The Remains: a Transformation from Film Music to Concert Winds

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As an orchestrator I spend much of my day immersed in film music, so the fact that film music essence is sneaking into my concert works isn’t surprising. But even still, I was nervous to compose a concert piece based on film music. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t simply writing film music in a wind band setting, but instead writing organic wind band music which happened to be inspired by film music. 

The piece I was envisioning was inspired by a very specific moment in a film score I wrote for the movie Where She Lies directed by Zach Marion. In the soundtrack I titled this moment The Remains. As I was composing it, this music felt like it had more to say, like it could build four more times before it hit its peak. Of course in the film, I had to end the music when the scene ended. Two years later when I was still thinking about where that small bit of music could go, I transformed the whole moment into a concert piece for chamber winds and percussion. 


The underlying musical motive of the film Where She Lies is “puzzle pieces.” The protagonist is searching for her daughter, and over the course of the documentary the filmmakers find more and more pieces of the puzzle. My master plan was to first write the theme for the very last scene of the film, and then break it down into little pieces that I could use over the course of the whole film, like a puzzle.

Here is that final theme:

Picked apart, this theme is really just several arpeggiating moments. So my smallest piece of the puzzle was the simple arpeggio. This is what started off the film:

Unfortunately I realized too late that you can only do so much with a single arpeggio. Halfway through the film that arpeggio was getting old very quickly, and if I didn’t come up with some sort of variation, this was going to be a very boring score. 

To combat this problem I varied everything that I could think of: I changed keys, tempo, pattern, range, etc. But most effective was the changing of instruments. I had started out with a very cold soundworld: metallic drum, piano, flute, and bells. But as more and more pieces fell into place in the film, the story became more emotional and the score needed to match that warmth. So I slowly brought in guitar and strings. The whole score became a slow-motion transformation of cold to warm, which was even more effective and noticeable precisely because the motive wasn’t changing all that much.

(TLDR: if you’re only going to have one theme, make sure that it’s very, very interesting.)

The Remains score cover art by Skye Sturm


The moment where The Remains takes place in the film is in a very transitional spot in the score, between the cold beginning and warm ending. I had just started to bring in guitar and strings. There’s an arpeggiating ostinato, gradually overlaid by more and more instruments. It starts mellow and gets warm and bright and exciting. 

Here is the original cue from the film, The Remains:

I had some challenges when arranging it for wind band:

  1. The melodic instruments don’t enter until halfway through the piece (not very conducive to a band full of people who have signed up to actually play something)
  2. A gazillion arpeggios are not easy to play.
  3. Melodically and tonally, it goes nowhere (instead of changing pitches and keys, I focus on only adding layers, which is common for film music, but not common for concert music)
  4. I didn’t WANT it to go anywhere melodically and tonally (which was arguably the bigger problem)

Once I started working with the director of the University of West Georgia Wind Ensemble, Josh Byrd, we came up with some solutions. 

The first challenge (all the melodic instruments sitting around for half the piece) was solved with a restructuring of instrumentation. Instead of the full wind band instrumentation, we pared it down to a chamber ensemble of winds and percussion. Once we turned the piece into a percussion-featured work, it suddenly made sense to have a full percussion-ensemble opening, and simply fewer people sitting around at the beginning. 

To address the challenge of many arpeggios, I scaled back as much as possible. When I really did need arpeggios, I made them as repetitive as possible. I also utilized the classic hocket, which gives players a moment to reset, making those arpeggios easier to play.

There was little I could do about my stubbornness of the unchanging tonality. I knew I had to keep the piece short (a single tonality for too long has too much potential to get boring). And I used the same techniques that I did in the original film score: I varied instruments as much as I could and I added layers to keep things interesting. 

In the end it worked really well, and this piece got its ending as big and grand as it finally wanted.

Below are selections of the premiere of the concert work, The Remains, played by Josh Byrd and the UWG Wind Ensemble on November 1st, 2022. Click here to find out more about the concert work and purchase options.