The Loss of James Horner and the Lasting Emotional Resonance of Film Music

The overwhelming reaction to the tragic passing of composer James Horner is not just a testimony to the impact of HIS music and life (which is staggering) but even more so, the impact of film music in general as a soundtrack to ALL of our lives.

Films have increasingly evolved into alternate timelines for us all. Realities that intertwine with our own so tightly that it’s impossible to recall our own lives without referring to favorite films as signposts, benchmarks and placeholders.

We go to movies to be entertained and in the flash of 2 hours, we are transformed. The events occurring in parallel in our own lives are forever etched into our deep memories and guided there by these plots and arcs and characters. But then, burned even deeper by associated themes and melodies, glorious soundscapes and unforgettable motifs brought to us by the world’s great film composers.

The film composer’s main purpose is to accent and help color an emotional moment and breathe life into the souls of characters, to weave connective tissue into the fabric of the story. Our collective experience as a species has been profoundly connected through movies and by the universality of the language of music.

The average moviegoer may not have any specific idea, any tangible explanation for this phenomenon, but for those of us who aspire to become a part of that tapestry, those who have been listening more actively, the impact is much more profound. Those listening intently are awash in the beauty of the craft, but for those not given to a musical mind, it is much more subtle. An average moviegoer has no idea why they are brought to tears, moved to action, brought to their feet, but the resonance of those moments is made possible by the music. The memory of how they FELT in those moments was cemented by the music.

If a composer has done their job, the music in a film never demands attention, but rather invisibly, like the air we breathe, is vital to the life of the film. However, once the moviegoer has left the theater, what resonates, what draws them back to the connection they had, what reminds them of the time and events of their own lives and the associated emotions, is the music.

I doubt, no matter how masterfully shot, that any scene from a film could be viewed silently and carry the same weight as a piece of music heard without it’s associated imagery.

I’m not alone in saying that there are just certain themes and pieces from film music that when I hear them, bring me DIRECTLY back to my OWN experiences at the time. As if the score were written to my life, itself. Being a musician, these scores have also had a powerful impact on my own path, professionally. But being a person, the music breathes life into my subconscious.

All of this said to remind us of the importance of music. Particularly so, the music of film and television. It is as much a soundtrack to our real lives as it is to the stories told on screen.

As we say goodbye to one of the film music world’s greatest, James Roy Horner, let us rejoice in the music he left with us. He gave us all a gift of hundreds of emotional guideposts and reminders of our own lives in his many scores. Our memories are forever enriched by the joy brought to us through his tapestry of themes.

Close your eyes. Listen. And remember.

One of my favorite scores of James Horner:

A beautiful moment for Mr. Horner:

A list of Mr. Horner’s many scores for film:

A wonderfully complete tribute and list of accomplishments from Jon Burlingame:


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