My first collection of albums was an eclectic one. I usually got a few CDs for Christmas – one year, when I was seven or eight, I got a soundtrack album from a hit new show called Spongebob Squarepants. Another year, I got an Atomic Kitten CD. But, when I was old enough to actually choose music of my own, I opted for film score collections. In later years, I diversified to listen to classical music and opera too – and yet, I grew up in an area where music was so uniform, it’s amazing I found this world at all.
I always noticed music in film and TV shows – in many shows, it was my favourite part. I grew up at the height of the Disney Renaissance and the emergence of Pixar, and much of this music was the literal soundtrack to my childhood. Whenever we watched films on TV, I’d record them (on my tape recorder, and then on an old Dictaphone my grandfather gave me), and listen back, hearing how the music worked. As I watched different genres of film, I listened to how the music changed, and I’d make little comparisons and observations in one of the many notebooks I picked up from the local Tesco. Soon, I was able to purchase film score CDs – my first one, bought with my pocket money, was a ‘best of John Williams’ collection, I think because I knew him from having watched the Indiana Jones films. It was so old, the selling point was that it boasted tracks from the latest Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace.
My sister used to go horse riding, and I’d sit in the car with books or the radio for an hour and a half and wait for her to be done. One day, at a club I used to go to with my aunt, a friend told me about a radio show on Classic FM that played film music for a couple of hours. Optimistically, I turned to Classic with the hope that the show would be on at exactly the time I was listening – it wasn’t. However, I found that the music was just as wonderful. This must have been 15 years ago or so, and I still remember the first day I listened – the first piece was Gerald Finzi’s ‘Eclogue’, and it remains one of my favourites to this day. (I’d recommend you give it a listen – it’s so nice.)
What I love about film music and classic stuff is its richness, and the sense that it tells a story. I bought full albums of film scores or classical performances, and I’d lay in bed, when I should have been asleep, listening to them in their entirety. I’d hear how the themes changed and the music evolved, and how certain passages were designed to make you feel happy or sad – losing myself in the lush textures of these carefully-constructed worlds was incredible. If I knew the work, great – I loved the phenomenal soundtrack to The Incredibles, and a beautiful recording of Swan Lake that I sadly lost in a house move – the music helped me picture the moments. But I’d often pick up CDs I didn’t know and see what stories they told me, an experience that was just as magical.
I envisage music as a storytelling tool, something to help you into the layers of a narrative and to suggest the emotions you and the character might be feeling
I was unlike most kids in my school when it came to music. Our local radio station, Free Radio, would like a song and play it to death until a new tune came along, and so on and so on – whatever was big that week was all anyone would sing in the playground. I turned 13 in 2007, the year that saw the first big releases from Rihanna and Adele, but this was also the time that I really stopped pretending to engage with pop music outside of the radio on the drive to and from school, and barely then. The songs just didn’t engage me at all – they seemed so sparse in comparison to the kind of music I enjoyed. That may sound a little snobbish, but it’s true. I remember when Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s ‘Fancy’ became a chart-topper – I was genuinely baffled.
In 2015, I composed my first ever film score – a piano score for Nosferatu, which I performed live at the Student Cinema. And this, really, is how I think music made me; my listening habits, and the way I engaged with music, all felt like training of a sort for this kind of job. I envisage music as a storytelling tool, something to help you into the layers of a narrative and to suggest the emotions you and the character might be feeling, and that’s down to the way I listened as a kid. Even now, my preference is always for a nice slab of instrumental music designed to tell a story – give it a go, and see what you think.