Saturday, April 17, 2010


Score Review

The composer - Ilan Eshkeri
Ilan Eshkeri was born in London to a musical family and grew up playing violin and guitar. He majored in music and English literature at Leeds University where he created a great film score connection with Edward Shearmur. Here he was able to learn the technique of film composition first-hand from his new friend. After graduating, he went on to work with Michael Kamen and Hans Zimmer, furthering his craft with their guidance. Mr. Eshkeri believes that working with real musicians during the creative process results in an authentic performance filled with integrity. He believes that "if music is the soul of a movie then capturing an emotional performance is key to its success."

Ilan Eshkeri has written numerous film scores including Hannibal Rising, orchestrated scores like Open Range with renowned composers, and has worked as production assistant on The Count of Monte Cristo. He has also been nominated for World Soundtrack Academy awards and has received the Film Music Critics Award for "Breakthrough Composer" in 2007.

The movie - Directed by Matthew Vaughn
This movie has everything - comedy, romance, pirate fights, witchcraft, death, royalty, magic, and that happy ending everyone is always hoping for. The cast includes well-known actors like Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ian McKellen as narrator, while bringing in some unknowns for the major roles. Claire Danes does a beautiful job as our fallen star, Yvaine, and Charlie Cox's youthful yet sincere performance makes every girl wish they had a Tristan Thorne in their life. But this movie is not just about getting the girl in the end, or living happily ever after. This is a story about a young man finding out who he is, learning what true friendship means, and realizing that life may not always end up how you planned it to be. It is about being true to yourself, showing kindness to others, staying open to suggestions, having courage, and never losing hope. This movie may be off the radar for a lot of people, but if you give it a try, you won't regret it.

The listening CD - Released by Decca Records
From its magical beginning filled with celesta, mark tree, violins, and horns with the melody, you know this is going to be a great CD. The opening track, "Prologue", gives us an idea of what we're in for. Not only does it include little hints of different themes, like the pizzicato violins that will later be known as part of Yvaine's theme, but it also shows us some incredible instrumentation, flowing melodies, exciting percussion, brilliant performances by the musicians, and harmonies that are not afraid of dissonance. These are just a few of the wonderful ingredients that make up this soundtrack. This score uses the standard orchestra plus some little additions like harp, piano, and voice. Some of the more hidden instruments also get to shine with bassoon, flute, and piano solos sprinkled throughout.

Ilan Eshkeri uses many smaller motifs to create this score and mixes and matches them to create an ever-changing and exciting soundtrack. One full piece on this CD is not an original Ilan Eshkeri and that is track fourteen, "Pirate Fight". "Pirate Fight" is actually a piece titled "Galop Infernal" (or, "Infernal Gallop") and it was written by Jacques Offenbach for his operetta Orpheus in the Underworld. It is more commonly known as the "Can-can" piece and creates a wonderful addition to this score. Antonin Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, opus 46, can be heard in track eleven. Track number six, "Yvaine", is filled with playful pizzicato depicting her innocent character and her relationship to Tristan. A little over halfway through the track, we hear the melody "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" with one slight variation. The melody opens with the perfect fifth interval that we expect, but changes the next interval to a minor second instead of a major second. This minor second motif can be heard numerous times throughout the soundtrack. The third track, "Tristan", has its own little theme that can be heard in a minor key in the beginnings of both "Shooting Star" and "Coronation". "Coronation" is a brilliant combination of Tristan's and Yvaine's themes with brass and strings giving us a wonderful feeling of satisfaction as it moves into the last track, "Epilogue", to finish it off with a sweet and happy ending.

Some of the music not on the CD includes a wonderful string piece at Tristan's place of work, Tristan's fight with the guard at The Wall, and the poisoning of Tertius. The CD has been beautifully edited to include every theme in the movie, but not too much of one or another in order to maintain interest throughout the CD. This CD has 21 tracks, in film order, and is just over 53 minutes long.

Track Number, Length, Title
1. 3:45, Prologue
2. 2:47, Snowdrop
3. 0:40, Tristan
4. 3:26, Shooting Star
5. 2:42, Three Witches
6. 2:48, Yvaine
7. 1:22, Septimus
8. 1:59, Creating the Inn
9. 8:04, Lamia's Inn
10. 1:27, Cap'n' Shakespeare
11. 3:42, Flying Vessel
12. 1:02, Cap'n's At The Helm
13. 2:05, Tristan & Yvaine
14. 2:04, Pirate Fight
15. 2:26, The Mouse
16. 3:58, Lamia's Lair
17. 1:42, Lamia's Doll
18. 1:09, Zombie Fight
19. 3:22, The Star Shines
20. 2:32, Coronation
21. 0:52, Epilogue

The score
This really is a beautiful score. Ilan Eshkeri does a wonderful job linking themes and bringing the right emotions out to complement the actions on screen. The playful pizzicato strings that are later used for Yvaine and Tristan's relationship can first be heard at our first glimpse over The Wall. Tristan's Mother, Una, always brings a sad note as the music plays a minor chord going down followed by a diminished seventh chord in the same direction. This is first heard when we see Una's chain of captivity, then again as Tristan reads her letter years later. As baby Tristan arrives on screen, we hear the first three notes of the "Tristan" theme but it changes and ends with the minor second motif we will later establish as Yvaine's "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" motif. We don't hear the full "Tristan" theme until he's grown up and heading out to win his true love (or so he thinks), Victoria. The second time he sets out to see Victoria, the "Tristan" motif is played but in inversion, telling us that this might not work out. Another beautiful setting of the "Tristan" theme is when the King of Stormhold takes off his ruby, but here the motif is in a minor key (this can be heard at the beginning of track four on the CD).

The spotting for this movie was done beautifully. There's not too much music and not too little. The music comes in at the right volume and it doesn't startle you when it's not supposed to. One sudden stop that was used to create a comedic atmosphere is just after Lamia heads out to find the fallen star. The shot moves to Tristan who has just found the star and complains that she is keeping him up at night. The music ends directly after Tristan's first line and is a wonderful example of how spotting is so essential to a good score.

Source music is used in this film in three instances and all three are on the pirate ship. The first is a very short, three-note piano solo, which is viewed on screen as Captain Shakespeare teaches our young friends how to play the piano. The second source is from a gramophone on the ship which plays Antonin Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, opus 46, while Captain Shakespeare and Yvaine dance. Both of these can be heard in the eleventh track on the CD. The third is also from an onscreen gramophone which plays, Jacques Offenbach's "Galop Infernal" (track fourteen on the CD).

There are many more things I could point out, like how the choir and arpeggiated strings are heard whenever Yvaine shines around Tristan, and I'm sure there are even more things I haven't even noticed. This intricate and wonderfully written score has a million gems to find and treasure and it brings the words and actions from screen to life.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Next Step

For those of you who don't know, I am moving to Colorado tomorrow (I currently live in Missouri). I graduated with a degree in music technology last fall and have been living with my sister and working at a bank for the past eight months. Now, I'm someone who loves school. So, I took a few extra classes, spent a little extra time, started college when I was sixteen and with a year off, finished when I was 23 with over 200 credit hours. Now that I'm done I just keep asking the question: Now what?

I try to keep a level head and keep reminding myself that I cannot predict the future. I just have to find the next step. So I went backwards. Why did I go into music in the first place? Sure, my sister and I thought we would be this Christian-pop-sister-duet sensation so we did little concerts and recorded albums and wrote music and waited in anticipation for the Dove Awards each year. That was fun for a while but it eventually sizzled out. I really didn't enjoy performing and I've never enjoyed words. I can never say what I want to with words. The songs I wrote were never enough and I was never satisfied. Then a glorious thing happened. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings was released in theaters... and my sister bought the soundtrack. Here it was! The answer to my problem! Let the actors speak the words, I'll create the music behind them that gives them meaning and connection and beauty! Sure I had heard classical music before, and I always made up stories to go along with any piece I played for piano lessons, but it wasn't until I heard that soundtrack that I realized how much music can inspire one's emotions. It was then I decided that I wanted to write film scores.

My life has been dictated by fear. My college choice is one example. Instead of working hard and going to school for composition, I decided I would go for a back-up plan. "Annie," I said, "it's really hard to become a film composer. Why don't you learn how to do something behind the scenes so you can still work with film scores even if you can't make it as a composer." I went to school for music technology and was very open with everyone, this is my back-up plan. I just want to work with film scores and if producing is all I can do, I'll love it. Tech really isn't my thing though. It fascinates me and I'm glad to have the skills because I'm sure they'll come in handy one day, but it's not what I want to do for the rest of my life. Once my degree was wrapping up, I started thinking, ok, what next? Composing? "No, no, no," I said. "We'll save that for last. Let's look for a second back-up plan. If I can't compose, I can produce. But if I can't produce, I can play in the orchestra." So I started working towards getting my master's in percussion performance. I applied, I auditioned, and I didn't make it in. Maybe it was nerves, but I really think it was God who made my auditions the worst I've ever played in my life. So I went back home, found a boring job, and did nothing.

A cold November slides into bitter December and I'm now one year older. Listening to the hundreds of film scores on my iTunes, I think, "I'm gonna compose film scores one day." One day. One day?? I've been saying that for nine years and what have I done for it? Nothing. The answer is completely nothing. So I start composing again. Just a little bit every day. I start praying for guidance. I start going to daily mass, talking with friends, and looking for possibilities. But I feel suffocated here. I feel stuck. I feel like life is way too easy right now and I have no drive and no fear to get me off my butt and really work towards something. What's wrong with living a slow life, living with friends or family, working a silly job, eventually get married and that's that? I need to force myself out of my comfort zone. I don't want to get stuck! I want one day to be today. Why not? What's holding me back? Fear? Not anymore.

There are a couple of great film score programs out there, but they're way to expensive. Besides, I don't have a big enough portfolio to even be considered yet. So what's another option? I have an aunt in Myrtle Beach and friend in Colorado. Both of which I can live with until I get settled in my new place. Both have great the 'great outdoors' for inspiration and solitude. In the end, I decide to go for Colorado. I love the mountains, I love the rivers, I love the atmosphere, and there are so many opportunities. CU is close by with some fabulous composition and percussion faculty (I'm still in love with percussion, but mainly just for myself to enjoy; I'm not still not too fond of performing) and there are lots of great connections to be made in Colorado.

So there it is. My next step. It's probably the scariest thing I've done in my life. I still can't predict the future. I have no clue if I'll be crawling back home in just a few short months, unable to keep afloat. Maybe I'll get there and realize I don't have to be a composer, I'd rather be a ski instructor. Although I doubt that last one, nothing is impossible and only God knows what's in store for me. But if I don't go and see what I can make of it, I will end up at another birthday with the same feeling, the same thought. Where has the time gone? What have I done with all that God has given me? Every minute, every breath, is precious. Do what you want to do and don't let anyone, especially fear, hold you back.