Finally, after seven seasons, the graceful, enchanting score for ABC’s Once Upon a Time is being recognized by the TV Academy in the category of outstanding music composition for a series.
Over 156 episodes, Oscar-nominated The River Runs Through It composer Mark Isham has penned notes and together with his team of co-composers Cindy O’Connor and Michael Simon are being lauded for their work on “Leaving Storybrooke,” the series finale that brings back and builds upon the musical themes they’ve tailored for individual characters.
“We do a Rumple and Belle theme with no darkness,” points out Isham.
“Over the years their relationship has been tortured,” says O’Connor, who first began as Isham’s assistant. “Their love theme was a dark and twisted.” The notes that kept coming back from creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis was “make it simpler,” says O’Connor, until there was a theme as Isham says had “No hint of darkness — they finally reached their peace together.”
Unlike other notable series like Breaking Bad, Mad Men or Better Call Saul which are conservative on their musical notes and will opt to go for songs to heighten their drama, Once Upon a Time‘s score is consistent, and has a huge footprint during each episode, not only unlike Bernard Herrmann’s music in an Alfred Hitchcock film in regards to its presence, but significantly more gentle, beautiful, and softer depending on the fairy tale at hand.
“There’s a fondness for music in the show and we would discuss that because I didn’t want to fall back into a really old-fashioned scoring style,” says Isham. “These characters are larger than life and they just absorb music.”
When we sat during a scoring session for Once Upon a Time at the Warner Bros lot for the Season 1 finale, when Emma Swan breaks the Evil Queen’s curse on Henry with a kiss, Isham had constructed a moving theme that made us reach for a box of Kleenexes. There was such an attention to detail when it came to marrying the music’s timing with images of the curse being lifted.
“We’re looking for a number of things in a recording session, obviously the right notes played at the right time, but with the caliber of musicians in this town, you get that the first pass. After that we’re looking for emotion, structure, and the right things emotionally to happen at the right time,” says Isham.
“If we’re pushing those few extra passes, there has to be something very specific we’re doing and it most likely hinges on a very crucial, emotional turn in the story,” the composer adds.
Says Simon about writing music for Once Upon a Time: “You’re part of the storytelling and a lot of the time your job as music is to emotionally grab people and drag them in and make them feel that you’re in whatever story you’re telling.”
The score album for the final episode “Leaving Storybrooke” is dropping August 17 from Walt Disney Records.
Check out our conversation above.