The Joy of Music

         The use of music in cinema is what gives a film its soul. Music can add emotions and tell stories that words, images, and even the best actors cannot.

         In the early days of the cinema, music was played with the film while it played, usually on piano. The pianist would play music that he knew, usually songs from other places and compositions. It was not long until filmmakers started to choose music that fit the mood of the film, which led to music composers beginning to write music specifically for a film.

         Using music, a filmmaker can completely change the mood of a film. A scene could be happy and calm, and the composer could turn the scene scary and tense with just a few notes. The composer’s job is very important; the entire continuity and feel of the film rests upon the composer.

         One thing that composers use often is leitmotifs. A leitmotif is a theme or tune for a specific character or place. Many modern composers such as John Williams, Howard Shore, and Hans Zimmer use leitmotifs in their scores. They can even use the characters’ theme when they are not present to add the emotion of that character in that scene. Another thing composers can do is speed up or slow down a scene using music. For example, in Cecil DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments when the Hebrews are leaving Egypt, they are walking very slow, and it is a very slow paced scene. In this particular scene Elmer Bernstein composed an upbeat march that speeds up the scene tremendously.

         Music is the universal language, especially in film. We can watch a movie with no dialogue and only music and understand completely. The joy, happiness, excitement, hate, envy, adventure, and love in film are incomplete and nothing without the art that is film music.

Justin Wylie

Table of Contents