Scoring Spotlight: Pazu's Trumpet

The NYU orchestral recording session was coming up, and I knew well ahead of time when it would be, where it would be, and the ensemble I was writing for (which cannot be said of all my other sessions at NYU). This gave me plenty of time to search for a clip that I loved, and would serve as a great demo, highlighting my abilities as a composer.

Narrowing it down to Miyazaki films was an easy choice. I'm a huge Studio Ghibli fan, and the films lend themselves to magical, showy orchestral music. Then I thought of all the fantastic scores by Joe Hisaishi, and decided to try and find a Miyazaki film more off the beaten path than films such as Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle. I hadn't seen Castle in the Sky, so I watched it, fell in love with it, and found this scene near the beginning of the film that offered a lot of interesting opportunities for music.

During the somewhat unnatural process of re-scoring scenes that we do so much at NYU, I found scoring clips that already had wonderful (or familiar) music unappealing and unnecessarily challenging. Although Hisaishi's score for this scene is beautiful and works quite well, I immediately saw a different way of structuring the music of the scene.

I attempted to make different choices than Hisaishi for as much of the scene as possible, so I started the cue in E Dorian, with a more neutral mood. This introductory music serves to set the scene while articulating Pazu's unwavering energy and curiosity. The melody is carried by the clarinet and piano, and supported by strings and winds.

Although I liked Hisaishi's idea of hitting (using music to accent an action) the moment when the birds turn and in the distance (00:21), I thought the gesture could be much more subtle. Instead of using a large orchestral swell, I had the distinct A major chord land on the turn. The harp diverges from its pattern for this chord, but otherwise it's a very soft hit.

The next section is the definitive trumpet melody. This was the main reason I chose this scene, as recreating the sound of a solo instrument that is represented in the film itself would be a fantastic challenge. I actually wrote at least three versions of this melody - all very different. I landed on this one after going back to score the beginning of the scene and working up to it.

I also refused to change tempos when I knew I'd have so little time to record two minutes of orchestra music, so I had to time the beginning of the melody to line up exactly while keeping the same pulse. It resulted in the strangest offbeat I've ever used to start a melody (which turned out to be quite fun). I saved the big swell that Hisaishi used on the birds turning for the middle of this melody, where the morning sun lights up the sky (00:48).

The scene then moves indoors to Sheeta as she wakes up. My goal for this section of the scene was to create a feeling of going indoors with the music - moving from the broad, full orchestral scoring of Pazu's trumpet melody to a timid, unsure mood as Sheeta wakes up in strange surroundings. I then give Sheeta her own melody, in response to Pazu's, featuring the oboe. Again I find myself humbled and honored by the power of giving players solo opportunities, as the oboist takes my breath away every time I hear that line (01:16).

The cue is resolved in an orchestral tutti (everyone playing), where the music from the very beginning of the scene is revisited with much fuller instrumentation. The liveliness of this finale serves to paint Pazu's jovial personality with music, as the introduction did, but with the sense of resolution that comes with our heroine starting to understand that she is safe.

Thanks so much for reading! I'd love to hear what you all think about the clip, or any questions you might have about anything at all.

I hope this post finds all of you well,

Neil