Chaplin Film Score - A Composer’s Diary - Part 3

December 27, 2018, 5:58 PM · This post is part 3 of an on-going series about a piano score. Please click back to the other parts for more information.

This one might feel a bit different, since I’m writing it on my phone due to my computer getting a data transfer - got the new MacBook Pro released mid-2018! I’d been using my old MacBook since 2012 and may have blogged about getting it here, so I thought I’d throw in this throwback. (Check in October 2012!)

I’ve been getting a lot of time to work over the past few days. I’ll start with the jazz number! That’s right, in true 20’s fashion I had to include strict jazz somewhere here. Just playing on the piano, I came up with this rhythm on a C-sharp minor seventh, and from there that one bar became the focus of the section of music and has turned into Mr. Pest’s Theme. The other rhythm was straight bass eighths in the left hand with off-beats in the right. I also included instructions to swing the sixteenth notes as well.

This music is for the beginning of the film right after the Mr. Rowdy title card. In essence it’s just a big jazz number with a big swell in the melody at bar 38 - which I just now called back in Act IV at the very end of the film, when Mr. Pest finally leaves the stage getting hosed by Mr. Rowdy. I thought that would be a fitting bookend, forgetting the jazz number was so close to the start of the film! I’ll have to include this as a motif in the film later on as well as the funky rhythm.

The other motif that gets thrown around after this is my theatre music, which I had written originally in October (I believe I mentioned this in the last part). Following this I put in two vamps for improv solos on top of like in actual jazz piano, like Jon Batiste or someone. I think this will be fun to try out and saved me time to figure out how to link sections together. I love how it ends on a D-flat dominant seventh, mirroring the minor seventh that started this section, with an E-natural on the bass, before it resolves to a true D-flat chord.

Before going back to what I had been working on before holiday break started, I wrote two short interludes that explore the theatre music and chords for Mr. Rowdy taken from the jazz number. It’s really cool when you can extract bits of music, isolate them, and use them in a different context, both as a process writing the piece and in listening to it as well.

Yesterday I finished up the snake charmer music, which ends with a slow waltz while Chaplin sleeps with the snake causing chaos around him. Of everything, this might end up changing depending on how things work with the screen, but for now I’m happy with it how it is. Today, I focused on the very end, Act IV, Professor Nix! It begins with low “evil music” - B-flat minor chords - to create the atmosphere of this new performer. But of course, it is comedy, so when Mr. Rowdy gets ahold of the hose, jazz returns to the music over a blues bass progression, though the melody and right hand chords don’t always follow typical harmonies. The Mr. Rowdy chords return and I bring back the big swelling melody as I said, which is sped up about twice as fast in this new section. I still have yet to finish writing, but I plan on finishing it after finishing this blog post! Then I can return (a bit of a break around New Years Eve for family and friends) after the New Year to earlier sections. I’d love to get this done before then!

Finally, I thought it would be interesting to quickly discuss how I sync my music with the film. Sometimes I just write, then pick a metronome marking and sit watching the film, counting out the bars as they pass, and make note of any hit points I want to emphasize in the music. For the jazz number, I counted out the bars in advance so I knew the points as I was writing anyway.

I’ve been having a blast with this so far! Thanks for reading, and, regardless of if I do a 2018 reflection post or not (we’ll see), have a great rest of 2018 - I look forward to seeing where my musical life takes me in 2019!

(Side note, at the Kennedy Center Awards Show I saw on TV, Philip Glass (Jon Batiste played piano!) was on with a violinist performing two works of his, one of which was Einstein on the Beach! Very cool, considering I went to a live show he did in Chicago in November!)


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