‘Tis the Season

I have an admission; I’m a huge John Williams fan.

That raises the question though, am I John Williams fan because I like Star Wars or do I like Star Wars as much as I do because of John Williams? As much as people deplore the missed opportunity that was the prequel trilogy (and for the record, I think the story is a good one but the execution not so), at least it gave us this.

Is that not one of the best film pieces of all time? What a shame it was wasted on a mediocre film.

For someone who’s written as many hours of music as John Williams has, you can excuse him for having a distinctive sound show up in many of his films (e.g. the car factory scene in Minority Report sounds like it was pulled out of Star Wars Ep 1 and 2). Duel of the Fates though, that is something distinctively refreshing.

So, where am I going with this? Why bring up John Williams? Well, ’tis the season of course. The release of The Force Awakens means a new John Williams soundtrack and I unashamedly love it. Yes, it’s got the thick brush strokes of John Williams all over it and it’s great. I can even hear some clarinet in there, something you don’t experience much in a John Williams score because he gives all the best woodwind parts to the flutes! Heck, even the oboe seems to get more exposed solos than the clarinet does. Maybe it’s because the clarinet blends in so well with the rest of the woodwinds and the horns that you never hear it explicitly; you’d miss them though if they weren’t there fattening up the sound.

With the new John Williams soundtrack in my possession, what better way to get my students interested in film music than to play them something like Track 6, Rey’s Theme. It stars with a pretty flute solo (in concert A minor, I think), then passes a riff through to a clarinet, an oboe, back to the flute, then to the bass clarinet. It then brings in some chimes with a new melody with the clarinets honking echoes of the initial riff, then the strings take over with the expanded melody and the woodwind section providing echoes on a variation of the initial riff. Great stuff to show to students.

I remember when I purchased my first John Williams soundtrack. It was the entire Empire Strikes back Special Edition double CD and I was probably about 10 or 11 years old. I was at my Nana’s house and just lay on the couch for the full 1st CD just listening to it from her very decent sound system. My Nana’s dog did too and when the first CD finished and the music stopped, the dog got up and left. The dog probably didn’t know there was a 2nd CD.

Some of my students hadn’t even heard of John Williams let alone know how many movies he’s written for. They’ve heard of Harry Potter and Jurassic Park though.

And those rare clarinet solos in Star Wars, a good one is The Imperial Probe/Aboard The Executor from the Empire Strikes Back; the prelude to the Battle of Hoth. those high notes require some skills.
Listen to 1:55 and especially 2:20 to here an example of high altitude clarinet playing.

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