I have inordinately strong feelings about The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. It’s the first movie soundtrack I was ever exposed to (the movie came out when I was only a few years old, so I heard the score before I ever saw the movie). It’s also the soundtrack that began my love of and appreciation for movie scores.
It began in late October of 1993, when my dad saw the movie with his sister and brother-in-law when it first hit theaters. He was immediately taken with the film, not only for its arresting visuals and charming story, but also for its dynamic, vibrant score. He sat through the end credits, listening to the reprises of the highly memorable motifs sprinkled throughout the film. He went hunting for a copy of the soundtrack as soon as he left the theater, but found out that it wouldn’t be released for a couple more months. So he asked for it for Christmas, and thus, the beloved cassette tape entered into our lives.
My dad was a stay-at-home dad, and neither of my parents were overly enamored with the idea of daycares. As a result, my brother and I spent a good amount of time in the car, accompanying my dad on whatever errands needed to be done. The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack was on a near-constant loop during our drives, and it wasn’t long before we knew every word of every song. More impressively, I eventually learned every note of every song. Even now, I can anticipate the entrance of every instrument, every key change, every crescendo.
In sixth grade, I joined my middle school’s band (I picked the sax, cool kid that I was). Being in band throughout middle school (and high school as well) helped me appreciate the nuances of my favorite soundtrack even more. I now could proudly confirm that that was an oboe leading that melody, or pick out the bassoon lurking in the background.
And the more I learned about music, the more astounded I became by Elfman’s score. Most other soundtracks I knew and loved were characterized by a single instrument or instrument group (horns, strings, percussion, etc.). This was not the case with TNBC. Listen to this soundtrack, and you’ll hear damn near every instrument shine.
Check out Jack’s Lament. Sweeping strings lead the melody at 1:13. There’s a lovely flute entrance at 1:22, and a jaunty sax solo at 1:41.
Or Dr. Finklestein/In the Forest. I love the fat, plodding bassoon and tuba at 0:28 and the mournful-sounding oboe at 0:48.
And finally, Christmas Eve Montage, my favorite orchestral track. Right out of the gate, it begins with explosive strings. Then it turns to trumpets and French horns at 0:06 and then a harp and an xylophone at 0:39.
It’s a rich, enduring soundtrack that I’ve grown to love more and more as the years go by. It sparked a lifelong love of film scores, and I’m so grateful that it exists. It has and always will hold a special place in my heart.
Happy Halloween, everybody!