Action shot of figure skater Alexie Yagudin during his Man in the Iron Mask 2002 Olympic long program

When I was twelve

In my newsletter this month, one of the things I’m thinking about is the fact that the music I go back to over and over (my favorites) have been my favorites since pre-adolescence. I’ve changed quite a lot as a person since I was twelve, so this was something of a realization. It concerned me. I feel I have very little in common with my younger self in the ways that are important. So, what does it mean that as I’ve aged, my music taste has remained mostly the same?

I am a film score person. Yes, I listen to other music, but the albums I spend money on, that I impulse buy on a bad day, are instrumental movie soundtracks.

When I was twelve, I was a figure skater and I was also a piano player. Until twelve, my relationship with music had two tracks: the classical cannon I learned through piano lessons, and the inspirational contemporary Christian music that was ‘better’ than regular pop music because it was about God.

Skating changed that. I remember watching the brother/sister pairs team of Hartsell and Hartsell skate to music from James Horner’s Legends of the Fall. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. Sadly, my mother said I was too young to watch the movie, but I could buy the album. Until then the music section at Best Buy had been irrelevant to me because their Christian music was so limited. But now, I had a Soundtrack/Movie section. When I saw movies, I began to listen.

After Legends of the Fall, I bought Man in the Iron Mask and Ever After and asked my skating coach if my programs that year could use music from one or both of them. She told me the notes where too long in Ever After, but we could do something with Man in the Iron Mask.

The soundtracks to Braveheart and Gladiator shortly followed. These five are what I’d call my core foundational soundtrack group. They were The Beginning of a lifetime thrilling to film music. They also work really well as albums, which not all scores do. In this I mean that, compared to other scores, I rarely listen to individual tracks. They entire album works as a cohesive whole to create a narrative.

I’ve also noticed that, though I sometimes remember the music cues from the films, I’ve traveled so many miles with these scores, they have become independent of their original films. I fell asleep watching Legends of the Fall the first time I tried to watch it and haven’t gone back since. But the summer after I bought that album, I perfected the art of timing the orchestra’s climaxes to turns coming around mountain passes in Colorado.

In one of my early novels, (of course about skating) I choreographed a fictional skating program to Man in the Iron Mask music, which the character used to win the Olympics. And then, in 2002, as though he was reading my mind, Russian men’s skater Alexie Yagudin debuted a program to Man in the Iron Mask and eventually won the Olympics with it.

I will say that Gladiator has remained pretty tied to the film (even though Yagudin also skated to this music. He has good taste), and I would say its one of the greatest examples of both the composer, Hans Zimmer’s work, and of the maturation of the film score from its roots in classical music to its own art form. Next week, I’ll go into a bit of the technical history and what you can listen for to notice music in movies.

We’re getting long here and I haven’t answered my question about what it means that I still listen to music held close by my twelve-year-old self. Perhaps it has to do with the ability of music to remake meaning. Movie scores in particular, because they are built around emotion, but not tied to words which limit emotion, allow for growth and change. When I rarely listen to music while I write, but film scores allow me to access emotions and narratives within my own life. I listen to them in my car and sometimes forget they aren’t singing words to me because they work in my brain as their own kind of language.

Jaye Viner knows just enough about everything to embarrass herself at parties she never attends. Her novel, Jane of Battery Park, arrives in August