Outlander: Lallybroch, The Watch & The Search
May 12th, 2015
Within Outlander’s first season, “Lallybroch,” “The Watch,” and “The Search” form a trilogy. The stories are tonally similar, returning us to the highland life we glimpsed in the first few episodes. Dramatically, these episodes allow us a brief relief after the overwhelming darkness in “The Devil’s Mark,” and before the final two episodes to come. I savored this opportunity to lighten my musical approach for a few weeks.
Scottish folk music has always been an integral component of my score. However, from “The Wedding” until now, the stories were entirely about Claire or Jamie and their relationships to other characters. There were very few opportunities to use music to comment on the world around them. That changed substantially for this trio of episodes.
In these episode, Jamie takes Claire to his family estate, now under the care of his sister Jenny. The folky overtones of this score are apparent right from the beginning. The Main Title transitions into extended small Scottish pipes solo continuing The Skye Boat Song well past the title card, into the gorgeous montage of Claire and Jamie riding on horseback. The lush continuation of this familiar song suggests that this episode will feel different than the last, that we are journeying towards a more welcoming place.
Once we get to Lallybroch, several Scottish folk songs are featured prominently in the score. My favorite, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye,” returns for a montage of village life. An off-camera fiddle player plays “The Barnyards of Delgaty” in a festive dinner scene. However, the most memorable song placement is “Maids, When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man.” I used this tune in two scenes, first when Jamie staggers home drunk and again the next morning when he suffers a hangover. Both moments are arranged for a Scottish fiddle and viola da gamba, with a simple Uilleann bagpipe backing line.
I asked the fiddle player to slur phrases a bit more than usual, as if he were drunk. The effect is, admittedly, pretty funny, and a rare chance for me to play with a little humor in the score. Nevertheless, the score still informs us about Jamie’s character.
The hangover scene features a viola da gamba playing the folk song. This is an instrument I usually associate with Colum MacKenzie. It’s a classical instrument that implies nobility, not a traditionally folk instrument. By using it here, I am hoping to subtly suggest to the audience that Jamie is aspiring to be a laird himself. He wants to command the same respect as Colum, but falls short. Where Colum’s viola da gamba theme ascends, powerful and unrelenting in its emotion, here the gamba is folky and a little silly. Even though the music is primarily playing comedy, it still helps highlight important story information.
Even with all its scenes of charming highland life, “Lallybroch” still has tension. There is a memorable scene where Jamie must swim underwater to hide from passing redcoats who stop to inspect a broken water wheel. I wanted to write music that made us feel like we are running out of breath, so I started a slow tempo in small percussion, guitars and chugging muted fiddle, and then gradually ratcheted up the tempo, faster and faster. The cue builds intensity and dissonance until at last Jamie can come out of the water to catch his breath. This is a fun musical trick, and one that I use sparingly. (There were a few scenes in “Battlestar Galactica” where I used a similar trick. Can anyone remember them? Hint: these cues never made it on to an album.)
The most disturbing scenes in “Lallybroch” are flashbacks, where we witness Black Jack Randall attempting to rape Jamie’s sister, and causing Jamie’s father to have a heart attack. (I know you probably thought you couldn’t hate this guy any more, but just wait… it gets worse!) I scored these scenes using long, ambient textures in the strings, with an occasional throbbing heartbeat of a distant bodhrán. These scenes were already so effective and intense, I didn’t feel the need to push them with melodramatic music. I found they were more upsetting when the music had a light footprint.
At the end of the episode, the tension kicks up again when Claire sees strange men have come into the house and are holding Jamie at gunpoint! Here, the strings are aggressive and dissonant, ramping to a sudden cut to black.
“The Watch” picks up the instant “Lallybroch” left off, as Jamie is being held at gunpoint by the leader of The Watch, a group of men offering protection for a high price. (I wonder if their leader Taran MacQuarrie is a distant relative of mine, since McCrearys and MacQuarries are often related!) In this episode, political tensions cause problems for Jamie, dashing his hopes of rekindling a life at Lallybroch. Jamie also encounters Horrocks, the deserter who knows he is a wanted man, and who uses that knowledge to extort him. Most of my score focuses on keeping the tension alive during Jamie’s confrontations with these men. Dissonant string textures come to the forefront, pushing the Scottish instrumentation further into the background.
The plot I enjoyed scoring the most involved Jenny’s difficult birth, and Claire’s struggle to help. For these scenes, I strove to keep the music as emotional as possible. There is still tension, but I needed to set it apart from the angst-ridden conflicts of Jamie’s arc. So, I used warm string textures and a gentle penny whistle to help underscore the bond between the two women. By creating a prolonged sense of bittersweet sadness, I hope the score crated tension by implying that Jenny might not survive the episode.
The most dramatic cue in the episode comes at the end, when Jamie and MacQuarrie are ambushed by redcoats. When Ian returns to Lallybroch alone, Claire must face the reality that Jamie might be lost forever. Dark, brooding strings lay an ominous foundation for a Celtic harp to gently pluck out a simple statement of the Claire and Jamie Theme, as the awful realization crashes down upon her.
“The Search” picks up moments later as Claire and Jenny set out to track down Jamie. This is one of the most delightful episodes of the season, featuring Scottish folk tunes, a song from the 1940’s, gypsies, dancing, and breathtaking vistas: a feast of musical opportunities. (I was so excited, I chose to perform the end of the Main Title myself, so listen for me playing accordion over the title card!) The Scottish highlands are a character in this episode, so I drew more heavily than usual from folk music to help ground us in that reality.
In the first third of the episode, Claire and Jenny track the redcoats. I scored all these scenes with my unique arrangement of “My Bonnie Moorhen.” This is a folk song from the Jacobite era that, like all those songs, is filled with double meanings and thinly disguising political messages. The well-known lyrics tell the story of the bonnie prince (aka the moorhen) being pursued by redcoats. In this context, I turned the meaning around. Here, the outlaws pursue the redcoats!
I absolutely loved scoring these early montage sequences, because the edit left me open space for musical statements. The sequence built in time for the audience to soak in a beautiful melody, allowing us to build up hope Claire can succeed.
“The Bonnie Moorhen” is just the beginning, however. Soon, Claire joins forces with Murtagh and they scour the highlands, across fields, through forests, and into villages. I wanted music to help create the feeling of a long journey, so I started to shift through folk songs quickly, one song featured in each traveling sequence. Ideally, this creates the impression that Claire and Murtagh are catching a few strains of a village’s favorite song, before moving on to a different song in a new place.
Two folk songs stand out during these scenes. I arranged “Weel May the Keel Ro” as a fun jig, for one of the more upbeat montages. “Wanderin’ Willie” comes later in the episode, as Claire and Murtagh show signs of exhaustion. They have traveled far and wide with no success, so the arrangement has less energy and a hint of sadness.
Another folk song appears in the score in a surprisingly intimate character moment with Murtagh. We see a side of him we’ve never seen before, as he tells the tale of the love he lost. For this scene, I wrote a new arrangement of “MacPherson’s Farewell.” The tune, and its famous lyrics about a criminal about to be executed, are melancholy yet emotional: the perfect musical accompaniment for this moment when we realize that Murtagh carries with him a deep sadness.
The most interesting and unexpected music to appear in “The Search” is undoubtedly “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” This song was composed by Don Raye and Hughie Prince in 1941, and was made famous by the Andrews Sisters. It would have been among the more popular songs of Claire’s era, and its catchy enough to still be stuck in her head even though she’s travelled two hundred years before it was recorded.
As Claire and Murtagh travel the countryside, Murtagh believes they should put on performances to attract the attention of the locals, and thus Jamie. When his dancing fails to ignite excitement, Claire suggests he “jazz” up his act with a song, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is the first one she thinks of. Credit for this clever idea lies fully with the writers and producers. I love it, because it helps remind us that Claire is a woman lost in time. And I had fun working with actress Caitriona Balfe to help her prepare for this unusual musical moment.
Eventually, Claire’s performance of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” becomes so popular that it spawns an imitator in a group of traveling gypsies. The gypsy singer changes the lyrics to make them her own, putting in clever references to Scotland. (I didn’t write them, so you’ll have to track down one of the writers or producers to get the full lyrics!) Claire confronts the gypsy leader who eventually gives them a message from Jamie.
With that news, Claire and Murtagh rush off to Glen Rowan Cross to find Jamie. This sequence is the final travel montage in the episode, so I scored it differently than the others. Here, I did not use a folk song but featured the Claire and Jamie Theme, above a bed of churning strings and pulsing bodhrán. This scene not about her journey, it is about her emotion. I hope that hearing their theme in this scene helps the audience feel like Claire is about to round a corner and see Jamie waiting for her.
Instead she finds only Dougal who informs her Jamie has been taken to Wentworth Prison and is about to be executed. Claire rallies Murtagh, Willie, Angus and Rupert and they journey to Wentworth Prison to rescue Jamie, against a pulsing backdrop of strings and searing Scottish fiddle playing the Claire and Jamie Theme. With the foreboding prison on the horizon, we smash to the credits as rousing Scottish snare drums burst into the arrangement, along with a solo Uilleann Pipe solo.
I write an original End Credits track for each episode, and this one is the most aggressive yet. The theme played on the bagpipes here is not a character theme, but a melody I wrote for the end credits of the first episode. This theme has no name, and I can’t honestly say I even know why I used it here. I just thought it would work. Something about this melody makes me feel like we’re about to embark on a huge adventure.
This trilogy of episodes allowed me to more fully integrate Scottish folk music into my score, and to explore lighter, more adventurous writing. With the final two episodes just around the corner, my music will go to new places. Prepare yourself. These last two hours are bleak, emotional, devastating and uplifting in equal measure.