The Soundtrack of Your Life

07.11.11 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[0]

'The King's Speech' was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the last year, winning numerous international awards including four Academy statues. It owes its success to the strength of its individual parts and the masterful way they were brought together by director Tom Hooper. The story, the screenplay, the acting, the cinematography and the soundtrack all contributed to a powerful historical drama that has moved audiences around the world.

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to participate in an online chat with Alexandre Desplat, the composer of the soundtrack for 'The King's Speech'. There are some films that are filled with music; nonstop scores that lend energy to onscreen action and add a layer of drama and intensity. Other films, like 'The King's Speech', require the strength of restraint; a subtlety in composition and performance that support the storyline, the tone and the characters. And while for this type of film the best soundtracks are disciplined and unobtrusive, they are nonetheless essential. You'd feel something was missing if they weren't there.


Early films didn't have musical soundtracks. It wasn't until 'King Kong' was released in 1933 that a score was composed specifically for a film. Just two years into his career in the nascent field of film scoring, Max Steiner went on to compose soundtracks for classic films like 'Gone With The Wind' and 'Casablanca'.

Through the years, gifted composers have played an integral role in cinema, writing music and songs that have become part of us and memorable representations of the popular culture. To name a few: John Barry (the Bond films), Bernard Herrmann (who scored for Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock), Elmer Bernstein ('The Magnificent Seven', 'To Kill A Mockingbird'), Alan Menken ('The Little Mermaid', 'Beauty and the Beast'), Ennio Morricone ('The Untouchables', 'The Mission'), John Williams ('Star Wars', 'Jaws', 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and earlier in his career music for the tv series 'Gilligan's Island'), James Newton Howard ('Pretty Woman', 'The Sixth Sense'), Hans Zimmer (from 'Pirates of the Caribbean' to the infectious clarinet-led soundtrack for 'Driving Miss Daisy') and Alan Silvestri (the hauntingly beautiful 'Polar Express', 'Forrest Gump'). If you want big and symphonic (and John Williams isn't returning your calls) hire James Horner ('Avatar', 'Titanic'); if you want quirky but commercially viable bring in Randy Newman (the 'Toy Story' trilogy, 'Cars', 'Monsters, Inc.').


One of the interesting things Desplat said about the development of music for a soundtrack was, "The stories that resonate in me have many layers; different levels that can really be complex. So it's thinking and building an arc between those levels. The most important thing is finding the balance between function and fiction. Function will ensure that the music fits well into the mechanics of the film but fiction enables you to tap into the invisible – the deep psychology, pain and notions of the characters. It has a very special strength but only works when balanced equally with function, because the music cannot be detached from the story. Every film has its own sound and my job is the process of discovering that."

The right soundtrack will complement and enhance the visual elements, the story and the dialogue. It heightens the dramatic and emotional impact of the film. It brings context and depth to the story. It informs. It reassures. It inspires.


That phrase has become popular recently because of a survey by the same name that's been floating around the internet for a few years (much like the "Which is the cutest kitten?" and the "What person from 18th century French Literature would you be?" quizzes. Trust me, I'm all over those). Basically, you match songs you like with significant events in your life. You enjoyed a two week vacation in the Bahamas? How about "I've Had The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes? Easy. Predictable.

But that's not what I'm getting at. What I'm suggesting is that there is a spiritual dynamic that comes from outside of us that informs our soul, mind and spirit. It's an active work of God through the Holy Spirit that provides a context for the believer's life just as a soundtrack does for a film. It first surrounds us, then gives us assurance, followed by clarity, then ultimately, meaning. It's both a present and a future reality because we are in the process of becoming what the Word says we already are. It's a by-product of our spiritual regeneration; not measurable but undeniably present. It is the true soundtrack of our lives.

So what kind of score is God writing in you? What is the thread that weaves its way through the seasons of your life? What is that melody that is absolutely essential to living yet subtle and elusive at times so as to be almost unheard? It's not a static piece that keeps looping over and over; it's like an endless sheaf of staff paper where God keeps writing something new every day. It may sound like a 100-piece orchestra (think New York Philharmonic) playing at triple forte; other times it may be pianissimo, just a single oboe or a pensive melody on the piano. Whatever it sounds like I truly believe the more we recognize the soundtrack God is composing for our lives, the richer our experience of walking with him will be.


Over forty years ago Gloria Gaither, along with her husband Bill and their friend, arranger and producer Ronn Huff, wrote a piece entitled, "God Gave The Song". The last line of the chorus has always stuck with me:

'For once you know the Source of music,
You'll always hear it.
God gave the song.'

When I was doing afternoons I had Gloria on one day and we talked about the stories behind some of their songs. About this one she said, "The song of life has to be written. There is no better and no other explanation than that. The song dictates its own time and place. It chooses its own circumstances."

Much like how God has moved through time and eternity; the Song of life coming from the Source of music. To paraphrase John 1, "In the beginning was the Song, and the Song was with God and the Song was God." God has written a beautiful soundtrack for you. He orchestrates it uniquely to perfectly complement every day, month and year of your life. No two are ever the same. From long before you were born he had a special melody in mind just for you. And because he knows you best, the score will always be just what you need.

As Alexandre Desplat said, "Every film has its own sound and my job is the process of discovering that." That's our job as well in this journey of life; to engage in the process of discovering God's soundtrack for our lives and to revel in its beauty every day.

Are you listening? Can you hear it? 


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