I feel many of you might be able to relate with the sentiment I had when going into this -- I am musically capable; let me try my hand at this even if I may not have had prior experience. For a lot of things that are seemingly out of our depth, or for which we have nothing to show, the first step to remedying it is giving it a shot. And, if it turns out that it doesn't feel right for us for whatever reason, we can always step back, knowing that we've tried.
This post is going to cover one such "first." Westwood Instruments hosted a scoring competition, and the deadline was 7 December 2021. The short film, and the VST (Virtual Studio Technology) application they have been promoting in conjunction with this competition, are both titled "The Lost Piano."
(Content warning: mentions of the Nazis, and the Holocaust. The context of this is that these form part of the subject matter of a miniseries that influenced my musical direction.)
This scoring competition was first made known to me by a VGM scorers' Discord server I am a part of. It also made the rounds on a few different servers besides. I saw an entry by one of my friends on the VGM Discord server that I first saw this contest on, and I thought, let me at this.
So I downloaded the asset pack and watched the video. It nearly moved me to tears.
I loaded up the video on Fruity Video Player, loaded up Soundpaint's default Steinway piano sound, hit Record, and let rip. This audio was done in one single take -- though it did take me about four tries to get it right.
It was November when I did this; I mentioned in the description of the video that I had cause to score it as sombrely as I did. In Catholic tradition, November is the month of All Souls, the month to pray for the dead -- and also the month to think upon the last things, like the afterlife. Incidentally, the motto of this video was "Before you die, remember to live." I felt that it was a very sobering message for the month of November, and a sobering message generally -- and so, with that, I poured out all the feelings I could muster onto the keyboard.
Later, when I had finished recording, I nudged some notes a little earlier or later in the timeline with my mouse to make them fit some of the cues in the film a bit better. The result is what you see and hear below!
Now, I checked the rules; the rules did say that it had to be participants' own work, but it didn't specify whether or not previous work could be rehashed or used for the purpose. Nonetheless, this is an innovation upon two previous works of mine, both of them piano improvisations that I did for Lent. The first was called running on empty, and the second was called the empty room.
I'd always seen these pieces as two halves of a whole, having the same mood and seemingly fitting hand-in-glove despite being two disparate pieces. I wrought both of these pieces, especially running on empty, from some bleak, low emotional points of mine.
I've not made a note of many film scores I've been influenced by over the years, as I'd watched many of them as a child. But when the need arises, I turn to good ol' Wikipedia to quickly check who scored a particular film. I have managed to pinpoint one notable influence on the way I wrote the two piano improvs, as well as my Lost Piano score entry.
It was from a miniseries I watched some seven, maybe eight years ago, called Nuremberg. It was released in 2000, and scored by Richard Grégoire. The subject matter of the miniseries makes it an absolute must-watch, to be sure, but I want to touch on the score because parts of it became subconscious influences that brought about the two piano improvs and my Lost Piano score.
It was towards the end of the film, after the sentences had been passed down by the judges of the International Military Tribunal against the Nazi war criminals. There was a scene in the courtroom where the crowd was shown to thin and the lights were shown to blink out one by one, until it was empty, and an eerie silence, a disquiet, descended upon the courtroom. Richard Grégoire punctuated that scene with some plaintive, chromatic oboe melodies. I wouldn't be able to sing them back to you, but I certainly would be able to feel their effects even now, when talking about that scene.
The takeaway that I got from that scene, I can't quite put in words. But if I were to try now, I think I'd like to put it like this: that no matter what became of the tribunal that day, the lives of everyone who had previously attended that court session, and/or the preceding sessions, were never going to be the same again after what they had witnessed. Nothing could ever bring back the millions of Jewish people, LGBTQ people, Polish people, Jehovah's Witnesses, Romani people, disabled people, and anyone deemed undesirable by the Reich who had been sent to the slaughter simply for who they were. Of course there was going to be a disquiet in the empty courtroom. And that disquiet was only going to be a sliver of the enduring disquiet, reckoning, turmoil to come.
Now, "The Lost Piano" is a sobering video, to be sure, but it DOES NOT have the weight or severity or even the lingering trauma of the Nuremberg miniseries, or the events that it was based on. So why do I even talk about that miniseries and its score?
Well, it's because of the intention. I simply wanted to do for "The Lost Piano" what Richard Grégoire did for a far more serious piece of filmography: to communicate to people a series of sobering messages that no dialogue or screenplay could ever convey. To me, it's not enough that a film score hits the right notes by emphasising cues and dialogues, or by further fleshing out the emotions in these dialogues. To me, film score is the art of unspoken language, not spoken elsewhere in the film. If I were to hold up an example of this to cite to people, the Nuremberg miniseries would be the only one I could cite at present. I've not known any other film score to have that effect on me, and I've watched a fair few films in my day -- though, this is subject to change. Perhaps another film or series might take hold on me in the way I described in this paragraph.