Do Recording Orchestras Rehearse for Film Scoring?
Updated: Jul 17
One of the things a composer needs to keep in mind when creating their score is the performance aspect. The recording orchestra will see your music for the first time on the recording stage. While recording orchestras don't rehearse the music for the day, they usually practice their instrument extensively at home and have exceptional sightreading skills. When the orchestra shows up to a recording session, they will see the music for the first time on their stand. They will typically flick through the music, warm up and maybe practice a tricky passage or two. The orchestra will tune up and then get to it.
While the orchestra members will not typically practice the music before the session, the conductor will look through it to check for time signature changes, tempo changes and expression markings. The conductor will guide the musicians through the peaks and valleys of the musical score and bring heightened emotion and musicality to it.
There will be a click track that keeps everything together and on time. The click track is fed to all the musicians through their headphones. Some scores are recorded "on the stick" (without a click track). These cues are kept together by the conductor, who closely monitors the film during the session. A famous example of a cue recorded "on stick" is John Williams E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial Flying Bike Rides cue.
Some members of the percussion section may get the parts before the session to have the correct instruments on stage and set up correctly. The pianist, harpist, and concertmaster (first violin) might also get the parts before going over any virtuosic sections that could take up extra time during a session.
A recording orchestra is not usually a symphony orchestra. Often a film or game composer's score requirements vary. This means that the group of musicians required only gather on the day of the session. In modern film scoring, large string orchestras are prevalent, as well as the use of non-classical instruments such as rock instruments (guitars, saxophones, bass, and drums), folk instruments (Taikos, Tam-Tam, Marimbas, Penny whistles, and Bagpipes), and electronic instruments like synthesizers. These are not part of the standard lineup for a symphony orchestra.
Often, composers and their teams work on extremely tight deadlines. As such, there are usually last-minute changes and edits to the score until it is printed. The person in a team responsible for printing the music (The music copyist or librarian) will sometimes only print the music on the day to accommodate these last-minute edits.
Members of a recording orchestra are traditionally also a part of a symphony orchestra or other ensembles and are highly trained individuals. Especially when looking at recording orchestras, the musicians taking part are the cream of the crop. They are exceptionally skilled and experienced and will be able to sightread the music. Click here to read more about where and whom to record with.
There will usually be a couple of takes per cue. The first take is the read-through. During this initial read-through, a score supervisor or the conductor will note any errors or issues, communicate back to the orchestra, and adjust as they go along. Typically, a cue will get a read-through, two takes and then some drop-ins if needed. If there is an error in a take, the orchestra will "drop in", where the sound engineer will give the orchestra two bars of click track, and the orchestra will resume from the point. Longer cues are sometimes broken into smaller sections.
Probably one of the only times an orchestra will rehearse film music is when it will be performed in concert. Film music concerts are becoming very popular – especially with younger audiences as they can relate to the music more. In these performances, there will be a film screen behind the orchestra with the film shown during the concert. An orchestra will rehearse the music two to three times without the screen. These initial rehearsals are where the players will get to know the music. In the last rehearsals, they will introduce the screen and line up the music to the picture. There will be a click track to help line up the orchestras' performance to the film. The click track will be relayed to the conductor through headphones or a visual click on the screen. The conductor will forward this to the orchestra. During these concerts, the orchestra will not necessarily have headphones with the click track, but some smaller sections, like a rhythm section (drums, guitars, and keyboards), will have a click track.
A Medley made out of several Star Trek Movies, performed by the RSO Vienna and conducted by David Newman at Hollywood in Vienna 2013
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