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!

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