame Street to be rewarded on their work since everyone has a hand in every trophy.

Rudolph encourages all students to find their passion in life and to pursue it like he did. He said it wasn’t easy to end up where he is, and he wants readers to know it’s okay if that happens to them as well.

“Don’t worry about the side roads. Every turn is different. Learning everything around you is crucial and is what will help you get to wherever you may go in life because you never know where you’ll end up,” Rudolph said.

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