Isabel Li ’25
As someone who does not enjoy conventional pop music and instead prefers lyricless orchestral soundtracks, I am quite used to the hesitant looks and slow nods when others ask me about my music tastes.
Understandably, a piece of music without the poetic lyrics of a song may seem quite dull. However, despite the common association of wordless music with boredom, the emotional and memorable nature of soundtrack music played in movies and TV shows makes it something worth listening to on its own.
By soundtracks, I am referring to the lyricless background OSTs (Original Soundtracks) of films and series, from Disney to Netflix. It’s the recurring leitmotif that plays throughout the main character’s journey, be it heroic or tragic. It’s the tune that brings chills of anticipation or pulses of fear in key climactic scenes. Most significantly, it’s the unforgettable combination of a melody and harmony that lingers in your mind long after you’ve finished a movie — a song forever connected with dynamic feelings and well-written plots.
Although you may be unfamiliar with specific background OSTs, there are many lyricless OST tunes that are well ingrained into pop culture. Some include “Hedwig’s Theme” from the Harry Potter franchise, “The Shire” from Lord of the Rings, and the main themes from Star Wars and Jurassic Park. These selections are incredibly memorable and popular due to their catchiness, repetition throughout the films, and sheer melodiousness.
However, these title themes, often the first selection in a soundtrack album, are only the tip of the iceberg. Within each film’s full soundtrack score lies a long list of OSTs for various scenes throughout the action and adventure — there is simply so much more to discover if you dig past the opening music and listen to the scene-specific tunes.
Take the recent popular Disney film Encanto, for example. Besides the catchy Hamilton-esque songs like “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” or “Surface Pressure,” the full movie soundtrack includes the beautiful goosebump-inducing title sequence “Abre Los Ojos,” the disobedient and humorous song “Bruno’s Tower,” and the tension-filled action melody “La Candela.”
Even though these specific wordless themes garner little attention in the main hype of Encanto, each piece of music is incredibly underrated, incorporating the plot’s complex emotions and effectively channeling them to the audience through instruments. Naturally, the OSTs encompass a vast range of styles that convey different emotions; in other words, there is always bound to be a piece within your favorite movies that suits your state at any given moment, making soundtracks an incredibly versatile genre to listen to.
Listening to a movie’s background soundtrack also means appreciating all the talented composers and musicians in the industry. Frequently, composers are given a strict time constraint to create a new score of music to be played in a certain film, which means that many of the OSTs are works that have been composed in an impressively short time.
Additionally, the orchestras that play and record the music are often sight-reading, playing the complicated music within minutes of reading it for the first time. With the need for metronomic accuracy and precise intonation, the level of skill required to perform these works is simply awe-inspiring.
The most fascinating aspect of listening to film soundtrack music, however, is that it allows me to live in the moment and make mundane activities feel more adventurous. After all, OSTs are played throughout the highs and
lows of a character arc, so listening to one while doing the simplest of activities gives me the impression that I am embarking on a journey as well.
One of my favorite OSTs to listen to is from The Queen’s Gambit, with a series of over 40 different pieces in the full soundtrack. The music’s overall melancholy and wistful piano tunes, especially the ones played during the show’s chess matches, creates a romantic and introspective ambience and helps me concentrate on the task at hand.
Surprisingly, movie or show soundtracks are quite accessible on most music apps and many of them are completely free to listen to on Youtube. Better yet, it is possible to create playlists of OST pieces from different films or shows that evoke a similar emotion; by indulging in a variety of emotional melodies, you can re-experience the ineffable joys, sorrows, thrills, and sheer beauty of movie music created by many talented and lesser-known composers across the globe.
So, think of your favorite shows and films throughout your life. Search up their OSTs on YouTube or Spotify. Then, immerse yourself into an adventure, live in the moment, and appreciate the sheer musicality of these beautiful, underrated works.
Image Source: Isabel Li ’25’s playlists