Group composition: film scoring
Recently one of the members of the Midnight Music Community (MMC) – teacher Brigitte Louise Lessard from Québec, Canada – shared a halloween music technology lesson she has had much success with in her elementary classes. It’s a film scoring activity, but rather than have the students compose a score and match it up to the video in a digital audio workstation like GarageBand or Mixcraft, she has the students perform the music live, along with the film while it’s being shown on a data projector. She video-records the performance and then matches it up with the original video.
The project reminds me of the way pianists would improvise music to accompany silent films in the 1920s. Silent film accompanists would either improvise music from scratch, use a compilation of existing (often well-known) classical and theatre music themes, or they would use a combination of the both. Sometimes original music was composed especially for the movie, but that was not a common practice until the “talkies” came along in the 1930s.
If you’re interested in discussing the history and techniques of accompanying silent films, there are some great resources online. The Silent Film Sound And Music Archive has example cue sheets and directions for accompanists which are fascinating.
Mickey Mouse in The Haunted House (1929)
In Brigitte-Louise’s lesson, she takes a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1929 – the Haunted House – and divides it up into smaller portions. She then assigns each section (around 90-120 seconds each) to a different class and they each compose sound effects and music to accompany their portion of the cartoon.
To help make the process a smooth one, she creates a storyboard to go with each section of the the video which is used to keep the class on track during the composition process. The video is shown to the students and they brainstorm what type of music should accompany the scene and which instruments to use. They use a combination of untuned percussion, melodic instruments and vocal/body sounds.
In the Mickey Mouse cartoon (which you can see below) there is a scene in which bats fly (around the 1’20” mark). Brigitte-Louise recalled the following from the brainstorming session with the students:
“For the flying bats, the kids noticed that I had big sheets
Download the video file
The Mickey Mouse Haunted House animation is in the public domain and can be found on the Internet Archive website in a collection of Disney animations. Here is a direct download link for the video file.
Download a storyboard template for this activity
One reader – Tony – kindly created a blank storyboard for this activity and has shared it with everyone. You can download a copy of the storyboard here. Thanks Tony!