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Soundtracks at the Forefront
Shaping Stage & Film through Sound

Soundtracks at the Forefront
  • Yokohama maid : a Japanese comic operett... (by )
  • Behind the Sounds: the Evolution of Film... (by )
  • St. Nicholas Book of Plays and Operettas 
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The music that accompanies film is equally as pervasive as the images that move across screen and stage. In stage productions, theater music plays on the moods of operettas like Henry Baldwin’s St. Nicholas Book of Plays and Operettas and in Arthur Penn’s Yokohama Maid: A Japanese Comic Operetta. In silent films, live music (guitarists, pianists, and live orchestras) was often paired with public projections. In the science-fiction classic Star Wars, Darth Vader’s theme music is as ominous as his character. The same goes for Jaws; composer John Williams created a suspenseful backdrop that had become synonymous with impending danger. Today, original soundtracks (OST) are often found on the top of the Billboard charts.

Soundtrack recordings come in five categories. Film scores may showcase background music from non-musical films (such as the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings film); a soundtrack may be composed of popular music featured in part or in whole (as evidenced in Dirty Dancing); a musical film’s soundtrack may concentrate primarily on the songs in the film (the musical film West Side Story is exemplifies this); video games often include accompanying popular music in their soundtracks (such as the playable radio stations in the Grand Theft Auto series); and there are soundtracks that contain both the music and dialogue from the film (e.g., The Wizard of Oz). 

All subgenres use soundtracks  to enhance the experience of the viewer, listener, or active participant. Since the first commercial release of a film’s soundtrack in 1938 (Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), OST have become as poignant and renowned as the films they accompany.  

The societal influences of motion picture soundtracks have been traced and deliberated across the globe. Natalie Lewandowski’s article “Behind the Sounds: The Evolution of Film Soundtrack Roles in Australia and New Zealand” evaluates the effect of soundtracks in an ethnographic sense. She discusses communication hierarchies, education, and the rapid change of the film industry in those parts of the world. Kyle Jackson’s “Sonic Stereotypes: Jazz and Racial Signification in American Film and Television Soundtracks” examines the use of jazz in American film, specifically how it maps racialized meaning into a film’s narrative.

Soundtracks have been and will remain indelible to the filmmaking process. Without a momentous sonic backdrop, films today seem incomplete.

By Logan Williams

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