How movie soundtracks helped me rediscover my abandoned hobby

Even though I quit after high school, movie scores inspired me to return to the piano

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Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Since the age of five, I’ve kept my nails clipped short so that there’s no white part remaining, only pink. My childhood piano teacher firmly believed that this was essential for proper playing, and if I felt my fingers slipping across the keys during practice, we’d pause and I’d trim my nails over the trash can with the clipper she kept on her keyring.

My piano teacher had high expectations for her students, but I liked this about her — she was understanding, but she’d never let me get away with skimping on practices. Although I didn’t mind the rigor, it became more difficult to keep up with lessons towards the end of high school. The combination of a packed schedule and tendonitis in my wrist meant that playing was rushed or painful, so the time I spent practicing dwindled.

However, this meant that my pieces were unpolished — even by my standards — and I hated falling short of the expectations set by both me and my teacher. By the time I graduated, I felt burnt out and was ready for a break during college. 

As a result, when I tried to sit down and play for fun the summer after my first year, I had lost a lot of my skills and had forgotten my memorized pieces. This left me frustrated, so the keys were left to gather dust once again. It wasn’t until I discovered a new style of music that I began playing for hours at a time like before.

At the end of my first year, I came across compilations of movie scores as I searched for music to listen to while I studied. I can’t concentrate if I hear lyrics, but I like background noise, so scores and themes from movies are a good compromise.

Even when I have hours of work stretched ahead of me, I find myself looking forward to choosing the songs that will accompany me during my studying. I noticed that I feel less stressed as I work, and I’ve begun paying attention to the songs’ composition and how they relate to their movies.

Listening to the scores apart from the movies gave me a greater appreciation for the way they shape the listener’s mood — for example, scores from “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” always made me feel less homesick during finals. The music from the films reminds me of memories of watching them with friends and family, though I rarely noticed the soundtracks in the moment.

I’ll even forget that I haven’t watched certain movies that I’ve heard the scores and themes from. Sometimes, I become so familiar with the music that I feel like I’ve already seen its accompanying visuals. For example, I’ve never seen “The Intouchables” or “Amélie,” but I know each of their iconic themes — “Una Mattina” and “Comptine d'Un Autre Été,” respectively — by heart.

The more I listened to these scores, the more I felt the pull to recreate the music myself. I researched piano renditions of “Time” from “Inception” and the main theme from “Interstellar,” and I began rediscovering the skills I thought I’d forgotten.

Although my hands were sore and it was tedious work identifying the notes and chords I used to know at a glance, I got a rush when I could shape the sound into a song that mimicked the original score. On my keyboard, I sometimes went a step further and added other instruments like strings to layer the sound, echoing the original composer's ideas but altering them to emphasize the piano.

Even though I won’t completely regain the piano skills I’ve lost, I’ve discovered a new way to continue my love for playing the piano through movie scores. I’ve given up on making each piece perfect. In fact, I’ll occasionally leave in a wrong note or chord when I record a piece — sometimes on accident, other times on purpose.  

Because I’m playing for fun instead of trying to achieve perfection, playing the piano has grown into a pastime that relaxes me. Studying movie scores has allowed me to reconnect with an old hobby that blends with my new life, and it’s a relief to return to it — even if it means indefinitely having short fingernails.

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