In anticipation of the upcoming Star Wars film, and more importantly, new Star Wars SCORE!! I have started to record some short videos for YouTube to celebrate the seminal 1977 score by John Williams.
These short very informal videos will focus on orchestration devices that can be immediately usable.
Here is the first one. Make sure you like the video, comment, share and subscribe either to this website or on YouTube (or both) as these video will come out twice a week. If there any specific passages you’d like me to look at let me know in the comment section here or on YouTube.
My first musical love affair was with John Williams’ score for “Star Wars”. I remember clearly lying down in my mother’s living room as young lad of 8 or 9, chin in hands, listening to the entire soundtrack on the vinyl I received as a gift.
I read and re-read the liner notes as I listened to the music, a single page containing descriptions of all the tracks and all the themes. Even though I was quite young, I treated that piece of paper like gold and it is still intact in the original record sleeve from 1977, here in my studio.
I was taking piano lessons at the time and asked to play the music from “Star Wars”. I received a photocopy of the music, which I practiced very hard. I drew my own cover for the sheet music, taking great care with it. It was a x-wing being pursued by a tie-fighter with the Death Star in the background.
I can still sing you every single note of the Star Wars score. And now, many yeas later and with a master’s in composition behind me, I can tell you which parts of Star Wars come directly from the Rite of Spring. And you know what…?
I don’t care.
My love for this music is a link to my childhood, and there’s nothing that can change that. And on top of that, now that I know what happens during the composition of a film score (deadlines and temp scores) I can easily forgive a few minor “hommages”.
After my Star Wars score I received the vinyl for Superman. Same story and now I know every note.
After that it was the vinyl for E.T. Same thing.
I had brief affairs with Vangelis, Danny Elfman and Henry Mancini, but they never lasted. I always came back to John Williams.
To say that John Williams is the reason I love orchestral music so deeply is perhaps not a stretch. Our adult lives are shaped by our childhood experiences, and John Williams’ music was a big part of my childhood. In an era before VCRs, his music was a connection to my favourite films and I listened and listened until the scores became the central element.
Now, as I make my way as a professional film composer, his music is a constant reminder of the level of excellence I aim to achieve in my own career. From the indelible melodic writing to the glowing orchestrations, to the perfect dramatic placement of the music and the pacing of the score, John Williams music remains my biggest source of inspiration.
During the spotting session it is time to decide where music cues start and end. There are many reasons to bring in music, many points of entry.
From on “The Track: a guide to contemporary film scoring.” by Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright.
In general, music starts most effectively at a moment of shifting emphasis. This might be expressed as
- A new emotional emphasis or subject in the dialogue.
- A new visual emphasis with the camera
- A camera move, which almost always is conceived for emphasis
- A new action, such as a car driving off, a person leaving the room, a cop ducking behind a barrier
- A reaction to something that has been said or has occurred.
So remember, the action or emphasis is a good place to start a cue, and this does not always coincide with a cut.
Let the drama, not the editing, be the motivation to start the music.
I was watching the original Star Wars yesterday and noticed a very interesting musical point of entry. (I was showing the film to a friend of my son’s, an 8 year old who has never seen Star Wars!)
When Luke walks off with C3-PO and the red droid, the red one blows up and R2-D2 takes its place. Light, bouncy music comes in when R2 rolls towards Luke and C3-PO.
The cue begins when the group is finally together, the music signaling the coming together of these three characters as an arrival point.
Furthermore, the music acts as a bookend to the scene. Music is a strong help in establishing structure in films, an important use often overlooked and not mentioned in the “On the Track” list above.
More on this next week.