One of the many reasons I write with music in the background is to help me feel outside of myself. To clarify: if there’s a feeling I’m going for in a scene, it helps to sense that feeling elsewhere than in my brain. If I hear music that reflects the feeling, I am better able to relate the feeling with language. This goes for music that lifts up as well as music that drags down.
Today, I want to focus on the “lift up” part. Mychael Danna, the unshakeable rock of my movie score library, both drags and lifts with Little Miss Sunshine. The story itself—a dysfunctional family coming together to help the young girl reach a beauty pageant—calls for such pendulum swings in mood. The genius here is that the music seems to symbolize the dysfunction: one hears some strings, but not many, drums, a squeezebox, a tuba and trumpet. Some other little percussion odds and ends, like a xylophone. These are not the instruments one hears together often, save for, hmm, a polka party? But then strings are not usually involved… ANYWAY. You have an eclectic batch of instruments with their own very unique sounds, but together, they not only create harmony, but a genuine song.
And what a song. “We’re Gonna Make It” builds as more instruments join, and while the sounds are so very different, the melodies played by each instrument are very much the same. Add to this the percussion, which builds up the rhythms with a little help from the tuba, and you’ve got a song that runs through the dirt, leaps into the air, and soars.
Help your characters see that, though odd ducks they may be, they are better as a unit than apart. Give them the hope and determination they need to rise over the conflict. Danna’s got just the wings for the flight.