Honey, let’s LISTEN… to a movie!

Music in movies is all about dissonance and consonance, tension and release.

quincy jones
The game is “afoot”!

Being a classical music major in college, I was (and am) very tuned in to the music around me, and how it affects my environment. One of the most impactful ways we witness new composed music today is through movie scores. Notice I didn’t say movie soundtracks (that’s a different blog post). Many musicians consider music scored for film the new “classical” music of our time. Film score performances are interesting because many times you walk out of a movie and haven’t thought about the music underlying the scenes at all. But, 99% of the time, it’s there, and its impact is great. (Offhand, I can think of one notable exception – Dog Day Afternoon – no score at all – and that creates a whole different kind of tension). Movie scores are written to complement and enhance the images on the screen. Composers very often sit with the images flowing by them on a computer screen, with their electronic keyboard at the ready so they may literally create the score “to” the image. Need a scary sound? At 21.8 seconds into the scene? The composer is sometimes creating the sound in real time, or in SMPTE time. They’re literally syncing up the sound with the scene. (Sorry, I’m getting nerdy on you!)

I’ve had a couple of fun adventures throughout my career, some creating music to accompany images. Most happened when I was in college, when I scored and performed a couple of commercials and public service announcements. One was for a cemetery – a 3-minute piece on a historic cemetery in San Francisco. What fun! I often think how much more fun it would be now, with the innovations in technology that have happened in the 30 years since I was dipping my toe in those waters!

I listen to scores when I’m working or writing. I thought we’d look at some of the more famous movie scores, many of which have won awards, and next time you’re watching some of these gems, you can pay special attention to the music that helps create “story”.

Here’s a list of some of the composers and scores that I think are particularly amazing:

  • Dances With Wolves and Out of Africa by John Barry
  • Titanic, Braveheart, and Field of Dreams by James Horner
  • Star Wars, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, (and all their sequels) by the amazing John Williams! He also composed the gorgeous score for Schindler’s List, and many, many more.
  • Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, both by Vangelis
  • The Lord of the Rings movies scored by Howard Shore
  • Henry Mancini, the diverse composer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Moon River!!!), Hatari!, and The Pink Panther, among many others
  • The great Ennio Morricone, composer of The Mission and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and many Western themed films
  • Danny Elfman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman (1989), and the theme to The Simpsons
  • The English Patient, by Gabriel Yared
  • Driving Miss Daisy, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, Sherlock Holmes, the Dark Knight trilogy, Spiderman, and The Last Samurai by the amazing Hans Zimmer
  • The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein
  • The Godfather by Nino Rota
  • Shaft by Isaac Hayes
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by Burt Bacharach
  • Doctor Zhivago by David Lean and Maurice Jarre
  • La La Land by Justin Hurwitz
  • Grand Budapest Hotel by Alexandre Desplat
  • Pride and Prejudice by Darrio Marianelli, performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet
  • Gone with the Wind and Casablanca, by Max Steiner
  • Rocky franchise, by Bill Conti
  • Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Castaway, and The Avengers, by Alan Silvestri
  • Slumdog Millionaire, by A. R. Rahman

Whew! And, that’s just scratching the surface. The next time you watch one of these movies, listen for the musical cues and the moods the score creates. You’ll be so grateful to these composers and their work! I’ve been adding to this list for a month, and know I’ve forgotten some. Share with us your favorites!!!

Next time on the blog… we’ll talk about… purses!

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