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Introduction to film music: DAM! The Story of Kit the Beaver

DAM! The Story of Kit the Beaver is an animated film that’s about not your average beaver. It’s the tale of Kit, a very independent (and easily distracted) young beaver who loves to explore the sounds of the forest she lives in.

While Kit is busy discovering the world, her clan is busy building a dam. According to Papa Beaver, working on a dam is the most important thing a beaver can do, because…well…just because! Kit tries hard to pitch in and to help with the dam’s construction by gathering wood from the forest, but each time she starts off on a new task something goes wrong!

During her adventures, Kit teaches her clan about the value of working with others and learns that progress can come in many forms. Through generosity and empathy, we can build relationships that strengthen and grow in ways that we could never imagine.

Kit’s adventure is brought to life by a musical score by Canadian film composer Erica Procunier. In the Q&A below, find out more about being a film composer.

How did you get into composing for film and television?

My motivation to become a film composer has existed basically since I started composing. I have always loved listening to film scores because they have this inherent power over the emotions and the music has fantastic visual stories already built into it. I was also a ballet dancer in my youth and music’s fundamental relationship to movement translates to film as well. When I decided to study composition at school, it was always with film scoring in the back of my mind. At Western University I made friends with the students studying film and that’s where I wrote my first scores.

Tell us a little about your process composing for this film? Did you watch the film first or look at storyboards?

I have been reading the story of Kit the Beaver and looking at the artwork since the TSO selected the project back in April. The story and the images are all crucial for giving me inspiration to begin writing ideas for the film. It has been really great to be involved so early in the filmmaking process because sometimes I don’t work on a project until everything else is essentially finished. The first thing I do is I write a lot of possible melodic themes and harmonic textures to use as my building blocks. Then my goal is to create a blueprint for the shape of the score and decide when the important moments will be to bring back the themes. Based on the emotional content of a scene or the personality of a character, I can answer questions like “What instruments should I use?” or “How fast should the tempo be?”

How do you choose the instrumentation for your compositions? Are you inspired by aspects of the film (visuals, plot, character qualities) or are there certain instruments you feel relate specific qualities better than others?

I am most definitely inspired by the characters and the visuals in regards to how to choose my instruments. Also I’m thinking about what each instrument is capable of and what conventions have been established surrounding each instrument. For example, in DAM! The Story of Kit the Beaver there are going to be a number of wolf howls created by the orchestra. I am really drawn to the ability of the strings to bend their pitch by sliding their fingers along the strings because they don’t have a fret board. It’s going to make the howling very effective! Also some instruments bring more power and volume (like the brass) and some are naturally more gentle and whimsical (like the woodwinds). But in the end, the character and emotion rely on how you choose to use the instrument’s sound qualities and blend them with each other.

Watch the complete film below. Click through the orchestra map to toggle between the film, conductor and TSO.

Recorded live at Roy Thomson Hall in February 2017, by RBC Resident Conductor Earl Lee and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.