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Music Under the Radar: Studying with film scores

Stephanie DePrez | Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In lieu of providing you with an all-purpose, summer-never-dies musical journey, I recognize that the freedom we all seek stands about a week and a half behind the epic buzz kills that are finals. This week, then, I will focus on getting you through the painful process with as little musical heartbreak as possible.

Nothing can make or break a study session quite like the music you are listening to at the time. There are many modes of music people have when hitting the books. Some like classical music, some can’t study with singing, and others can’t focus without a racket in the background.

One of the lesser-utilized musical genres used to study is an arena of music we all have heard, and listen to more often then we realize. This would be the movie soundtrack, or the orchestral score written to accompany a film. In context, an orchestral score provides the perfect atmosphere for a movie, but on its own, it can be a work of instrumental music that is light enough to keep you focused but charged enough to keep you awake. Here are a few films that you might want to cue up in the background as you sit huddled in your Hesburgh hut all week.

“Braveheart” (James Horner)

This 1995 epic took Mel Gibson’s status as Sexiest Man Alive to a whole new level, while also rewriting the look of a proper battle sequence, paving the way for film’s like “Lord of the Rings.” One of the main reasons this film hit so hard is that the music is a perfect blend of love-lorn Scottish melodies and thundering emotion.

Tracks to Tap: “The Legend Spreads,” “For The Love Of A Princess”

“Catch Me If You Can” (John Williams)

Classic orchestra scoring alongside Frank Sinatra and Stan Getz. Enough flavors to keep your interest, enough cohesion to keep you calm.

Tracks to Tap: “Recollections (The Father’s Theme),” “The Girl From Ipanema”

“Dances With Wolves” (John Barry)

Forgive Kevin Costner’s ‘stache and embrace the music. Barry wove subtle American folk melodies into lush orchestration that is as simply magnificent as a buffalo hunt.

Tracks to Tap: “Buffalo Hunt,” “The John Dunbar Theme”

“The Italian Job” (John Powell)

This is the way to go for upbeat and motivating. It will keep you going without becoming a distraction, but has enough moments of downtime to keep it from being repetitive. Powell also keeps consistent themes throughout, so there are no sudden changes.

Tracks to Tap: “Italian Job,” “Planning the Heist”

“Kingdom of Heaven” (Harry Gregson-Williams)

Orlando Bloom’s failed attempt at carrying his own film managed to turn out an interesting and involved score. Even if the acting was less-than-epic, the choir-filled, east-meets-west music lightly dipped in the background is a film score connoisseur’s treat.

Tracks to Tap: “Crusaders,” “Ibelin”

“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (Howard Shore)

Now, picking the score from just one of the three films the might as well be a genre unto themselves is a daunting task. But the second film’s soundtrack has just the right balance of mournful ballads and battle music, including the incomparable track “The Uruk-Hai,” which begs to be blasted from your laptop speakers. If this doesn’t pump you up to write that paper, nothing will.

Tracks to Tap: “The Uruk-Hai,” “The King Of The Golden Hall”

“Requiem for a Dream” (Kronos Quartet)

This Quartet keeps making appearances on campus and at DPAC, so it’s only fair that we give them their due as mind-blowing musicians. This score is the perfect balance between creepy and addicting (no pun intended).

Tracks to Tap: “Summer Overture,” “Ghosts Of A Future Lost”

“Rudy” (Jerry Goldsmith)

You know it, you love it and you can’t possibly get sick of it. Nothing can make finals seem doable like studying for them with the sound of “Rudy.”

Tracks to Tap: “Take Us Out,” “Tryouts”

“Twilight” (Carter Burwell)

Love or hate the movie, Burwell nailed this score. Beyond the over-hyped selection of pop songs featured in the film lies a world of riveting orchestration that was hardly as polarizing as the actual film. “Bella’s Lullaby,” in any context, is so perfectly moving, it’s almost cruel.

Tracks to Tap: “Bella’s Lullaby,” “Who Are They?”

“Van Helsing” (Alan Silvestri)

The epic flop of 2004 starring Hugh Jackman is survived by its eclectic score, which takes being a horror-film throwback quite seriously.

Tracks to Tap: “Journey to Transylvania,” “Useless Crucifix”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Stephanie DePrez at sdeprez@nd.edu