Henry ManciniKnowing me, you likely expect this post to be about musicals — but that isn’t the focus of my thoughts today. (Although one of my favorite bits of film scoring is from a movie musical. More about that later.)

On Saturday night, our local symphony orchestra presented their annual tribute to the Oscars concert, featuring music from Academy Award winning films, which got me thinking about the role music plays in our enjoyment, understanding, and memories of films.

The music during the concert was glorious, stirring, memory-provoking, beautiful. I enjoyed even the parts I was unfamiliar with. (Am I allowed to admit I haven’t seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy and still remain a friend of Brian Sibley?)

I realized as I listened that some music has become a part of our collective consciousness (to a greater or lesser extent). I haven’t seen any of the Bond films, either, yet I knew nearly all the music in the 007 segment — and I learned that a song I like very much, Nobody Does it Better, had it’s beginning in a Bond film.

Maestro Sawa is the quintessential movie buff, so he introduces each segment with stories of the movies themselves, of the score, of the stars and the composers. It is fascinating — and he obviously enjoys the concert as much as the audience does.

The highlight of the evening for me was the tribute to Henry Mancini. I had a smile on my face (quite likely a rather goofy smile) throughout the medley, which could almost have been dubbed a tribute to Blake Edwards as well, since only a few of the songs excerpted in the medley were from films other than one of Blake’s. Mancini was a master of melody and of evoking a mood, from The Days of Wine and Roses to the theme from Peter Gunn and the instantly recognizable theme from The Pink Panther series. Click on the link in the first mention of Mancini’s name in this paragraph, go to His Music, then to Music Samples, to hear clips of these songs and so many more.

Music adds so much to a film. I don’t mean the songs sung in musicals, but the underlying score. The music that intensifies the emotion, the reaction of the audience to what the characters are experiencing. The music that may be thought of as “incidental” but with a purpose that is far from incidental.

Alain Mayrand in a post called “How Big?” from his fabulous blog Getting the Score,  said this of composing film scores, and what the composer is supposed to be doing with the music:
“… the points to remember are these:
Always consider the story
The overall tone of the film?
Where you are in the structure of the story
What is the subtext? What can the music add to the scene that you can’t already see?”

Note: Mayrand’s blog is now part of his website.

Unlike writing the score for a musical, in which the songs are written long before rehearsals begin, in a collaborative effort between the book writer, the composer, and the lyricist, a film score, the underlying music that helps drive the scene forward, is composed as one of the last steps in producing the movie, after the action is captured on film.

Either with the film playing before the composer’s eyes, or with a minute-by-minute, second-by-second written description of the action, the composer creates the score, building up the action, getting the viewer deeper into the character’s reaction, working synergistically with the script and the action on the screen to form the total experience that is the film. You can get an idea of how this happens in the 2006 movie The Holiday in which Jack Black’s character is a film composer.

Randy Newman explains the process far better than I could, in this video.

Next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the music. How does it affect your emotions from scene to scene? What does it tell you that may not be obvious on the screen? You might be surprised.

Oh — that favorite bit of underscoring that I mentioned at the beginning of the post? It is by Henry Mancini, in his score for the film Victor/Victoria. There is a scene (if you have the DVD, it is scene 19, King pays a call) in which there is an intricate “dance” of people sneaking into places they don’t belong, hiding, changing places, with an underscore titled Cat and Mouse. Watch it, and see what Mancini does with the music. It is, in my mind, perfect. And now I think I’ll watch a movie… no, I think I’ll listen to a movie.

%d bloggers like this: