Wednesday 13 December 2017

Composing the Music Score for 'Saint Padre Pio: Pray Hope and Don't Worry' Film from Mary's Dowry Productions

About a week ago I completed the music score for our Saint Padre Pio production, our latest release.  I have been meaning to write a blog about how I wrote the score, some of the ideas I had and basically a bit more info on the depth of the music.  It's been a very busy time and unfortunately the score is not so fresh in my mind as it was but I shall do my best.

Saint Padre Pio DVD
I began with a slightly ominous feeling; this production was one of our longer ones and I always find the productions above 28 minutes more of a challenge because by that point I really need to discover new ways to keep the interest musically, to not be too repetitive, to keep the film on point so that the gems that are being delivered are absorbed by the person watching the production.

The Introduction:

I decided I would approach the music score for this production with a quite atmospheric/bleak/powerful mood.  I thought about the content of the production and this saint's journey, Saint Padre Pio's stigmata, suffering, mission, his love for the Mass.  Taking the music score a bit at a time so as not to overwhelm myself, I focused on a minute and a half introduction theme that would encapsulate a general mood or message of what the listener was to expect from this production so I thought, slightly brooding, but also uplifting 'hope', stirring, prayerful and profound spirituality.  I write better when I can focus on meditative music, spiritual contemplation, if the dialogue speaks for a time about the Mass, insights into the particular aspects of the saint's spiritual life.  


I took the harp and led with an atmospheric repeated phrase and then instantly brought in Celtia Voices and soundscapes to gradually built up an atmosphere and then led the melody with piano.  I kept the pace going so that as well as being contemplative, there was a slight trepidation feeling, almost like 'of things to come'.  

Listen above to an example of the very beginning of the film.

Something I have gotten into in the last several scores is to use 'Trilian' basses with pulsing.  This really helps to create movement but at the same time can be quite subtle.  I created myself a template from the music score I wrote for our production on Saint Robert Southwell ages go.  Because I'm still using this template, many of the same instruments load.  I also still have some instruments from Saint Don Bosco production that I used for the terrifying 'To Hell and Back' dream sequence.  I was able to leave 'apocalyptic warning' pulses for later use and add a more subtle movement with a different patch that wasn't so extreme.  I added this as a bass/pulse to the harps sequence and enhanced the movement and atmosphere.

Themes and Ambience

Rather than a sweeping cello melody, which I usually do for 19th Century settings, I used the cello as I was using the harps by copying the harps notes and pasting them with the cello.  I don't usually use the cello in this way but it built up the sound sequence by having semi-fast notes being played with the harp and cello.  I had my doubts for a while but I decided that it was different and what the intro needed.  For the melody, I chose simple piano.  Piano always goes well with ethereal voices and it was atmosphere that I was trying to create here.  All I needed to do was give the piano and voices space and to this I added high strings which always creates a cinematic ambience.

Listen above to an example of further on in the intro with instruments building so far.

Building the Mood

One of my college tutors years ago, Clive Loseby, gave me the most valuable tip once when he said about one of my compositions 'that's overkill on the flute'.  He told me not to stick to a single instrument all the time.  Until then, I had chosen my lead instrument and written melodies with it as if the instrument claimed the piece.  Ever since then however, I'll take a few bars with one instrument, then take the same tune but switch to a different instrument.  It's awesome what a difference this makes and I've been grateful to him ever since for this tip.  At this point in the introduction, I switched the lead piano to lead guitar instead.  I copied the harp notes once more and pasted them as piano an octave higher so that the repeated background sequence grew in depth even more.  By this point, the timbre of the piece was building.  

Screenshot from Saint Padre Pio Film
35 seconds into the introduction I decided I would now use sweeping cello harmonies and also bring in 'Altus' voices as a contrast to 'Celtia' voices so that male and female were bouncing off of each other in a subtle back and forth.  The rest of the introduction is mainly repeated themes with additional instruments, harmonies with two types of guitars and clarinet.  I decided I wished to have clarinet in this score, simply because it's different, I don't often use it, but also because I'm trying to stop myself spending money on new samples at the moment by utilizing the instruments I already have!

Underscore - Keeping the Listener on Their Toes

Moving on from the Opening Titles and into the underscore for the narrative, I relied on different sets of soundscapes to really set an expectant atmosphere and I decided I would keep the Trilian Bass going well into the narrative as a kind of modern/historic fusion that was unpredictable.  When I listened back to this, it kept me on my toes which was just what I wanted!

For the most part, I decided that I would write what I do best, various themes with all my favourite instruments.  I was really pleased as I wrote solely on improvisation along with the narrative and changed the mood as I went along.  For this production, Robin Ingram narrates for us with a slight Italian accent - his idea.  It was such a fantastic suggestion, I found it very effective.  It took my ears a while to adjust to writing for a different voice, I've spent a long while writing to a female narrator I felt I had to try some different ranges in order for my ears to accept and be happy. 

Screenshot from Saint Padre Pio
Listen below to the final example of the introduction music and the beginnings of underscore to narrative:


After about 30 minutes I decided I needed to do something new but I wasn't sure what.  I suggested we hire out 'Allied' - a film I was not interested in but which I thought would give me some tips, drama, history, emotion etc.  We forwarded most of it but I came away with choosing full cinematic strings and giving pride of place to a heavily reverberated piano. 

Using Dr. Strange Music Score for Inspiration and Ideas
We happened to also watch 'Dr. Strange' and funnily I got a lot more inspiration and ideas from this score.  I noticed a main theme in this was to use 6/8 timing with harpsichord.  Right away I went back to my score and switched from 4/4 to 6/8 and improvised a long and interesting sequence with the guitar.  I doubled up the guitar notes with harpsichord and was thrilled.  I usually use the harpsichord for our Medieval productions but if it was good enough for Dr. Strange in our modern era, I decided it would be very innovative for 19th Century Italy.  It was exactly what was needed, different, light, fun, interesting and a switch to a new time signature for a while.  The middle section was broken up from the atmospheric and ethereal for a while and the attention-keeping mood was achieved.  Who would have thought? 

Listen to the video below to hear part of the 6/8 tune that I improvised at this point.  I have taken off the narration for some of the example:

Because in my music I use a lot of unexpected fusions, I'm ready to try anything new so sticking in a random instrument from the past and using it in a different way is really fun.  

Screenshot of Padre Pio Film available now for Digital Download on Vimeo
There is a lot more I could say about this score but all in all, it's atmospheric and moving, haunting, gentle, listenable and innovative all at once.  I have my usual choirs, ethereal voices, pianos, guitars, ancient instrument fusions, soundscapes and Trilian pulses all blending together to tell a great and wonderful story of a life lived very well - Saint Padre Pio.  This new film is very inspiring, spiritual and informative.  It is available now worldwide on DVD or Instant Video Download.

Listen to the music as featured in the trailer NOW at our new Instant Video on Demand Page here
Purchase this film on DVD at our online shop or from Amazon UK and Amazon COM.

I shall make the soundtrack available on CD soon!

Saturday 2 December 2017

Ioanna Arcensis, Saint Joan of Arc, Film Soundtrack, Music CD, New Release and Cover Design

Continuing on re-working all of the music soundtracks I have available on CD so far, I re-visited 'Calm your Spirit With Music: Volume 4' this week - the complete soundtrack for Saint Joan of Arc film.  I love this soundtrack, it's so mysterious, moving, emotional, bold and uplifting.  It is difficult to express the full extent of the content of this album and there does not seem to be as much interest in this as in my other CDs, yet the music is one of my favourite scores.   I spent a while redesigning the artwork for this album.  The first step was the sub title, I wanted the title to reflect Saint Joan subtly and to continue the theme of all my other CDs.  I was going to subtitle the album 'Power & Mercy' reflecting the powerful people of her time who captured and betrayed her but in the end, I decided on 'Trust & Mercy' because really, Saint Joan's trust, even whilst being told that the Church had forsaken her and cast her out, still trusted.  The new artwork is as follows:

Calm Your Spirit With Music Volume 4: Trust & Mercy CD
It also took me a while to sit and listen to this album whilst trying to name the tracks to reflect the theme/mood behind each.  I had to find the relevant track in the film and decipher exactly what was going on and what I was writing about at the time.  I really enjoyed it actually as I had forgotten how inspiring Saint Joan of Arc is.

The Track Listing is:

Track 1: Joan (4:15)Track 2: The Lord is My Strength and My Shield (4:10)Track 3: You Are My Witness (4:40)Track 4: God in the Midst of Battle (7:36)Track 5: The Saviour of France (7:08)Track 6: Betrayed (3:31)Track 7: God Alone (4:47)Track 8: A Noble Heart, A Heart of Fire (5:38)Track 9: You Are the Light of the World (2:30)
The music is both meditative but has movement too.  The blurb took me a while as I find it difficult to describe my music as it seems to be in a category of its own, especially this album.  I was inspired overall at the end of the music how Saint Joan of Arc was an example of being victorious in battle both physical and spiritual.  She really is a light in the darkness.

For the cover image I went for this beautiful scene which was French but also reminded me of our trips to Parham House when we filmed for several English Martyrs.  To me it captured a real atmosphere of Mary's Dowry Productions and atmosphere is very important to us.  To have an atmosphere that is right and correct on the cover of this album will help aid in translating what is inside, a very beautiful and moving score which I think everybody will enjoy.

My Journey with Saint Joan of Arc:

I never really liked Saint Joan of Arc, I think she has been portrayed badly, especially with 'the voices' that she heard.  I am not interested in the idea of battle, France, her being wrongly accused, I just never really connected.  We produce our films mostly for ourselves, and also to give me an opportunity to write music for a project that is very worthwhile.  I find that the process is a unique encounter with each saint.

The Beginning:

It begins for me editing the audio narration of the script that has been recorded.  The overall story is always inspiring and gives me a clearer idea of the saint and where they are coming from, especially if I did not know much about them before this point.  A while passes after this whilst the film is being edited but then one day the Avi file is popped on my desk and it's up to me to write a music score for the film, to capture the atmosphere/essence of the saint and the spiritual message of the film.  I never have a plan, I like to sit back and just see what happens.  I was intrigued with this film as we had not planned to make it but my sister decided we must produce a film on this saint after reading about her and being inspired.

First Steps - The Right Atmosphere

My first step was to load in some medieval drums and some war horns.  I was also looking for some mystical soundscapes to capture saint Joan's visions and voices.  Once I got started, the atmosphere really became spiritual and I was inspired by the saints' faith.  As the film progressed I came to understand that saint Joan's voices were not odd but profound.  With the right atmosphere on a story, the right message is portrayed and I think we managed it with this one.  The music in a film, especially about a saint, is very important, it cannot be creepy, overpowering or tedious.  An great element of spirituality is needed.  The last thing that needs to happen is for the listener/watcher to be put off the saint.


The drums and horns combine well with moving strings and subtle soundscapes, voices, choirs to give a very peaceful and mystical atmosphere that's extremely moving in places.  It also keeps a little tension in the setting of war but not in a barbaric or intrusive way, but still in a spiritual way, like a subtle threat but with the atmosphere of the Lord's presence.  I shall look at a couple of the tracks from this album below.

TRACK 2: The Lord is my Strength & My Shield

In this album, I entitled track two 'The Lord is my Strength and My Shield'.  This is the part of the film where saint Joan is visited and is very moved.  I used a particular heavenly soundscape on this, I cannot remember which, but I brought it in every time throughout the film whenever the voices were mentioned.  I was pleased because it kept the voices/visions mystical and supernatural and not creepy or weird.  This was important to me because my personal experience before this film of saint Joan of Arc was of a slightly crazy person but having worked on this film and encountered her, I see her now as more of a strong woman, strong in Trust. 


Track 6 is called simply 'Betrayed'.  In this part of the film Saint Joan helps win the battle, she is owed everything, yet they decide to sell her to the British in utter betrayal.  I was horrified at the level of betrayal in this, having built up the score emotionally of all saint Joan's efforts and sacrifices for France, to be betrayed like this afterwards.  My sister portrayed Saint Joan in the film and I used a long full string sequence for this and I remember when I wrote it I was very moved, connecting with the saint as well as my sister in a way.  It hit home that saint Joan was a lovely person and being treated so badly.  The result (as it always is when I tap in to extreme emotion) was a very very moving sequence, atmospheric, mystical, poignant.  It might be my favourite track.

Overall, I love this soundtrack and I am pleased to be presenting more and more of the music from the films onto CD.

Calm Your Spirit With Music Volume 4: Trust & Mercy is available now from

Contemplative, absorbing and mystical yet fused with spiritual contest and powerful emotion this new album takes everything that is faith and history and unites it to music.   With the ethereal chants of spiritual choirs and distant church bells, the sprinkling of delicate harp, expressive cello and passionate drums and horns, this album is both fresh and contemporary, reflective and brooding.  Allowing the mind to meditate in peace but at the same time stirring the senses to hunger after righteousness with reflective use of strings, flutes, guitars, piano, soundscapes and more.   These tracks are taken from the full music score written for 'Saint Joan of Arc' film in 2016 and presented here as a musical chronicle of conviction, hope and supernatural ambience.  Very moving, uplifting and absorbing.  

Saint Joan of Arc DVD

Saint Joan of Arc DVD is available also from Mary's Dowry Productions and through and