Theme music sets the tone

Sometimes, the musical themes to tv shows or movies are the best thing about them, or they resonate more than, or just as much, as the stories being told.  Certainly, they play a central part in evoking emotion from the viewers, and stay with us longer, I think.

Our daughter is learning the theme to the Indiana Jones movies at the moment, and it’s a constant presence either on the instrument during practice, or being whistled around the house, or as an earworm long after practice has finished.  Every time I hear it, or recall it, I can see Harrison Ford striding forcefully, or running at brakeneck speed, or fighting a baddy.

At the same time, the Australian tv series, The Dr Blake Mysteries’ theme is also on high rotation in my head.  I am visited by the haunting cello and violin counter-plays several times during the week, brought forward by the promos for the show. I think the composer has really succeeded in capturing the mood of the program.

Dr Blake

The series’ stories revolve around a regional GP in Victoria in the early 1950s.  Dr Lucien Blake has returned from post-war Singapore to take up his father’s practice.  One gets the feeling the return is not his first or even second choice. His family has gone missing during the war, and he still has someone searching for them; part of him is still there.

The stories portray a fairly recent Australian past. The younger Dr Blake’s way of the looking at things – questioning the assumptions made by the police with whom he works as the police surgeon, and those of the society in the regional locations – represent winds of change that will take some time to reach these smaller communities.  Whether these views will be accepted is another question all together. It’s a standard detective procedural, the dialogue is sometimes a bit clunky, but the producers and writers have very successfully captured the times, and the locations and in particular, production design, are first rate.

Filmed in muted, darker tones – greys, browns and blues – the theme and incidental music provide the perfect accompaniment for the maudlin mood of Blake and the sadness he has brought home with him.

The composer, Dale Cornelius, posted this video on YouTube, explaining how he composed the theme, and how the various elements of the theme didn’t really fall into place until he saw an episode and could get more of a feel for the tone of the series.  I think the changes he made at this stage nailed it.

The theme to Home Box Office’s Deadwood series (2004-2006), is in a similar vein with its mood and tone, and uses a “fiddle” sound rather than violin, to reflect the wild west setting of the show. It’s another favourite of mine. There are many more great themes that come to mind now I’ve started – I don’t want to stop.  But I will.


2 thoughts on “Theme music sets the tone

  1. Maggie says:

    Thanks for writing about this – I look forward to the introduction of The Doctor Blake Mysteries because of it’s theme music – almost as much as I enjoy the stories. Hope it comes back soon.
    Old School with Sam Neill and Bryan Brown also had a great theme song.

  2. Dr Blake along with the Miss Fisher Murders have the best soundtrack and incidental music on Australian Television at the moment. Dr Blake in particular catches a mood that is just spot on. Craig McLaughlin is simply perfectly cast as is Nadine Garner. Every episode especially of the recently aired series three used incidental music throughout in a way that drew you right into the unfolding events on the screen.

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