Incidental Music

Incidental Music: def. (noun)- music used in a film as a background to create or enhance a particular atmosphere, otherwise known as a score

Sunday, December 30, 2012

FInal December Score Reviews and January Scores :)

Hi there! I hope you all have been enjoying a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. I certainly have, which is why I completely forgot to blog last week! Oops. This week's post will be short and sweet because I'm busy preparing to go on an adventure!  I'm going on a 9 day medical brigade to Nicaragua with 34 people I don't know at all, and I'm so excited and nervous. It's going to be wonderful. What does this mean for the blog? Well, three things: First, for those of you wondering about my series on the scoring process, it will be continued next month-probably the 3rd week of January, so look forward to that (read Part One here). Second, I won't be blogging next week, because I'll be in a foreign country with no access to the Internet! Third and tentatively,  I hope to hear some native music while I'm in Nicaragua, so hopefully next time I blog, I'll be able to discuss the cool music I heard while I was there! Today, I just have a couple reviews for you and a list of scores to look out for in January.

Jack Reacher, by Joe Kraemer-6/10
You know, this one surprised me! Joe Kraemer's a newcomer on the major Hollywood composing scene-this is the first "blockbuster" film he's worked on, and I have to say, it's definitely an acceptable debut. I'm rating it 6 out of 10 because nothing really stood out to me as fantastically brilliant, but I definitely liked things about it. I appreciated his use of strings to drive his music forward and to form rich full chords. The main theme is reminiscent of a Hans Zimmer theme, with low brass, timpani, and fast moving strings. My favorite tracks are Main Title, Helen's Story, and Suite From Jack Reacher (which you can listen to on Spotify). Purchasing Suggestion? Buy the tracks you like-99 cents on iTunes!

Silver Linings Playbook, by Danny Elfman-4/10
Eh. I wasn't really impressed with this one at all. I was actually really surprised to learn that Danny Elfman wrote it, since it sounds almost nothing like any of his past work. In the past, he's tended to make more symphonic sounding scores. In this score, the main instruments are piano, xylophone, and guitar. All of the tracks sounded similar to me, with the same three note patterns repeating over and over again, so I'm actually tempted to rate it lower. It seems like just another romantic comedy score, except for one thing-He used a small chorus of voices to sing his main themes. Interesting choice-Not bad or good necessarily, just different. Purchasing suggestion? I personally didn't like it, so I wouldn't say this one is worth your money. Listen to it on Spotify or something while working or studying. It's unobtrusive background music, but nothing extraordinary. It actually makes me want to see the movie because maybe the acting (which I've heard is excellent) brings more life to the music.

And here's the January scores! Some of these scores have been released already, but the films themselves will be widely released in January, so I'll talk about them when I get back from my trip. I can't wait to listen to this music. You know, my favorite thing about this blog so far is that I absolutely HAVE to listen to new music so I get to discover new composers and hear new things from the ones I know and love. For example, Fernando Velázquez has only worked on Spanish films in the past, and The Impossible is his first major film. I'm looking forward to hearing his work. I'm also excited about the new score from Alexandre Desplat, one of my favorite composers of all time! 

Zero Dark Thirty, by Alexandre Desplat
Gangster Squad, by Steve Jablonsky
Promised Land, by Danny Elfman
The Impossible, by Fernando Velázquez

Keep your eye out for these scores and listen to the ones I reviewed-please let me know what you think of them! I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'll see you in two weeks after I get back from my adventure! Have a Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Part One: The Players (Plus a Predicatably Glowing Score Review)

Good evening, Internet!  I'm beginning a series on the actual process of scoring a film. This is Part One: The Players. Who is actually involved in scoring a film? The simplified answer is lots and lots of people! Today, I'll provide a list of the major players-not all of these roles will be needed depending on the scale of the film.

Everyone, I present Peter Jackson with a pipe
The Director: A director's artistic and dramatic vision guides much of the movie making process. He/she has an enormous amount of input on the tone and mood of the score and on the final combination of film and music. 

The Producer: The money that pays the music makers! The director wants it, the producer makes it happen. He/she is often in close communication with the director's desired composer before the director and composer even meet to discuss the film.
Howard Shore, looking somewhat tortured
The Composer: A composer usually (though not always) comes into the movie making process after filming is done. The director and composer meet to discuss the score and the movie, and then the composer gets down to writing music! 

The Orchestrator: Interestingly, the composer is not always the individual who writes the score. The composer comes up with the main themes and melodies. The orchestrator takes those melodies and translates them into a larger group of instruments while trying to keep the artistic vision of the original piece written by the composer. Sometimes, the composer and the orchestrator are the same person-Howard Shore, the December Composer of the Month, both composes and orchestrates all of his work. 

A little bit of a mess
The Music Historian/Researcher:  Depending on the movie, the director might hire this person to research instruments or sounds from a certain time period so that they can help the composer and orchestrator match the score to the time period of the film. This person might also find unique instruments to use in the score if the composer want to have a distinct sound that stands out. This job can also be done by the composer.

The Copyist: This person makes neat copies of the composer or orchestrator's manuscript so it's playable by musicians. Not as easy as it sounds, because the manuscript could look something like this →

The Music Makers: They actually play the music!  For "The Hobbit," this would be the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Orchestra Contractor: Orchestra contractors are the agents and talent scouts of the orchestra world. It's their job to make sure that that musicians are found, hired, and brought into the studio or scoring stage to perform the score. 

The London Philharmonic
The Conductor: The composer and/or orchestrator is usually the conductor too, but not always! Sometimes, another person is brought in to conduct the orchestra for the composer.

The Recording Engineer: Recording engineers are incredibly important. They prepare the studio or sound stage for a recording session, operate the mixing console (the big board with all the switches on it), and maintain the studio equipment and instruments. During the recording process, the recording engineer manipulates each track that's recording and mixes them together while tweaking tone, intensity, and tempo, applying effects, and editing the sound. That's a lot of jobs! (Which is why there are often multiple recording engineers involved) 

The Music Mixer: This person is basically the recording engineer, but working after the recording process. Mixers take the final recordings and listen to them again, adjusting and mixing the different instruments or voices together until the balance is perfect. This is especially important if the instruments or singers recorded at different times. The recording engineer can do this job too, depending on the size and budget of the film and the specific requirements.

Sound engineers hard at work
The Mastering Studio: The final mix of the score is sent off to the mastering studio. When you master a recording, you correct any imbalance that might be left in the final mix by taking all the sound levels and making them even and smooth, so that it sounds lovely coming out of a sound system in a theater or out of the ear buds on your headphones. Again, depending on the size and budget of the movie, the recording engineer might also master the music. 

The Music/Sound Editor: This person takes the final mastered tracks and fits them into the final cut of the movie. They make sure that the score serves to enhance the film rather then detracting from the action, putting music in the right places and adjusting the levels of sound at any given point in the movie.

This is just a brief list of people who could be involved in the scoring process. All of these people could have any number of assistants helping them do their jobs. Basically, scoring a film is a big deal and takes a lot of work from many people! Next week, I'll talk more about orchestrating and what that entails. 

Now for the first December score review! 

"The Hobbit," composed, orchestrated, and conducted by Howard Shore: 9.5/10
After seeing the movie and listening to the score as much as I could for the past two weeks, I'm rating this one high. My gushing praise of Howard Shore's work on Lord of the Rings last week probably made this a predictable outcome, but seriously, this score is wonderful. Why? Because it doesn't exactly copy the Lord of the Rings! Sure, some of the main LOTR themes pop up here and there, but only when recurring characters or ideas from the first three films are mentioned. The rest of it is entirely new for an entirely new set of characters on an entirely new adventure! I'm so glad. It would have been so easy for Shore to completely revive all the old music and use that to drive his score. But he didn't! Instead, he took variations on his old themes and expanded them into new melodies! Yay! 

My favorite new theme is the "Misty Mountains" melody, hands down, no competition. Every time it plays during the movie. I want more. It's grand, mysterious, mournful, and longing. The whole idea of the movie, without giving too much away, is that this group of dwarfs are on a quest to reclaim their conquered homeland, and without their home, they really don't have a place to belong. I get all of that from the "Misty Mountains" theme. It first comes in at the beginning of the film, when the dwarves all start singing it in low, deep voices filled with emotion and determination. It sent chills down my spine. It comes up multiple times throughout the film. In one particular scene, the adventuring group is traveling over these gorgeous mountains and the theme blares out in horns and heavy drums with high strings playing arpeggios behind them. It made the scene incredibly thrilling. 

My favorite tracks on the score? Well, if I have to choose...1)"Misty Mountains" in which the dwarves sing in deep and captivating voices. 2) "The World is Ahead," in which you hear both the Misty Mountains theme and the Bilbo Baggin's theme music that completely encapsulates the quirkiness and endearing nature of his character. 3) "Over Hill," the music that plays on in the moment on the mountains I described above. 4) "My Dear Frodo," in which you hear the Dwarf Lords theme and a lot of the action music that will come up throughout the movie. But, honestly, I don't really have a favorite track. I like them all. 

Purchasing suggestion? Buy it all. In fact, buy the extended edition of the soundtrack like I did, because it has tracks like "Erebor" and "The Dwarf Lords" that are super great.

Side Note: See the movie too. I was originally upset with Peter Jackson for splitting the Hobbit into three movies, but he put SO much detail into this movie that I've forgiven him. In fact, he added things that will actually make the Hobbit movies flow directly into the LOTR movies, which I really like. Also, the acting is spot on and the world of the film, including sets, costumes, and scenery, is just astounding. I don't mind Jackson making money off me if he's going to deliver beautiful films like this! 

That's all I have for you tonight! Comment below with thoughts on the Hobbit score/movie and on the scoring process! Next week, look for a post on orchestration and another score review or two :)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December Composer of the Month and a Special Treat!

Hi everyone! Our composer of the month for December is Howard Shore! I chose him because he's releasing a new soundtrack this month for "The Hobbit," for which I'm very, very, VERY excited. Also, I think his work on the Lord of the Rings (LOTR for short) series is astonishing. Even if you're not a fan of the movies, I think you must listen to the music. For most movies, there may be two or three main themes that crop up throughout, but because of the scale of LOTR, Shore had to compose dozens of themes. Each character or set of characters in the vast cinematic world of Middle Earth has their own specific melodies, and ALL of them are beautiful. In my opinion, not one is unoriginal or cliched. He also recorded over 10 hours of music with an orchestra and various vocal artists for the three films. To give you a perspective, most composers only give an hour per movie...that means he, with the help of his production team, wrote, scored, and recorded THREE TIMES the normal amount of music for each LOTR film.  He also arranged songs in the original languages that J.R.R. Tolkien invented for his books, which is incredible because writing and arranging songs in normal English can be devilishly hard! I love his work on these films, and so I think he's worth learning about as a composer! 

Howard Shore was born on October 18, 1946 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which is cool for me because I'm Canadian via my Canadian father :) He studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and from 1969 to 1972, he played alto saxophone in a band called Lighthouse, which incorporated sounds from rock, classical, jazz, and swing styles to create their sound. Here's one of their popular songs-One Fine Morning. I like it! It's got a good rhythm :) 

 Shore was the musical director for Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980, and fun fact: he's the one who suggested the name "The Blues Brothers" to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi for their "band" on SNL. His first major film score was for director David Cronenberg's "The Brood" and like the Williams/Spielberg duo,  Shore has since worked on all for Cronenberg's subsequent films except one. In 1991, he scored the Oscar winning film, "The Silence of the Lambs." He received his first set of award nominations for this score, although he did not win any awards-a more light-hearted film, Beauty and the Beast, swept most of the awards that year.

Shore's leap into the film music spotlight came with the Lord of the Rings scores in the early 2000s. He won three Oscars for his work on LOTR: two for Best Original Score-"The Fellowship of the Ring" and "Return of the King" and one for Best Original Song-"Into the West"-Return of the King. This set of scores is so popular that he actually tours and conducts orchestras playing the Lord of the Rings Symphony, like a composer rock star! (John Williams does this too for his music-their music is legendary!! ) Here's a link to various Youtube playlists that contain basically all his music from LOTR. I recommend just hitting play and letting the glorious music wash over you for 10 hours.

Since the success of LOTR, Shore has continued to write many other beautiful scores, which I think get overshadowed by LOTR. He wrote lovely music for "Doubt," starring Meryl Streep, my favorite actress. He also scored "The Aviator," "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," "A Dangerous Method," and "Hugo,"  all of which are lovely in their own right. He definitely has a style that's evident throughout his work. You hear it especially in comparing his work on "The Aviator," "A Dangerous Method" and LOTR. Classical and elegant is the best way to describe it. I think he's wonderful, and I can't wait for his Hobbit score, which brings me to the treat part of today's post...

Treat: We don't have to wait to listen to the "Hobbit" score because we can stream it online right now via Rolling Stone! Yay! Listen to it now! I'm going to wait to review it until next week after I've seen the movie, but I'll tell you that I got chills listening to the first track. Lord of the Rings, along with Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean, introduced to me to the wonder that is movie music, so Shore's LOTR themes hold a very special place in my heart. 

Well, that's all I have for you this week! Next week, look forward to the Hobbit score review as well as some other movie music related topic yet to be determined! Comment below with your thoughts on Shore's music!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Last of the November Score Reviews and December Scores :)

Hello everyone! I took a unanticipated two week break from writing due to Thanksgiving shenanigans and procrastinating on studying for two Organic Chemistry exams. But, I'm back now with score reviews and a list of scores to be on the look-out for in December!

(Side Note-I'm going to start ranking them out of 10. For an idea of my scale, think of the Lincoln score as 10 and um, well, I find it really hard to hate on movie scores a 1 would be nothing but something like this song repeated over and over and over again until the end of the movie)  

Anna Karenina, by Dario Marianelli and Benjamin Wallfisch
9/10-With a tagline like "You Can't Ask Why About Love," I expected this score to be dramaticand romantic. It is. It's full of plaintive violin solos that feel like they're literally pulling on my heart, and on some tracks, a lilting female voice sings something in Russian that sounds so lovely. Almost every track feels like a dance. Some are fast paced and boisterous, while others glide gently along. There's lots of Russian-esque sounds-accordians, woodwinds, violins, with tubas or low strings beating out oom-papas underneath. It's very, very, very dramatic, and it's reminiscent of a Tchaikovsky ballet-The Nutcracker or Romeo and Juliet. If you want to buy one song that sums it up , I suggest the first track, "Overture," which contains most of the main themes. My favorite tracks are that one, in addition to "The Girl and the Birch," "I Understood Something," and "Leaving Home/Coming Home." Purchasing Suggestion: Buy it! But only if you like Tchaikovsky ballets.

Breaking Dawn Part 2, by Carter Burwell
6.5-7/10-I'm scoring this one just above average, but that's because I really love three or four tracks and don't like the rest. The first track is absolutely glorious and contains everything I've loved about all the Twilight movie scores in the past. But that's because it's the "Twilight Overture," and therefore contains music from all of the Twilight movies, especially Alexandre Desplat's lovely "The Meadow" theme. The rest of the score kinda lets me down. Why? Well, this might be just my own personal preference, but Burwell does this thing with screaming electric guitars that I find absolutely horrendous. (See here, here, and here.) It's like he says to himself, "Nope, not putting a voice or a choir in there. Let's make a guitar sing instead. But really badly, so as to increase tension in the scene and make our audience's ears hurt." OK, so that's probably harsh, but the guitar thing really does get on my nerves. This causes me to automatically dislike most of his more fast paced tracks, because he uses that guitar in them. All that said, I do really really like some of the other tracks.  Burwell does best when he sticks to simplicity. Simple piano, simple strings, simple woodwinds."Renesmee's Lullaby" has just piano at the beginning and I really like that one a lot. "At Bedtime A Child Asks About Death" and "Present Time" are similarly pretty, where he rises with the strings and then brings them back down to a different chord, and then moves back to the rising again. I wish he would have make his whole soundtrack like those two tracks, just piano, strings, and woodwinds. Purchasing Suggestion: Buy the tracks you like. Ignore the screaming guitar.

Life of Pi, by Mychael Danna

5.5/10-It's a good little score. Easy to listen to, some cool instruments, and easy to have playing in the background. But also, just average, because none of the tracks really struck me as "must-haves" for my own collection. There are couple reasons for this: First, I didn't really find any of his melodies to be very strong choices. It all sounded a little generic to me, ambient noises. I listened to the entire score a couple times through, and very little pulled at my ear to draw me away from what I was doing. My heart was not captured. Second, although there are some very nice moments in the score, many of the tracks I liked are only 1 minute or less long, so I'm only buying one moment at a time, not many nice moments strung together in a long track.  I do really like like his use of flutes and female vocals crooning above/behind a layer of strings. My favorite tracks are "Pi's Lullaby," "Pondicherry" and "Flying Fish."

Bonus! Rise of the Guardians, by Alexandre Desplat
8.5/10-HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT DESPLAT WAS RELEASING A NEW SCORE? Seriously guys, this is insane. Desplat is my favorite composer of all time, or, well, tied with John Williams at least. I love every single score he's done. No exceptions at all. So, I am very surprised I did not know he was scoring Rise of the Guardians. His score makes me want to see the movie. It's full of adventure and you can feel the holiday spirit in it as well. You can hear his characteristic use of fast moving strings and a pumping bass line on "Calling the Guardians." "Wind Take Me Home!" must be a track during which Santa's sleigh is flying, because it just feels so right for it- He uses sleigh bells to add to the Christmas-y feeling and high brass to make it feel grand and majestic."Jamie Believes" is so lovely and delicate, moving along-I feel like believing in magic when I hear it. It's a perfect score for a Christmas movie. It's only ranking 8.5 because, alas, not even Desplat escapes the curse of Christmas scores...meaning that they inevitably all sound cliched at some point because they all sound like Christmas :) Which I don't mind because that's the point but I think Desplat could have possibly been more original because I know he's that good! Purchasing Suggestion: Buy the tracks you like because it could technically be considered "just another Christmas movie score." I personally want the whole thing to add to my Desplat collection <3

Wow. That was a lot of reviews! December Score time! December is a weird month this year because there's only a couple blockbuster films being released in theatres everywhere. There are, however, a TON of limited release films because they want to get them out in time for Oscar season. These films will be released in the New Year, so their soundtracks aren't widely available even though the movies are out. This makes my job easier during the holiday season because there's less scores, but also makes me sad, because November was such a great month for new music. So here we go!

December 11th: The Hobbit, by Howard Shore
YES. YES. YES. I love the Lord of the Rings movies and their music so much, and when I heard the score preview, chills ran down my spine. SO ready for this. Anticipate a good score rating from me for this one.

December 18th: Jack Reacher, by Joe Kraemer
This is a weird one for the list, admittedly, but I include it because it's a Tom Cruise movie and therefore a blockbuster hopeful. Also because there's someone new writing this score, and I'm wondering how it'll turn out. Joe Kraemer has only done low budget films and TV shows before this, and I've listened to some of his music on Spotify-it's not bad! So, I'll listen to this score and maybe I'll be surprised with something cool!

December 25th (?): Parental Guidance, by Marc Shaiman
I'm including this one because Shaiman composed the music for Hairspray and co-wrote the lyrics too, and I love that musical. His previous scores include The Bucket List and Sleepless in Seattle. It's a family comedy so I'm thinking this one will be average, but I could be wrong!

(Side Note:Les Miserables will probably not have a score album released, but I suggest you go see the movie and buy the soundtrack. It's a wonderful musical and is sure to have absolutely glorious music playing behind glorious singing voices)

And that's all I have for today! Next week, it'll be time for Composer of the Month!  Thanks so much for reading and please comment below with your own thoughts about the scores I've reviewed. Feel free to suggest any December scores I might have overlooked and ones I should add to my listening list for the month!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Score vs. Soundtrack

Hello everyone! Today, I want to discuss a question that might seem to have a straight forward answer...but perhaps not! For the most recent Twilight movie and for many other movies, there is a soundtrack album and a score album. So, what is the different between a score and a soundtrack?

Let's start with the basic dictionary and Wikipedia definitions. According to Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster, a soundtrack is "a recording of the musical accompaniment to a movie." A score, however, is "music composed for a movie." Wikipedia's definitions expand on this a little- a soundtrack is "recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture" and a score is "original music written specifically to accompany a film." OK, so what's the difference? If the soundtrack is a recording of the musical accompaniment to the film, and if the score is the music written to accompany a film, then there's really no difference between a soundtrack and a score, right? Well, yes and no.

For many movies, it's true that the soundtrack and the score are the exact same thing-"Lincoln" has no other music accompanying it except  for John William's divinely inspired melodies, so therefore, its score is its soundtrack! In other cases, however, there is more music accompanying the film besides the music written specifically for it. In these cases, a score is written by one person, usually for an orchestra. His/her music plays constantly in the background of the movie with full versions of each track. A soundtrack, however, contains songs by various different artists and most, if not all, of these songs were not written specifically for the movie. These songs are usually not orchestral songs, and each track only has a small portion of it played throughout the movie.

Here's how this whole thing works: I loved the movie "Shrek" when I was a kid and I still love it. It's got a gorgeous score written by Harry Gregson Williams and John Powell. (see here: Shrek Score Suite) But "Shrek" also has a soundtrack. Remember that opening scene where Shrek's brushing his teeth with slug slime and Smashmouth is belting out "All Star" in the background? Or Shrek and Donkey's epic journey to Princess Fiona's castle accompanied by The Proclaimers singing "I'm On My Way"? Or John Cale's heart rending version of "Hallelujah" behind images of sad Princess Fiona and sad Shrek after he's given her over to Lord Farquaad? These songs are part of the soundtrack, not the score. You only hear snippets of these songs, and they're not orchestral music. These songs are also written by multiple artists and they aren't exclusive for the movie. For instance, "All Star" is also on the soundtrack to another kids' movie-"Inspector Gadget." 

These distinctions between the soundtrack and the score mostly hold true, but of course, there are exceptions. For example, I mentioned "Breaking Dawn: Part Two" earlier. It does indeed have a soundtrack and a score...but all the songs on the soundtrack were written by those artists specifically for the movie, so that distinction is null. The soundtrack, in that case, is written by lots of people, it's not orchestral, and the songs are played in short sound clips throughout the movie. Actually, I think some of those songs actually aren't even in the movie at all, which kinda makes me wonder why they're even there. Another exception is "Moonrise Kingdom," which has an orchestral score written specifically for the film by Alexandre Desplat...but that score doesn't get an album of its own because it's very short.  It's included on a soundtrack album with the rest of the songs from the film, which weren't written specifically for the film. This begs the question...why release two different albums for the score and soundtrack anyway? It's all mu

The answer is probably that the studios want more money. They try to squeeze as much as they can out of you by releasing two albums at a low/medium price instead of one album at a high price to trick you into buying both (a trick which I have definitely fallen for multiple times). I'd prefer to believe, however, that although it might be more lucrative, it also gives appreciation and acknowledgement to all artists involved in proportion to their work on the film. The soundtrack artists, though their music adds a lot to the film, usually give one song each so they're all compiled together on one album. The movie music composer often contributes over an hour of music to the film with many, many tracks, so there's a special album just for him/her :) I generally prefer the score to the soundtrack...but then again, I do write about film scores, so that shouldn't be a surprise!

Well, that's all I have for you this week! Comment below with your thoughts on scores vs. soundtracks: Am I right or did I get the answer completely wrong? Let me know! Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving in advance! I hope you've all got fantastic plans for the holiday that involve spending time with those you love :) Next week, look for reviews of the scores for Breaking Dawn Part Two and Anna Karenina, as well as some other topic yet to be determined!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Composer of the Month and Skyfall/Lincoln Score Reviews

Hi! Welcome to post #3!

First, our composer of the month is...John Williams! Two reasons why: First, he released a beautiful new score this month (to be discussed later). Second, and more importantly, I think everyone who wants to know about film music needs to know about him. If there was a god of movie music, it'd be him. So, who is John William anyway? Well, I've spent this week learning about him and his life, and I realized that I didn't actually know the answer to that question as well as I thought!

John Williams was born in Long Island, New York on February 8, 1932. He learned how to play piano at a very young age, and by the time he moved to L.A. at age 16, he was the leader of his own jazz band and arranging music. His ambition was to be a concert pianist, and at age 19, he debuted his first original piece of music.

After going to UCLA and Los Angeles City College, he studied orchestration and music composition under film music writers of the time. He conducted for the first time when he was drafted into the Air Force, where he arranged music and conducted for the Air Force Band for three years. After his military service, he studied piano playing at Julliard and worked in jazz clubs to pay the bills. After some years there, he moved back to L.A. where he found work in Hollywood as a film studio orchestrator, working on television show music and on movie music.

His first film score was for "Daddy-O" in 1958, popularized by Mystery Science Theater 3000 for being, well, a terrible film ( if you're interested in watching some MST3K). The score itself isn't necessarily brilliant, but it reveals William's strong background in jazz. He continued scoring throughout the 1960s, mostly on comedies, but then, in 1971, he won his first Oscar for his orchestration of the musical Fiddler on the Roof!  Isn't that awesome? I didn't know he worked on that movie, let alone won an Oscar for it!

The 1970s were a pretty awesome time for Williams. He began his friendship with Steven Spielberg in the early years of the decade and won an Oscar in 1975 for his collaboration with Spielberg on "Jaws"- After that, he worked with a guy named George Lucas on a movie called "Star Wars" and won an Oscar for that too in 1977. The "Star Wars" score is widely regarded as the score that changed movie music forever, bringing back the epic cinema sound that had characterized film scores in the 1930s and 1940s. It is still the best selling score  of all time- The big, brassy sound you hear in the opening credits to Star Wars came to be known as Williams' characteristic sound.

His career continued gloriously. He wrote for the rest of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, "Superman," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and "E.T." (Oscar winning). He also wrote for the first three Harry Potter films, "Schindler's List"(Oscar winning), "Jurassic Park," and many many more. He continues to score films to this day, at 80 years old! That's amazing and basically confirms my belief that the music business keeps people young forever and ever.

All in all, Williams has written well over a hundred scores, been nominated for an Academy Award over fifty times, and has won five times (which if you ask me, is insulting considering his INCREDIBLE work). There has never been any one like him in the film score business, and I very much doubt there ever will be, considering the sheer length of time he's been scoring and the amount of scores he's written. I love so much of his work that I really couldn't pick a favorite. And his music only seems to be improving with age. His most recent scores are some of his best ever in my opinion.

Well, that's John Williams in a nutshell! Challenge this week-Go find his music and listen to it! There's tons of if on Spotify and Youtube and Pandora and all those good free music listening sites. Comment below with what score of his you listened to and what you think about him!

Now, onto a couple reviews of scores that were released this week.
  • "Skyfall" by Thomas Newman. Hm. I have mixed feelings on this one. First, let me say that I listened to the score before I saw the movie, and I didn't really like it too much. Then, I saw the movie, and well, it's still not my favorite Bond score. "Casino Royale" still wins that battle. But the "Skyfall" score definitely works so much better in context, and I like it A LOT more after seeing it in action. It accompanies the movie quite well and puts the right feelings in the right places. There's lots of driving beats to keep the tension high with stringed instruments and percussion as the baseline and horns entering to escalate and blast out hints of the Bond theme. Particularly in the action scenes, Newman favors low strings-basses and cellos. Newman also uses appropriate instruments to fit the settings of the various scenes, sometimes exotic, sometimes not. (I won't give the settings to avoid spoilers, but if you listen to the score, you should be able to guess!). My favorite tracks are "Severine,"  "Tennyson," "Brave New World," Komodo Dragon," and "Breadcrumbs." Purchasing suggestion? Listen on Spotify and buy your favorite tracks like I did.
    • Fun Fact About my listening habits: Often, I'm doing something else like doing homework or making dinner while I'm listening to scores. The tracks that force me to stop what I'm doing and listen again are usually the ones that end up my favorites :)   

  • "Lincoln" by John Williams. I've already made it known that I adore Williams, so it really shouldn't be a surprise that I love this score. Now, I haven't seen the movie yet, but the story of Lincoln's life is very familiar to me after learning about him so much in school. I have a pretty good idea of about the kind of moods the score should evoke. For the most part, the score should put the audience in the Civil War era with its instruments and inspire in them admiration, sadness, respect, reverence, and awe for this great man. I felt all of that from the first 30 seconds of the score. In fact, um, I teared up during the first 30 seconds. It's just really beautiful! Those of you familiar with Williams' work will find it reminiscent of his "War Horse" score. I don't have a favorite track. I love the whole thing, so I'll just highlight a few tracks. "The American Process" has a really lovely woodwind section-oboes, clarinets, flutes, and bassoons. Then, Williams brings it all down to a simple piano line. He does that quite a bit in this, working with a number of instruments then bringing the melody to a single instrument. In "The Southern Delegation and the Dream," the instrument is a trumpet for a large part of the it, then a french horn. In "Freedom's Call," the instrument is a violin.  For me, this single instrument evokes the image of Lincoln standing up amidst a crowd and giving speeches. Another track worth noting is "Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom," which begins with a drum beat and a piccolo, and continues with a full choir singing Battle Cry of Freedom, an anthem for the Union during the Civil War. There's a couple fun fiddling tracks as well-"Getting Out the Vote" and "The Race to the House."  Purchasing suggestions? Buy the whole score and listen to it all the time. It's worth your money. 
Well, that's all I have for you today! Thanks for reading! Remember to listen to the wonderful John Williams this week and comment below with what you listened to and what you like/don't like about his music. Maybe you don't think he's a genius at all, but a terrible composer! Let me know. Also, please listen to the two scores above and feel free to tell me what YOU think-I'd like to hear your opinions! Talk to you soon!
(John Williams Biography courtesy of and

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Female Composers (Or Lack Thereof) and November Film Scores

Hi everyone! First of all, HUGE thanks to you who are reading this and following me on Facebook or Tumblr. I'm super excited about starting this blog and writing about something I really love. So thanks for joining me!

Today, I'd like to address a comment I made in my first post: one of the factors that contributes to my low chances of being a film score composer is that "I'm not a man." Why should that make a difference? Well, let's begin with a generic list of the 100 greatest film score composers of all time from (it's a very debatable list, but it's a good illustration of the point I'm making) See that one little red arrow? It's pointing to the ONLY woman on the list.

You might be thinking, "There must be more out there...maybe they just aren't considered 'great'?" Well, let's go even more basic-how about a Wikipedia article?  It's true that there are more female film composers out there in the world...but not many. This page lists at least 500 score composers - 38 are women ( Not only is that an astonishingly low number, but based on further research, very few of them actually compose for movies. Most are just composers of their own independent music. Apparently, it's not just film music that suffers a lack of females. Orchestral music in general needs more estrogen!

I really can't believe there are so few female composers, and I have to wonder...why? Thankfully, there are plenty of answers to this question because I'm not the only one who's noticed this problem. I found many articles discussing this issue, and I've posted the links to my three favorites at the bottom of the paragraph if you'd like to read them. The New York Times article, written by Anthony Tommasini, gives two reasons which I think are valid. First reason?  "Deep-seated male chauvinism" from the 1700s and before claiming that women couldn't compose music as well as men. Second reason? "Until relatively recent times, musicians, ensembles and musical institutions were overwhelmingly male" because women weren't encouraged to play many of the orchestral therefore orchestras were less inclined to play music written by a mere female. Hm.  It seems that writing music is yet another field in which men were perceived better than women, and therefore won out. Now, I'm not a hard core feminist, but this gets me really upset, because I'm sure the world has lost some beautiful music because women were prevented from sharing it. Sigh.

The good news in all this? Well, maybe I shouldn't be so pessimistic about my own chances in movie music because it looks like things are slowly changing for women in orchestral music. There are now TONS of female musicians involved in orchestras and musical institutions. According to an 2011 article from Equilibrium, the Undergrad Journal for Economics at U-W Madison, women made up about 10% of the members of large orchestras in the US in 1980, but in 1997, they were up to 25% ( I couldn't find any more recent numbers, but if that kind of progress continued, I imagine orchestras are almost 50/50 now. Now, if that's the case (and as long as that male chauvinism is going away too), I think we can anticipate more female composers on the movie music scene very soon. At least I really hope so! This is an issue I'll be tracking as I write this blog and I'll make sure to let you guys know if a new female composer shows up!

As I was writing this post, I realized that I probably should have written about something much more basic and introductory. I mean, gosh, I haven't even covered the difference between a soundtrack and a score, or the process of scoring, or the many different people involved in taking a score from a melody to the screen, or a hundred other important things about scores! But, the reason I wanted to talk about this now is that this issue has been weighing on me for awhile. I also wanted to explain why there's no women when I start featuring composers in my writing. I'm going to have a composer of the month segment on this blog and also occasionally writing about some composers who've passed away who deserve to be remembered for their awesome work. Sadly, there are only two female composers that I know of who fit these categories, and in the coming months, I will write about them both. One's alive. The other...well...not. But more on that later, let's move on to film scores!

Another thing I will be doing on this blog is giving you all a heads up on new scores coming out in the month. So, it's November now, and here are the scores I'm looking forward to and will be listening to all month. This is a really good month for movie score lovers, that's for sure! (The release date shown is the iTunes release date.)
  • November 6th-The Skyfall score, written by Thomas Newman. YAY NEW BOND MOVIE. I love Daniel Craig.  I'm a little nervous about this score because it's not written by David Arnold, the guy who's scored the last few Bond movies. But, this score preview has gotten me pretty excited, and I can't wait to hear the whole thing when it comes out!
  • November 19- The Breaking Dawn Part Two score, written by Carter Burwell. Yes, I know it's a Twilight movie, but that doesn't mean the music can't be fantastic! I was kinda disappointed in Burwell's score for the last Twilight movie. I mean, some tracks were good, but I just didn't think it was memorable, so I hope he does some wonderful things on this last Twilight outing of his. Here's a sample of his work on Breaking Dawn Part One--
  • November 6-The Lincoln score, written by John Williams. I take back my excitement for the new Bond movie and score, because everything about Lincoln screams greatness. You've got Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, which guarantees that the real Abraham Lincoln will be alive again onscreen because Lewis's acting is so good. The score...John Williams...the man who basically created all the iconic movie scores ever! Here's a preview of the score...just listen to it and you'll see why I literally can't wait.
  • November 19th-The Life of Pi score, written by Mychael Danna. This movie comes from a great book, and all the trailers for the movie look so visually stunning that I can't imagine it won't be accompanied by a similarly stunning score. Here's the score preview- So far, so good, I think! Nice use of beautiful vocals and unique instruments.
  • November 13(?)-The Anna Karenina score, written by Dario Marianelli. Again, another one that I'm very excited for, because I love the composer. Interesting Fact: He did the scores for Pride and Prejudice and Atonement...both also Keira Knightly movies like Anna Karenina! The score preview definitely gives off the dramatic Imperial Russia vibe of the Tolstoy novel, and I think it's going to be very lovely.
Well, this was a long post! Thanks again for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know your thoughts about female composers or about these upcoming scores in the comments below. Check back next week for our featured composer of the month and some of my first score reviews! Bye!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

First post!

Hello everybody! Welcome to the first post on "Incidentally, Music!" my film score analysis and appreciation blog! Yay! The intent of today's post is to provide a quick introduction to film music and give my two reasons for writing this blog. Here we go!

 First, I'd like to answer a question that I'm sure you've all been asking yourselves every time you see a movie and hear the music playing in the background: Why is that music even there? Well, time for a brief history lesson! For as long as there have been plays performed on a stage, there has been musical accompaniment to the action called incidental music. Its purpose is to give a greater theatricality and depth to the action, inspiring emotion and conveying a specific mood. In ancient Greece, a Chorus and minimal musical instruments such as drums provided the music. In Shakespearean times, the music came from the actors or from a flute or a lute player sitting in the wings. As the orchestra developed, plays received more elaborate incidental music. Fact: Beethoven wrote musical accompaniments for plays. Hear his overture to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's play, Egmont. -Egmont: Overture

When movies came on the scene in the late 1800s, there was no recorded sound. Movies were silent...silent, that is, except for music! This was called photoplay music, and it wasn't often composed specifically for the movie itself. It was usually a compilation of famous classical pieces designed to provide emotion to the voiceless pictures on the screen. When sound was introduced to movies, the composing of a specific musical score gradually became a part of the movie making process. Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, film music transitioned from old music recycled for the screen to large, extravagant pieces written for the movie itself. This is the film score and it is an integral part of the movies to the present day. The purpose of the film score is the same as the incidental music of old. It plays in the background, not designed to overpower the action, but to enhance it, creating a particular atmosphere, emotion, or mood. To see what that means, watch from 0:15 to 1:40 in this clip from The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, you have the iconic Imperial March at the beginning, but you might be surprised at how the music constantly plays throughout the scene, but you don't really notice it that much. It's sneaky, aiding mood and only coming to crescendos at certain times.

One reason for writing this blog is that I love film music in all its forms, from a simple piano accompaniment in Pride and Prejudice to electronic instruments in The Social Network to a sweeping orchestra score in Casino Royale. I love what music can add to the images on the screen in film so I think the art of composing for movies needs to be appreciated by many more people in this world!

Now, about me. On the left is one of my favorite paintings-Woman at the Piano, painted in 1875 by Renoir, a French Impressionist painter. On the right is a picture of me, taken in the not-so-distant past. Do they look similar? I think so, and I find it slightly eerie and amazing at the same time, because that's really me. The woman at the piano. I have been playing piano for almost 14 years, and I love it so darn much. I hated it at first, but then I got good enough that I started learning how to improvise, how to make up my own music, and in 8th grade, I wrote my first song. After that, my piano and my music writing became the way I expressed my heart, and it is difficult for me to go more than a day without playing, because I feel it. I need to get the music out.

My love for writing and playing music is the second reason I'm writing this blog. If I had all the money in the world, I would drop everything right now, forget my pre-med Bio major, and run as fast as I could to Hollywood to become the female John Williams (He composed for Star Wars, Schindler's List, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, War Horse, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Memoirs of A get the idea, He's amazing). Sadly, I don't have all the money in the world. More than that, I'm not going to school at a music conservatory for bright young composers,  I'm not a musical prodigy, and I'm not a man (I'll discuss why THAT point is  significant in another post). So, the odds of being a film composer are quite stacked against me. That's pretty disheartening. But, I've accepted that, I will write music for myself until the day I die, and because I can't be a film composer, I will write this blog and appreciate and enjoy the music of others!

The purpose of this blog will be, quite simply, to analyze and enjoy film scores (and perhaps the occasional video game or television show score, because many popular shows and games get their own composers these days because the budget for them is huge!). I hope to create a forum for discussion about movie music and music writing in general, and I hope you'll join me in that by following this blog! I'll write once or twice a week, and it'll be a little haphazard at first, because I'm just figuring all this out.  Generally, I think I'll talk about one or two scores per post. These scores might be scores from older movies to show you more about the history of movie music, scores that I personally enjoy and want to share, scores from certain movie genres to compare the use of music across genres, or scores from today's box office hits!
Disclaimer: I WILL be talking about some of this music without having seen the movie it belongs to, especially the movies that are in theaters. That might seem strange, but, as stated earlier, I do not have an unlimited amount of money. Therefore, trips to the movies once or twice a week are not within the budget of this blog. I think this will be ok, however, because movie music is designed to convey a specific mood for the movie, and I can often get a feel for that just by watching trailers or clips. For these cases, I promise I will try to see the movie at some point after I talk about its music to see if my perception of the music changes after seeing the entire film instead of just clips.
I might also feature specific composers sometimes, because it's important to acknowledge the makers of the beautiful music! I do have a few favorites that are near and dear to my heart that do not get their due recognition by the award giving entities of the film industry.

So that's it for tonight! Please feel free to comment below and let me know if you have any scores/composers in particular you'd like me to talk about or if you have any questions for me!