Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

shop talk

movie music . . .

June 28, 2012

Ever notice how intensely the musical score in a film or TV show can impact your overall viewing experience?

As you might have guessed, most people tend to register a film or TV score only semi-consciously or peripherally and only when it is drawn to their attention are they fully aware of what they’ve heard. And yet in my experience, the music is primary – in other words, a great score can save an OK film but a bad score will almost certainly sink even a great piece of film making.

So what’s going on here?

For one thing, music (like fragrance) can penetrate one’s awareness with lightning speed and can bypass the conscious mind and penetrate the unconscious mind in a flash. And though individual taste, cultural background and musical sophistication can vary widely, there seems to be some mysterious cross-over point wherein what we hear draws us collectively to known points in the vast landscape of emotion (triumph, sorrow, longing, joy, mystery, dread, etc.).

Another way to think about this is to imagine Star Wars minus John Williams’ stirring brass fanfare, Psycho minus Bernard Hermann’s shrieking strings or The Magnificent Seven minus Elmer Bernstein’s expansive western themes. Right? So it’s pretty clear that these scores crucially influence the quality of one’s overall experience. Even hearing a mere snippet of a score of this quality can instantly conjure up a rush of emotion and memory that is strikingly immediate. It of course follows that a mediocre score can just as easily derail our enjoyment of a film. As I said earlier, the music can make or break a project because of its capacity to instantaneously reach beyond our conscious awareness, for good or ill.

Thanks to the movie industry, Los Angeles has long been graced with a unique concentration of great composers and musicians. The old artistic prejudices that held film work to be less important than concert work are finally fading away and we are entering an exciting new phase for music across multiple creative platforms.

So coming back to my initial question, tell us what you notice. And the next time you’re at the movies, take a moment to imagine the composer, conductor, arranger, instrumentalists, vocalists and recording engineers on a sound stage somewhere creating this magical element that so influences your experience. And then give them a nice (silent) shout out!

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