Functions of Score II: The Musical Signal
An important aspect of a musical score (perhaps the most important you could argue) is to tell a part of the story that either is not present on the screen, or is unclear and benefits from being highlighted musically.
This can be achieved a number of ways.
One of those is to associate an action or impending action to a musical theme or motive. The action itself doesn’t need to be physical – it could be a thought, a decision, a feeling. This is the leitmotif associated to an idea or situation rather than a character.
A great example of this is the Spielberg film “Catch me if You Can”, scored by the legendary John Williams.
In this film whenever the main character, played by Leonardo Di Caprio, begins to concoct a new scheme in his mind. The music acts as a signal that this is happening: that a decision is being made.
This is a great use of music as a storytelling tool!
The music adds structure and meaning and tone. For example, Â just looking at a suit in the window is pretty flat on its own, and here music has the ability to impact meaning to it. You see the suit in the window and the music is telling the audience what is the character’s mind! The same shot could have different music and mean something completely different.
Another aspect is structure: this musical signal, by returning at key points, structures the film. It plays with the audience’s expectations because we soon learn to recognize the musical motive/pattern.
Go to 2:51 of the video below to hear John Williams discuss this musical signal and hear what it sounds like.
This is fantastic score to study in the concert version as well, and I highly encourage you to do so!
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