Greetings Score IT! Plus 2017 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 Sprite Knight 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 Notes.
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 his) 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 his 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 Notes, you’ll see that the Director has a very definite concept for the musical sound of the score. He feels, being a fairytale, that the score should have a “somewhat Celtic and medieval” sound. He has even included some YouTube links of musical examples that he feels capture the type of sound and moods he’s looking for. Obviously, none of these musical examples uses exactly the same ensemble we are using for Score It! Plus 2017, 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.
Other factors to consider when thinking about the sound of your score are:
- In dealing with knights, monsters and epic battles, brass & percussion certainly spring to mind!
- A very big part of the story centres around the lilac sprites and the Director wants their signature sound to consist of “tingly/sparkly sort of sounds like chimes, bells or triangles to drive the mood of magic and mystery.”
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 a theme for Lance, a theme for the Lilac Sprites, and a theme for the commander in her quest to “eliminate invasive species.” With the film being under 4’30” minutes however, that might prove to be simply too much material.
What to do?
Well, have a look at the Director’s opening paragraph where he explains that Sprite Knight is “a journey of transformation, rebirth and embodies a sparkly sense of wonder.” He continues saying that he wants the music to evolve “with each beat of the story to reflect the main character, Lance’s situation and mindset.” Here’s your clue as to how to structure your score: have Lance’s evolution be the central thematic focus of your score. I would build a nice rich theme for Lance; a theme that can one minute declare heroism and hope, and the next suggest feelings of defeat and isolation. By changing the harmonies and the orchestration, you can mould Lance’s theme through a whole range of emotions, to help carry the audience along on his journey from being a narrow-minded brute to becoming a sensitive but strong advocate for the world of nature that surrounds him.
Next on the score building block list are the lilac sprites who are hugely important to the story and to Lance’s character development. I would come up with a short motif for them, rather than a long theme. The Director wants them represented by instruments (listed above) that suggest a sparkly sense of wonder and magic and we’ve included a number of percussion instruments in the list that would work perfectly for this. This motif could not only be used to represent the lilac sprites themselves, but could be used in combination with Lance’s theme, either melodically, instrumentally, or both to underscore Lance’s metamorphosis into the sprite/human hybrid he becomes.
In giving the commander, her crew of thugs, and her continuous battles with the mysterious beast a musical voice, I would look at the words the Director uses to describe her and her cruel mission to “eliminate invasive species”, which are danger, malevolence, chaos, confusion, and distress. Dark, deep, more sinister sounds best expressed through trombone, bassoon, cello and double bass, along with low percussion like timpani, bass drum & tam-tam would be very useful here. There may not be time in such a short score to fit in a specific theme for the commander and her conflict with the beast and the environment, but a recurring use of orchestrations using these instruments might be very effective in suggesting an appropriate emotion for her presence and purpose.
The Director has laid out an incredibly detailed roadmap of the emotional journey you need to take the audience on with your music. His 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. 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.