Los Angeles and Movie Music

Whoever you are, you’re almost guaranteed to know film music. You can probably hum the Star Wars theme. You’d recognize the ominous two-note motif from Jaws. You’d recoil with recognition from the shrieking strings of Psycho. I also bet you’d recognize the blaring horns from Inception, the sweeping theme from Dances with Wolves, and the ballad from Titanic (even without Celine Dion’s help).

The fact is, everybody gets exposed to this music. Just as memorable lines of dialogue enter the vocabulary of our culture, movie music gets right into our bloodstream—because we all go to the movies. Great scores wed themselves so tightly to the narrative that the two become one, and great themes usually find us walking out of the theater whistling.

The history of film music is a fascinating one, whether you look at film as the heir of opera and ballet as a venue for art music, or soundtracks as an extension/layer/souvenir of the filmmaking process—or purely at the commercial enterprise of composing emotions for entertainment. It’s a nuanced subject, one that is now a century old. There are as many takes on the role and importance of film music as there are films.

As much as Los Angeles is about other things, a big part of this city is Hollywood. And film music is part of L.A. music. Many of the kids learning the violin and piano around town fell under the spell of music while watching Star Wars or Harry Potter. Many of those kids may end up in studios, playing scores that will be part of the immortal cinema still to be made.

Film music matters here. As a popular exposure to the symphonic tradition, as an entry point to its classical heritage, as an exciting new application of playing old instruments, and simply as a potential career avenue for aspiring musicians. Film music offers a way for the music our kids play to live forever. It’s a powerful medium, as both a magnet and a legacy. Listen carefully.