Harry Potter Film Composer Makes Magic with Berklee Orchestra
As a boy growing up in small-town Scotland, Patrick Doyle couldn’t wait to get to his junior orchestra rehearsals every Sunday. When he began composing, he assumed making up songs was something everyone could do. All he needed was a simple phrase of encouragement to make it a career:
“Has anyone ever told you that you write beautiful melodies?”
Doyle recalled those words from a mentor while meeting with members of Berklee’s Harry Potter Soundtrack Orchestra (HPSO) in early April. Thanks in part to a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Doyle was the featured speaker at Berklee's annual Liberal Arts Symposium and was on campus for a brief residency in the Film Scoring Department. He spent part of a Friday afternoon at a recording session for the student orchestra, which convened to celebrate his visit.
In an hour-long session in Studio 1 in the basement of the new tower at 160 Mass. Ave., the HPSO recorded multiple takes of two of Doyle’s works for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth film in the beloved series. Among the composer’s other works are a wide range of soundtracks for Sense and Sensibility, Carlito’s Way, Brave, and Cinderella.
Conducted by club founder Gabriela Sofia Gomez-Estevez, fresh off the orchestra’s sold-out show in early March at the Berklee Performance Center, the 40-piece orchestra recorded “Hogwarts’ March” and “Hogwarts’ Hymn.” From the control room, which was crowded with about 20 observing students and faculty members, composition major Isaac Johnson used the talkback system to make a suggestion after the orchestra rehearsed the march for the first time.
“Much more of the double forte,” he said. “Just bring it all up, whatever you’re doing.”
When Doyle arrived, he took a seat beside Gomez-Estevez and followed along with the score. After a clean first take, he beamed and pronounced himself “chuffed.”
Then he launched into a little story for the orchestra’s benefit. He was inspired to write the whimsical, upbeat tune they’d just played, he said, while sitting in a café in the south of France, when a local brass band walked in.
“It was a cacophonous, classic European street band,” he recalled. Suddenly he knew how he wanted his “Hogwarts’ March” to sound. He jotted down notes for it on a napkin.
Later in the session, he moved into the control room, where he suggested that the musicians think of the somber “Hogwarts’ Hymn” as a song for vocal. “Make it as legato as you can: operatic,” he said, demonstrating by singing a few nonsense syllables.
“Like Mendelssohn?” asked a student sitting a few seats to his left. “Who said that?” Doyle replied with mock outrage. “Get out of my brain!”
Coming so soon after the student orchestra’s concert, Doyle’s visit to campus was “fortuitous,” said Alison Plante, assistant chair of film scoring. “We were bringing him here for the residency, and we thought we’d do a demo, a mock recording session.”
After the session, as the musicians packed up their instruments, the chatty, spritely Doyle held court in the studio, accepting the students’ thanks for his visit and dispensing encouragement.
“One casual word is enough,” he said, recalling the praise that set him on his own path in music.
In a critical time for orchestral music, he said, films such as the Harry Potter series have gone a long way toward retaining interest among young students, as the Harry Potter Soundtrack Orchestra makes clear.
“There are always going to be costume dramas and epic movies,” he said, “and people love live orchestra.”