Greetings Score IT! Plus 2018 participants!
I just wanted to type a few words of welcome and say how very thrilled and honoured I am to once again be involved in this year’s program. I look forward to seeing and hearing all of the Score IT! Plus entries and meeting as many of you as I can while I’m in Brisbane for the Score IT! ceremony and public lecture in July. I hope you’re all enjoying the process of scoring Sweep and are letting your minds and imaginations soar with creative ideas.
The starting point for your composition, once you have watched the film through a number of times, should be to carefully read the Director’s Musical Brief on the Score IT! Plus page of the QMF website. If you were scoring this film in the “real world,” you would meet with the Director before you start composing and talk about his or her (in this case her) concept for the music. Scoring a film isn’t just about what music you want to write to accompany the images. Rather, it is a collaborative effort between the Director and the Composer. You are working with, and for, the Director and must listen very carefully to her opinions. Consequently, a big part of the judging criteria that I will take into consideration when choosing the winners will be to see who has followed the Director’s suggestions and who hasn’t.
In reading the Director’s Musical Brief, you’ll see that the Director has a very definite concept for the musical sound of the score. She mentions two very distinct styles she likes … including YouTube links of musical examples that she feels capture the type of sound and moods she’s looking for. Obviously, neither of these musical examples uses exactly the same ensemble we are using for Score It! Plus 2018, but they are an excellent way to point you in the right direction with a feel for your score. Using existing music to help put the Director and the Composer on the same “musical page” is very common in the world of film scoring.
The Thomas Newman piece gives a good example of a beautiful, romantic theme … in this case played by piano, then strings … that builds and builds towards a definite resolution point (at about 3:42).
The Professor Layton theme gives some stylistic inspiration … have a listen up till about 1:42 for the part that is appropriate to our film. The marcato/staccato strings do have an English feel as well as a mischievous tension that might work to both place the story in an older historical time period and provide some good momentum for the boy-chasing-the-cat sequence.
Don’t forget, in thinking about the sound of your score, you have 4 woodwind instruments, 3 brass instruments and 2 percussion instruments to use as well as your strings. By mentioning “classical strings,” the Director certainly doesn’t mean for you to ignore the other instruments at your disposal. Use every player in our 14-piece ensemble at some point during your score. But more about this in a minute!
Now that we have a better idea what the sound of your score is going to be, the next step is to develop the building blocks for your score i.e. your themes and motifs. If this were a full-length motion picture, you could have any number of themes … for the boy, for the girl, for the cat … even for the old chimney sweep. But, with the film being only a little over 3’00” minutes, that might prove to be simply too much material.
What to do?
Well, have a look at the Director’s opening sentence:
“Sweep is a story where the music is all about what is happening off-screen in the boy’s heart.”
and the 8th paragraph:
“If there is anything important to remember it is to keep Sweep’s music within its setting and use the music to show the audience what is in the boy’s heart.”
So here’s your clue as to how to structure your score: the central theme of this score should not be for a character, but for a feeling. The director wants the main theme of the film to be something romantic, soft or enchanting … in essence a love theme … that brings the audience into the boy’s emotions and shows what he is feeling in his heart towards the girl. In a short story like this, this is a perfect approach.
I would build a nice rich theme for their budding romance … one you can mould by changing the harmonies and the orchestration to help carry the audience along on this journey from when the boy first sees the girl to the end where he smiles with absolute joy after she wipes the dirt from his face.
The Director mentions introducing this theme in an interesting way … as the music both the boy and the girl hear coming from a party somewhere else in the house in the first scene … the music that is inspiring the girl to dance in the window. See how clever you can be in introducing it and making it evolve as they interact with each other.
Next on the score building block list are the old chimney sweep and the cat. While they are important to the story … the old sweep “comments” on the action by reacting to what the boy does and the cat provides a reason for the boy to get further involved and for the girl to rely on him … there may not be time in such a short score to fit in much more than a brief motif for each of them. By this I mean don’t write full themes for each of them, but rather come up with a short recognizable combination of notes … one for the old sweep and one for the cat … a musical “signature” if you like played by a specific instrument or combination of instruments … … that you can use and reuse throughout whenever you want to refer to them musically. Just a suggestion!
The Director has laid out a pretty detailed roadmap of the emotional journey you need to take the audience on with your music. Her notes provide you with an almost foolproof scene-by-scene guide to scoring the film, so make sure you put it to good use and follow it!
In crafting your score for our 14-piece ensemble, don’t approach it as though you were writing a large-scale symphonic score which you then have to shrink down to make work with 5 strings somehow having to do the work of 60; 4 woodwinds having to do the work of 12; 3 brass having to do the work of 11; and 2 percussionists covering as much as they can in place of 4 or 5. As opposed to viewing it as a “poor man’s orchestra” that forces you to leave out a lot of notes to make it work, rather think of it as a large chamber music group; and a 14-piece chamber group is considered big! Fashion your music to take advantage of the huge array of colours available to you from each of the instruments and their families.
Of course, everyone can be used as a soloist, can play in unison, or can be blended together in various combinations. With some careful dynamic balancing, the woodwinds and brass can play chords together, as can the strings. But remember, and I’ll reference the strings as an example as it holds true for the woodwinds and brass too, 5 strings playing together does not sound like an orchestral string section. They sound like a string quintet, which is a very different sound. For your reference, check out some of the string quartets/quintets, woodwind quartets and brass trios on iTunes or Amazon to hear how distinct these combinations are in a chamber music setting such as this.
One of the big things to remember is that your score will (hopefully!) be played in real time by a group of live instrumentalists. With that in mind, give the winds and brass time to breathe, give the strings time to switch between pizzicato and arco, and give the strings and brass time to wrestle mutes into place if required. The most important people to consider in this particular live performance situation are the percussionists. They will have to set up all of the instruments you want them to use within reach, in their own instrumental “station” and will have to pick up and put down a variety of sticks and mallets to play them, so build some time into the music to do this with rests!
Also remember when writing for a live performance to avoid any sudden extreme changes in tempo unless the new tempo is effectively set up a few beats in advance over a held note, a held chord or period of silence. Even though we’ll be playing to a click track, this kind of “new tempo preparation” is very useful and gives the conductor and musicians a chance to play in time with the new tempo right off the bat.
Find fun and creative ways to experiment with the orchestration of your composition. Try one section of the music with just the strings, one with just the woodwinds or one with just the brass. Try having the clarinet or the bassoon play as part of the brass section or put the horn with the woodwinds. Let your imagination for instrumental colours wander! No one instrument should play all the time (especially not the percussion) and try to save the full ensemble playing together for the big action or emotional sequences.
Don’t be afraid to use silence, i.e. bars rest, in your score too. The music doesn’t have to play continuously. Sometimes taking all the music out for a few beats can make an emotional moment even more effective, as can reintroducing music after a short period of silence.
Remember, the film has no dialogue, just sound effects, so you are creating most of the audio world in which this story takes place with your music, right through to the end of the credits.
Once again, I look forward to meeting you all in July.
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