Outlander: Season 5
From the bagpipes of Scotland, the baroque harpsichords of Paris, to the blistering Afro-Cuban percussion of Jamaica, my score for Outlander has continuously evolved to keep up with Claire and Jamie as they traverse both time and space. For the series’ fourth season, our heroes explored America, laying down the foundation for a new home, so I introduced to the score the twangy banjos and dulcimers of the Appalachian Mountains. Where that season explored new frontiers, Season Five plants roots, digging into themes of building community, forming civilization, expanding families, and forming allegiances. For the first time in the history of Outlander, my score for Season Five had no need to introduce bold new instruments or styles.
Inspired by the drama, I knew it was time to plant my own musical roots, and develop the colors and themes I already had. Like the drama itself, the music for Outlander Season Five stopped expanding outward into new territories, and instead planted roots. Though the score does not introduce any new sound this season, I feel its developmental and emotional strengths make it as strong as anything I’ve written leading up to it.
SEASON FIVE MAIN TITLE
As with seasons past, the first challenge was in creating a new main title theme. Contrary to most series, Outlander changes the arrangement and performance of the “Skye Boat Song” Main Title Theme every season, to reflect the geography and character of that new season. (To date, I’ve created Season One’s “Original” and “Extended” versions, Season Two’s “French” and “Jacobite” versions, Season Three’s “After Culloden” and “Caribbean” versions, and Season Four’s “Bluegrass” version.)
For Season Five, the entire creative team knew the change had to reflect character growth as opposed to geography or time period. Without an obvious cultural influence to incorporate, crafting the Season Five Main Title was more experimental. The idea was born to remove all the instruments and for an a cappella choral arrangement. This was a huge swing, representing our greatest departure yet from the original version. Sure, we’ve changed colors and even languages, we’ve added strange instruments like viola da gamba and steel drums. But, all these versions retained a huge instrumental crescendo at the return to the chorus, the final emotional swell that builds into the title card. This new version would be distinct not because of what was added, but what was removed. Just like the characters in the show, this Main Title Theme was not exploring a new frontier, but instead building something more sophisticated on the foundation we’d already laid down.
The last decision to be made revolved around my wife, Raya Yarbrough, who had been the lead vocalist of the Main Title since the series began. Despite loving the sound of the full choir, the entire creative team was unanimous that it would be a mistake to lose Raya’s distinctive voice from the series entirely. Instead, we decided to feature Raya’s solo voice at the end of the title sequence, while playing over the title cards for the season.
Choir and solo vocals were recorded at United Recording in Los Angeles, with an outstanding ensemble of vocalists coordinated by my friend, Jasper Randall. However, our work was not yet done. Our mixing team, led by Ryan Sanchez, delivered multiple versions and stems over to our music editorial team, led by Mike Baber, and together they worked closely with the showrunners on the dub stage to shape the sound. Based on input from the showrunners, they meticulously nudged mics, featured certain voices over others, adjusted the reverb, and balanced how the choir interacted with the surround channels. More work done in the mix on this cue than any piece of music I’ve ever delivered before for Outlander.
Listening now, fans might think this is the simplest of the Main Titles, because it lacks the complexity of multiple instruments. Ironically, the behind-the-scenes reality was quite the opposite. Season Five’s Main Title was the result of months of effort, more than a dozen drafts, and weeks of tweaks in post-production! The process was not easy, but the payoff was discovering a Main Title that really stands out from the rest with a bold statement.
BUILDING UPON THE FOUNDATION
MODERATE SPOILERS AHEAD: With the Main Title established, I dove headfirst into writing the score, drawing from the wealth of established themes. While I love the challenge of tackling a new series or film, there is an entirely different joy in writing for a long-running series. Developing and reinterpreting character themes becomes like visiting old friends, and I’m washed over with the same nostalgia I hope fans feel when they hear my music.
This nostalgia is on immediate display in the first episode, “The Fiery Cross.” As we pan across the open fields and farmlands to reveal Jamie and Claire’s newly built home, the score quotes a soaring new variation of the Fraser’s Ridge Theme.
I introduced this theme last season, when Jamie and Claire look out upon the wild valley that they would make their new home. This new cue is a direct payoff to that musical set up. Expressive strings carry the theme over rustic banjos and mandolins, capturing the bustling energy and optimism of their new community.
The Fraser’s Ridge Theme is about more than the geographical location. This season, I lean on the theme to underscore the notions of civilization and societal camaraderie. This is evident during the premiere episode’s wedding ceremony when Brianna walks down the aisle to the cheers of the adoring crowd. Yes, this moment is about Roger and Brianna, but just as significantly, it is about the entire crowd. Fraser’s Ridge has become a spiritual home for them all, important symbolically and physically. Throughout the season, I use the Fraser’s Ridge Theme to underscore this concept.
The Roger and Brianna Theme is, of course, still featured prominently in the score this season.
While their wedding features some of its most lush arrangements yet, my personal favorite variation of the season comes at the end of the same episode, when Roger makes a blood oath with his child, cementing the bond of their family unit. This variation is both vulnerable and confident, with delicate mandolin plucks set against a foundation of rich orchestral strings. The Roger and Briana Theme continues to evolve throughout the season as they move to the forefront of the narrative.
The Jamie and Claire Theme is arguably the most important musical theme of the entire show.
In Season Four, I stepped back from using it as much, leaning more on the Fraser’s Ridge Theme to underscore their relationship in the context of their new environment. However, now that the Fraser’s Ridge Theme connected more to the broader society forming around them, it was time to return to the classic Jamie and Claire Theme as the strongest musical signifier of their relationship.
Their theme has been a significant part of my life for six years, and I must admit I get deeply emotional whenever I hear it or play it. I felt this impact when scoring the flashbacks to Jamie and Claire’s wedding in the season premiere. As I sketched a big orchestral swell of their theme, I caught my vision blurring with tears at the piano. I am hopeful I managed to capture some of that emotion in the cue I wrote!
Other character themes weave their way throughout the soundtrack this season, often in newly developed variations. Astute fans will discern the low ominous orchestral strings of the Tryon Theme, the twisted jangly dulcimers of the Stephen Bonnet Theme, the innocent solo oboe of the Willie Theme, the lovely refrains of the Fergus and Marsali Theme, and the iconic Native American percussion and woodwinds now representing the Young Ian Theme.
The music of Season Five returns to its Scottish past, most notably at the dramatic climax of “The Fiery Cross,” in which Jamie adorns his kilt and dirk for the first time in decades and lights the cross for the oath-taking ceremony. For this cinematic sequence, I brought back the powerful Gaelic vocals of my friend Griogair Labhruidh singing “Moch Sa Mhadainn.” Originally introduced to Outlander in Season Two’s “Je Suis Prest,” this song represented the rousing energy of the Jacobite army as they trained to confront the British army. The song is special because it is a historically accurate war song for the Jacobite rebellion, brought to our attention by renowned Scottish musicologist John Purser, with whom we collaborated. Unlike most famous songs whose lyrics look back wistfully on the Jacobite uprising after its defeat (such as “The Skye Boat Song”), “Moch Sa Mhadainn” dates back to the rebellion itself, so it is brimming with optimism and pride.
I wanted audiences to feel both the surge of excitement that Claire feels seeing him in his full regalia, and the crowd’s awe as he orates. I felt that a new performance of “Moch Sa Mhadainn” would accomplish this. Griogair’s vocals are a powerful reminder of the strength of the Scottish spirit for this unforgettable sequence. I also adapted the tune into a more ominous tone for the episode’s end credits, creating a foreboding sense of danger as Murtagh and Jamie part ways.
That climactic scene with Murtagh also uses another piece of significant Scottish music. Throughout the years, I’ve underscored Murtagh’s moments of emotional vulnerability with statements of a beautiful Scottish folk song, “MacPherson’s Farewell.” The first melody fans hear in Season Five is a plaintive penny whistle playing this song during a flashback to Murtagh and a young Jamie. The theme returns again throughout the season, underscoring the growing tension between these two characters.
Season Five presented new opportunities and new challenges that blurred the line between narrative underscore and in-world source music. Perhaps the most fun example of this is in the season premiere when Roger picks up a guitar to serenade Brianna with a bedroom performance of “L-O-V-E,” a song by Bert Kaempfert and Milt Gabler made famous by Nat King Cole in 1965. While we entertained discussions of recording actor Richard Rankin in a studio, he was able to deliver such a great and natural performance on set that we knew we had to preserve it. In post-production, I took his performance and introduced subtle strings and orchestration as it went along, until finally taking over the soundscape completely for a new arrangement of the song to support a montage of various wedding guests and characters fraternizing. I had tremendous fun with this sequence, evolving from Richard’s lovely and intimate performance, to orchestral strings, and finally to a ragtag Scottish folk band.
Later in the season, I found the opportunity to collaborate with the cast directly. When working in post-production on “Famous Last Words,” the producers and I thought a performance of “Clementine” would be a fantastic way to close out the episode that already featured our characters singing it as a lullaby. The power of the song came from hearing our two brilliant lead actors sing it. I was fortunate to go into the recording studio with Sophie Skelton (Brianna) and Richard Rankin (Roger). I encouraged them to perform the song as if in their characters from the series, resulting in a raw, emotional, and intimate performance that sets this song apart from other tracks in the score.
Though known as a popular American folk song, and sung here as a lullaby, the lyrics of “Clementine” are shockingly dark. This helps underline the episode’s dramatic themes of loss: the loss of innocence, the loss of security, and most literally, the loss of Roger’s singing voice. In this context, “Clementine” represents the type of casual, intimate singing that their family will never again be able to experience. The recording produced with our two actors for the End Credits serves as a ghostly reminder of what could have been and shall never be again.
Perhaps fittingly, the final moments of the season brought my creative experience full circle, as discussions with the producers returned once again to the Main Title theme. The showrunners called me late one night from the editing room, to discuss moving the title song to the end of the episode for the finale episode, and to have a single vocal sing the song completely a cappella. I was so instantly inspired that I asked Raya to step out into my studio that very night, and we recorded a completely new performance of “The Skye Boat Song.”
By removing instruments and leaving only voices, Season Five’s choral Main Title Theme was already a minimalistic concept. However, this new version would push that idea to its furthest reach, stripping the arrangement down to the smallest possible musical information – a single voice. Raya’s performance was haunting, emotional, and carried with it the memory of every previous version. Given the bleak events of the final episode, and the ominous thunder serving as a premonition of the season to come, I think Raya’s solo vocal “Skye Boat Song” concludes the season with the perfect combination of vulnerability and strength.
A FAMILY REUNION
Working in film and television is often an isolated experience, and rare is the opportunity to witness one’s work alongside its intended audience. I was fortunate then that Starz and Sony organized a premiere screening of this season’s first episode, attended by cast, crew, press and fans. Watching “The Fiery Cross” in a crowded theater was an exhilarating experience. I felt the gasps, laughs, sighs, and cheers, and knew that my music was contributing to that collective euphoria. My favorite moment of the night was when Jamie opens the chest containing his kilt and dirk, the very instant that Griogair’s haunting Gaelic baritone began to echo throughout the hall. The reaction from the crowd was palpable and electric.
After the screening, Raya and I fell into what felt like an ocean of enthusiastic fans who were eager to chat with us. They all shared stories of what the music had done for them, people they connected with over it, solace they found in it during hard times, and so on. It was a much-needed reminder that my score can often resonate with people far beyond the confines of underscoring the drama.
Later that night, Raya and I had a blast at the after party, hanging out with friends old and new. The party felt like a victory lap, catching up with people I now consider my friends and working family: actors, writers, producers, mixers, editors, sound designers, and even Diana Gabaldon, from whose rich imagination this entire world sprung forth. Since production is in Scotland and post-production is in America, there are many cast members I had simply never met before. I was fortunate to finally meet Lotte Verbeek, Graham McTavish and Duncan Lacroix (who, as it turns out, is a massive fan of a videogame I scored called God of War).
While it was technically a premiere party for a television show, the night truly felt more like a family reunion.
SEASON FIVE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM
I am thrilled to partner with Sony Music and my own label, Sparks & Shadows, to release the original soundtrack album for Outlander Season Five. The album is available digitally tomorrow at Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and all other major digital retailers! As always, I personally curated the album to feature my favorite musical moments, including all of the vocal recordings I covered here in the blog. The full track list is here:
1. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (Choral Version) [feat. Raya Yarbrough]
2. The New Fraser’s Ridge
3. As Long as We Both Shall Live
4. L-O-V-E (feat. Richard Rankin)
5. Blood of my Blood
6. Murtagh’s Oath
7. The Fiery Cross (feat. Griogair Labhruidh)
8. The Battle of Alamance
10. Young Ian Returns
11. Clementine (feat. Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton)
12. A Red, Red Rose
13. The Fang Syringe
14. Justice for Bonnet
16. Lighting the Cross (feat. Griogair Labhruidh)
17. Saving Claire
18. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (Solo Vocal Version) [feat. Raya Yarbrough]
I encourage soundtrack collectors to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates on forthcoming physical editions!
Fitting with the narrative themes of the season, it takes a village to create a score like this. I am grateful to everyone who contributed their time, talent and creative energy. Special thanks are due to Ronald D. Moore, Diana Gabaldon, Maril Davis, Matthew B. Roberts, Toni Graphia, and all the writers, producers, cast and crew for their unwavering creative support. I also want to thank Elicia Bessette, Chris Parnell, Tony Scudellari and everyone at Sony, as well as everyone at Starz; my entire team at Sparks and Shadows, especially Jason Akers, Omer Ben-Zvi, Etienne Monsaingeon, for composing beautiful additional music and supporting the score production. Lastly, huge thanks are owed to Edward Trybek, Henri Wilkinson and Jonathan Beard; Michael Baber, Ryan Sanchez, Ryan Walsh, Ben Sedano, Marisa Gunzenhauser, the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and my conductors Johannes Vogel and Gottfried Rabl; Richard Kraft, Laura Engel, Sarah Kovacs, Jeff Jernigan, Joe Augustine, Jaime Cyr, and the talented musicians and singers who brought the score to life.
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Sadly, with production of Season Six still in an unknown state due to the pandemic now gripping the world, I do not know when fans will once again hear new Outlander music. So, I’m grateful that this season came out when it did, and I hope this soundtrack album can help a few fans get through this next “Droughtlander,” which will probably be the longest one yet. I want to send a huge thank you to all the fans around the world, for listening so intently to my music and for being a part of my unforgettable experience scoring Outlander.