Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars! Last year was a great year full of awesome music making. Definitely, one of the highlights of my career was working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the legendary John Williams. His music is inventive, inspiring, moving and fun to play. My colleagues knocked it out of the park day after day. The recording experience was a little different that what I am used to. Instead of a week or two of sessions (a few sessions scattered over a compact time period) the dozen or so recording dates at Sony Studios were spread out from June through November. That means that we would sometimes have weeks in between sessions and that we had to keep the vibe of the movie going for six months! I know we were all singing the memorable tunes on our way home. This also meant we were fresh each time and ready to go. We all knew beforehand that this movie was going to be epic and that this movie is going to be a part of history, but nothing could prepare me for the pure joy and amazement that would come over the next six months. My first impression from the first session, was that this was BIG. There was an entire crew (Disney I assume) there to make sure that this film did not leak. Usually we can glance behind us to watch the scene we are scoring, but not this time. Not only did they turn the screen off, but they actually climbed up a ladder and put a black blanket in front of the projector screen. My best guess for this is that they wanted to be prepared in case someone pushed the wrong button and projected the movie on accident. All of the music was incredible. It was awesome to hear the familiar tunes along with the new ones, all in the star wars style. (John Williams was interviewed about this and said he used the same orchestral colors, timbres and tonalities to keep consistency throughout the years. This article also that written that interviewed John Williams and he said there were ‘about 102 minutes of music in the film, and we’ve measured that there’s seven minutes of references to the earlier films. So the great preponderance of material is new—90 percent or more’. click here for full article ) We were playing these amazing new themes and making history. It was really incredible to hear how his music worked from the inside. For example, there is the princess leia theme that comes back throughout the film. When I went to see the movie I heard alto flute (duh….I was listening for myself) but what you couldn’t hear is that it is usually doubled by the Clarinet and English Horn. And, there are usually two of us on alto flutes. It adds to the color, but not in an obvious way. This orchestration reminded me of Berlioz in these combinations of instruments that create a new instrument sound. If it wasn’t exciting enough, they decided to bring in Gustavo Dudamel to conduct the opening and closing music as well as the Resistance theme. There was always energy in the air with John Williams conducting, but add Dudamel and it was electric. There really are no words to describe the heightened exhilaration that we felt. Mr. Williams prefered to conduct without a click track unless absolutely necessary, so there were times that the music ran a little long as we all emoted together. The most amazing thing I have ever heard a director say to a composer was when JJ Abrams said to John ‘don’t worry, we’ll make the film work.’ JJ appreciated John so much and knew how important his music was that he was offering to make the film work with the music we had created. My favorite quote from Mr. Williams (to the woodwinds when starting a soft, delicate passage) ‘just play as if it is already there.’ It made sense and we were able to make a moment together.
As a musician, I felt appreciated and important in the making of this film. It is something I will never forget!