By Riya Shankar, VI Form
Getting LOST in Michael Giacchino’s Soundtrack Compositions
I’ve always loved exploring music. I can sometimes get lost on YouTube listening to classical music and finding those hidden gems that go on my music bucket list. A piece of classical music is something so deeply intricate and complex. Unraveling the melodies and harmonies by listening is sometimes just as exciting as playing the piece itself. The way a composer writes a piece (instrumentation, volume markings, tempo markings) often tells more of a story than the notes. By getting lost in the mind of a composer, you can discover more about the music than you expected.
When Mr. Camp asked me to listen to a few pieces that are on the LOST soundtrack and give my opinion as a “musician,” I was thrilled. While being in the class, this unique opportunity combined my love for music with my work in school. When considering classical music, although some pieces have a general storyline, I have never listened to or played music that is specifically written for a television plot line. Knowing that this music was composed for the show gave me a deeper perspective to try and understand what the music aims to convey. The melodies and instruments that composer Michael Giacchino employed to create the soundtrack are so different than what I am used to but somehow also feel so familiar because of my classical music background. Having taken some music theory, I used my knowledge in that area to give insight into how the mechanics of the composition are used to create a mood. Going further, I used what I’ve learned over my years playing ensemble music to understand how specific instruments were used to make the audience feel certain emotions. Classical music has much depth, and each part of a composition is uniquely important and intentional. I wrote a small description for each of four pieces from the LOST soundtrack.
“Life and Death” (Season 1) click here to listen: The changing keys in the chord progression throughout the entire beginning stand out. The switch from major to minor (commonly made by changing just one note!) really evokes emotion because the striking change should hit the audience in their heart. This is used in A LOT of music to bring out emotion; an orchestral piece I just performed (Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz) does this at the end of the first movement, and it creates one of the most pure sounds. Also, the use of the singular cello voice also captures the emotion well. The somber and lonely sound juxtaposes the warmer and more sentimental sound that comes when the entire orchestra joins. This creates a complex web of emotions and especially brings out the overwhelming sadness of the piece. At the end (which is common in the ending of LOST episodes) is the chromatic chords that bring out a sense of panic and chaos. The intentional layering of 7th chords (really UGLY sound) at high pitches adds to the drama.
“Parting Words” (Season 1) click here to listen: Once again the cello is used to conjure the beauty of something sad. The cello’s tone is deeper and darker compared to the sound of a bright violin and adds so much dimension. I have always loved the depth of the cello’s sound because it can be much more nuanced than a lot of other instruments – even the violin at times! Different than “Life and Death,” when the cello solo melts into the orchestra sound, it feels like choir singing – a lighter, more lyrical overall sound. Also, at the ends of each phrase, when the cellos hang on, it stays true to the title of the song: the other voices are parting from the voice of the cello, who began the piece alone. Then at the end, when the cellos become the baseline (like they are meant to be), and the violins’ bright sound rings through, that signifies the entrance into the resolution and then end of the piece.
“There’s No Place Like Home” (Season 4) click here to listen: This is different than the previous two because it starts with piano, which is a more relatable sound to audiences because it appears in a lot of pop music. That could contribute to the feeling of “no place like home.” Also, this piece has a lot more dynamic (volume) phrasing to make it feel like it is constantly growing and building so that at the end, when the volume and other instruments are stripped away to reveal the piano voice, the audience feels as though they have lost something and are missing a piece – almost a lonely type of feeling.
“Moving On” (Season 6) click here to listen: The harp (which begins the piece) is always an intriguing instrument. The harp is not commonly heard in music except for the one or two absolutely crucial moments that, without it, the piece cannot be played because it would be incomplete. It is so interesting to me that Giacchino highlights this instrument. The cello voice also comes back again, which brings us “full circle” to the “Life and Death” (the latter is from Season One and “Moving On” is literally the last movement of “The End,” the final episode of LOST). It seems like a combination of all of the pieces (cello voice, piano voice) but with a new addition. I love this piece because it presents music in its purest form: simple notes. The melody line is actually very simple, but against the background chords, it is filled. Each singular note (A, B, F, G, etc.) evokes such specific emotion (hope, despair, sorrow, worry), and this piece really aims to and succeeds in conveying the “rollercoaster” of emotions that is music.
Riya Shankar is a VI Form day student from Southborough, MA.