Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at a film from 2007 called “August Rush”. While it didn’t have the best narrative, and perhaps tried a bit too hard to tug on the heartstrings, “August Rush” was still praised for its music. So we can mostly forget about the modern retelling of “Oliver Twist” that the story follows, and stick to the soundtrack and score.
That being said, I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to sticking to a format. So before we launch into the music, first a brief summary of the plot.
“August Rush” follows a young musical prodigy. Evan is a lonely orphan who manages to escape his orphanage by “following the music”, and sets out on an adventure to find his lost parents in New York City. On the way, he meets the Wizard (Robin Williams), a homeless man living in an abandoned theater who employs a gang of street urchins as pickpockets and street musicians.
After discovering Evan’s natural proclivity to music, the Wizard gives him a guitar, and the name August Rush, in a ploy to profit from his talent. But Evans parents are searching for him too, and by twists of fate and the magic of music, they eventually reunite with their lost son.
August Rush Soundtrack
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the good part. The score to “August Rush” was written and composed by Mark Mancina. Other soundtracks Mancina has worked on include “Speed”, “Bad Boys”, “Con Air”, “Brother Bear”, and more recently, “Moana”. While some of those may seem off-base for a movie like “August Rush”, Mancina shows that he is a professional in every sense of the word.
Mancina reportedly spent over a year and a half working on the score for “August Rush”, which peaked at No. 10 on the Top Soundtracks chart. The track “Raise It Up” was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. “The heart of the story is how we respond and connect through music,” score composer Mark Mancina says. “The way the [main character] is going to find his parents is through music — not the Internet or the Yellow Pages.”
But Mark Mancina wasn’t responsible for all of the music in “August Rush”. The more memorable acoustic guitar pieces were all played by artist Kaki King.
In the movie, when August Rush first sits down with a guitar at the Wizard’s squatting grounds, he stumbles upon an innovative approach to an instrument we’re all familiar with. While the guitar lays flat on the ground, August slaps the strings with the palm of his hand, and the music reverberates through the air as he launches into “Bari Improv”.
In the scenes when August is playing guitar, if you look closely at the hands, you’ll notice that they don’t belong to a young boy, but to a woman. Kaki King plays every song that you see August playing in the film, except for “Dueling Guitars”, by Hector Pereira. King’s unique style of acoustic finger tapping already gives her music a unique musical quality, which is the perfect match for a young prodigy.
The other song that Kaki King plays comes in the scene after the Wizard discovers August’s ability. He puts him out on the street with a guitar, and August plays “Ritual Dance”. While “Ritual Dance” is played by Kaki King, it’s actually a cover of the original written by Michael Hedges, another percussive guitarist.
One song on the soundtrack that makes multiple appearances is “Moondance”. It’s sung by Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the album and in the film. Robin Williams’ “Wizard” also plays it on guitar in one scene. In the final scene, the orchestra plays “August’s Rhapsody”, in which the melodic motif makes a brief appearance. And finally, a Chris Botti cover of “Moondance” wraps up the soundtrack as the last song.
Overall, I think it’s safe to say that the soundtrack to “August Rush” has more replay value than the film itself. When I first saw it, I remember it inspiring months of guitar practice in me, trying my hardest to learn the ins and outs of “Ritual Dance” and its weird, alternate tuning.
While I like the film when I first saw it, over time, I found myself returning to the album more and more often. But when movies are made about music, I’ve found that this is usually the case. Even with fun films like “Baby Driver”, which I’ve re-watched several times, the soundtrack reigns supreme.