Siddhartha Khosla’s melancholic score has been complementing “This Is Us’” tear-inducing moments for four seasons now, but the composer was very aware from the start not to overdo the emotionality of the music.
“I think Season 1 I did that because I was trying to figure out … when was the right time to come in,” Khosla told Gold Derby during our Meet the BTL Experts: Composers panel (watch above). “At that time, I was just trying to learn the vernacular of the show, try to understand what [creator] Dan Fogelman’s intent was, what the other writers and directors were wanting. It took me about half a season in Season 1 to realize that almost the less I did, the better in some cases. And now in Season 4, I find we’re getting more score-heavy just because … there’s not as much monologues in the show.”
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There is a pretty big monologue in the Season 4 finale, “Strangers: Part Two,” which Khosla is submitting for Emmy consideration (he was nominated last year for his score on the NBC drama). The episode sees the return of Gerald McRaney’s beloved Dr. K, who once again dispenses some words of wisdom to Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) as they’re mourning their stillborn third triplet, Kyle, on the Big Three’s first birthdays. As Dr. K speaks about the need to have both the good and the bad in life, a sooth piano theme plays — a departure from the show’s usual acoustic guitar-based score.
“There was a theme I came up with in the last four or five episodes of the season. It started in ‘New York, New York, New York,’” Khosla explained. “I describe it as this sort of modern classical piece, and it became the hopeful theme of Season 4. And in the finale, you can hear it over Dr. K’s monologue. And he’s talking about how you kind of need the joys and tragedies together to coexist to really experience life. That theme ended up becoming the theme for the Dr. K scene as well. But it was just simple, me playing the piano.”
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But for the most part, Khosla, who also co-wrote “Memorized” for Jack Damon (Blake Stadnik) with Moore’s husband and Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith, relies on his trusty guitar, his voice and a wooden table to create “This Is Us’” trademark warm, mournful and timeless sound that works equally well in the past and present timelines as it does deep into the future.
“My instinct was to go very organic so there would not be this timestamp. I used this $25 broken acoustic guitar that I got in a thrift store in Vermont, where I am quarantined right now actually … so it had this kind of classic sound already. I sing on the score, there’s cello on the score, I play piano, I play percussion with my fingers on the table. All the drums are just me tapping on the table,” he said. “When that was actually what came out of me, there was no timestamp on that sound. At that point, we realized, oh, this can work in the ‘60s, the ‘50s. It can work in the ‘80s and ‘90s because a wooden table has always been around as well as the human voice.”
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