I don’t know if y’all know this, but I love Scotland. The reason I love it so much? Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I might have mentioned something about it on here before. Remember? Doune Castle? Lots of frolicking? Lots of squeeing?
Well, the second half of season one of the Starz adaptation airs tomorrow, and I couldn’t resist talking a little bit about its lush soundtrack by Bear McCreary.
When you think Scotland, you probably think bagpipes, bagpipes, and more bagpipes. And yes, there are a lot of bagpipes on this soundtrack. However, to say it’s only bagpipes would be reductive. McCreary takes those Scottish elements we love—bagpipes, penny whistles, fiddles—and uses them to create something truly cinematic. His use of drums and percussion, especially, adds depth and feeling, lending these songs a hint of contemporary relevance without taking them out of context.
The song I’ve chosen, “The Marriage Contract,” comes in toward the end of the soundtrack. It kicks in with a jaunty fiddle riff, accented with little drops and plucks from other instruments. A penny whistle hums the Claire and Jamie Theme, a sweet, hopeful melody that McCreary cleverly works into special moments between the show’s two main protagonists. When this melody begins, a single bodhrán enters as well.
If you’re unfamiliar, a bodhrán is a drum widely used in Celtic music. It is a type of frame drum, which means it is mostly just a drum head that you hold in your hand while playing. It has a uniquely hollow and resonant sound, and you can change its pitch while playing, unlike most modern drums, which require tuning keys to change the pitch.
Underneath the penny whistle melody, toward the end of it, a chorus of high strings sustains a single note in a slow, prolonged crescendo. Within the last few beats of this crescendo, lower strings come in with purpose, and then the Claire and Jamie Theme bursts in (played on bagpipes!), carried along by a fully percussive sound. McCreary writes about each of the episodes and explains the historical context and cinematic decision making for each song. He described this moment as “the most driving and energetic arrangement of the Claire and Jamie Theme that [he has] yet composed for Outlander.”
Personally, I like this one because when I listen to it, I imagine myself atop a galloping horse, riding through the Scottish Highlands with my hair flowing behind me, on my way to do something important—like, I don’t know, maybe save the love of my life? Just call me Claire Fraser.
Do any of you watch Outlander? Will you be tuning in tomorrow? What’s your favorite musical moment from the show so far? I’m so excited!
If you find yourself whisked away into the Highlands while listening to “The Marriage Contract,” try “The Skye Boat Song” and “Dance of the Druids” from the Outlander soundtrack by Bear McCreary. Also, read his blog to learn lots of interesting, in-depth information on how music for television and film is created.