Friday, August 31, 2012

Family Dramas and The Lost Child

Scoring family-oriented dramas strikes me as an often thankless task, particularly when the filmmakers are aiming for an "all ages" audience. There don't tend to be as many opportunities for big, attention-getting setpieces or larger-than-life character themes of the sort film music fans lap up, and the stories hew towards the gentle and uncontroversial. The music is expected to convey emotion, but within relatively "safe" boundaries, which seems (from my own non-composer point of view, at least) like a real challenge. There are no explosions or flashy special effects to hide behind; you can't bust out a jagged rhythm and a pumped-up horn line and call it a day. Your music is unusually exposed. And even if you have the aptitude for big, bold melodies, you have to be careful not to go too far in that direction lest your music overwhelm the intimacy of the drama. Step an inch over the line, and you get accused of being treacly or manipulative. It comes down to the ability to write a simple, beautiful melody that hits the sweet spot of not too circumspect and not overblown. That's a tough thing to do well.

One composer who can do this kind of "sweet spot" score well is Mark McKenzie. Mark has a gift for writing heartfelt melodies that convey grace and tranquility, making him a great fit for dramas with a strong family or religious theme. He's done splendid work as a composer in many other genres, of course; but he seems to have a special affinity for the warm and intimate, which can make for a nice change of pace from all the sturm and drang. Hallmark Hall of Fame has recently re-released just such a score: Mark's music for the 2000 film The Lost Child, performed by the Northwest Sinfonia. Previously available on CD and long out of print (secondhand copies are terribly expensive), it is now available as a digital download from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. I haven't seen the film, but the score is a lovely piece of work, with a tender main theme that gets a lot of play. The orchestrations are clear and warm in a way that is reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith, who often employed Mark's services as an orchestrator. If you're looking for something peaceful and gently uplifting, The Lost Child is definitely worth checking out.

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