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  • Writer's pictureSalil Bhayani

Why I Love John Powell's Music

One of the most common questions that I get asked at events and gatherings the moment it is known I compose for film (after the usual, "Oh! That is so cool!" or a variation thereof, which btw, I absolutely love and appreciate), is this: "What is your favorite film score?"

Other times, I am asked who my favorite film composer is, and yet other times, I am asked if I like Hans Zimmer.

I usually answer the last one with an affirmative, but I always follow it up with how I admire Hans Zimmer's "certain scores" and how I do not personally connect with the others. For instance, the score for The Dark Knight, I think is so well crafted that every time I listen to it, or watch the scenes from the film, I learn something brand new about the art of film scoring. To me, it is groundbreaking. James Newton Howard co-composed the score, but he is an entirely different beast (a fantastic one, perhaps?). Apologies for the distasteful pun; however, I am sure I will be writing about JNH's music sometime soon. I find myself constantly studying his scores these days, and I keep feeling progressively unskilled and inadequate as a composer the more I study his music (counterintuitive much?)

To answer who my favorite composer is, I always have to think about my favorite film score(s). That, to me, seems to be the easiest way to think about who my favorite composer is. I used to brush the question off with the apparent difficulty of choosing one favorite score or composer when there is no dearth of highly accomplished and successful composers or that of beautiful film music. Here is what began to happen after the favorite film score/composer question kept coming at me almost every single time I met composers and filmmakers, which happens every so often; the moment the question was asked, the first thought would be How to Train Your Dragon, over and over again, and hence, I suppose, John Powell? Since I never had a chance to sit and think about that instinct, I could not be certain. The first time I decided to seriously think about this question was when I started to compose themes for the feature film The Silent Beat, that I was called on board to score (and will be scoring it this year, yay!), and filmmaker Carson Einarsen asked me what my favorite film was. I instinctively said How to Train Your Dragon 2. In retrospect, I do not know if it is still my favorite film of all times, but the music has had such an enormous impact on me that it seemed like the right answer to the question.

After that point, John Powell as my favorite composer was established as an answer to the once very difficult question. John Powell scored other films after the fact: Ferdinand, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. My love and awe for his music has only deepened since.

I began to contemplate why his music stirred up so much excitement and inspiration. I kept listening to the scores for an answer, and instead of finding an answer that I could verbally express, I would listen to the music and simply go, "This is why! This is exactly why!". That would be followed by, "How in the world does he come up with that?", followed by, "Sigh! What am I doing with my life?".

After all those inarticulate thoughts passed, I decided to really delve into it. I have been determined to get to the bottom of this inscrutable obsession. I think, I cannot be sure, the reason I connect with his music so deeply is because of the beautiful melodies that are scattered all across his scores. Yes, there is intricate and sophisticated orchestration, harmonies and rhythmic elements unique to John Powell, but the melodies are so compelling and adaptable to transformation that you hear them all across his scores, and they subconsciously (or even consciously) embed themselves to your brain and become a part of your memory.

I have not been able to come to a conclusion as to what it is about those melodies that make all those scores they are a part of so rich. In my estimation, it is an entirely new world of narratives that those melodies create that are independent of the film itself, yet so deeply a part of the film world; much like Star Wars, for the sake of simplistic analogy. The music of John Powell has a life of its own, and even though it is often constructed on the fabric of a traditional symphonic film score, it has a story to tell that has never been told before; an untold story with each new score that I cannot wait to hear.

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