Monday, February 18, 2013

Someone Find the Fountain of Youth -- Quick!

Or, in other words:
Dear John Williams: please don't die. 

It all began with this
One harmless little post on Facebook. 

But, come on.
I think we can all agree that the only way the 'latest and greatest' installation of the Star Wars franchise will be any good is if it is paired with the best music. 
Plenty of pitiful movies have been saved by the soundtrack; it's a guarantee the new SW films won't flop, no matter how terrible they are, but it is also an absolute guarantee that the right composer (or, conversely, the wrong one) could help the franchise sink or swim. 

The discussion of just who sci-fi extraordinaire director J.J Abrams will pick to carry on the Star Wars legacy will probably go on even after the fated composer is chosen. 

(For a fairly good rundown of fairly good potentials, check out this blog here. I just found it and I love it so far. I even agree with most of his/her predictions: Williams should definitely be the man, but if he's not in good health--perish the thought!--or Abrams thinks it's time for a fresh new start--perish the thought even more!--Giacchino would be a likely, and probably appropriate, choice.) 

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. 
For now, I want to focus on the brilliance that is John Williams. 

I love Spotify. 
(No, no, hang with me, this has a point, I swear)
And, just yesterday, Spotify did me the great service of deciding to play "The Birth of the Twins and Padme's Destiny--Medley" from RotS (yeah, we're using cool abbreviations now, deal widdit) and "The Funeral of Qui-Gon" from TPM back to back. 

And I remembered just how much I ADORE John Williams. 





[Captain Obvious:] IT'S THE SAME IDEA, YOU GUYS!

Anyway, all of this led to listening through the entire "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" album (well, the poorly constructed commercial album, anyway), while following along with this great review.
(I think I've said this before, but just in case, go check out one of my favorite online soundtrack review blogs, "Filmtracks". Seriously. It's my go-to every time a new score is released and contains usually very solid and accurate reviews of today's "latest and greatest.")
Which aforementioned listening really just led to lots of fangirling about John Williams. 
'Cuz, seriously? The man's a freaking legend. 

As a self-diagnosed music nerd, who maybe loved her music history courses in college just a bit too much, I have always, first and foremost, commended Williams for his refreshing use of the leitmotif, bringing this timeless musical concept to a modern audience and shaping the way many film scores are now written. 

When the history of the world is examined at some later date, what will be named the
 "Music of the 21st Century" ? 
Film Score.
Sure, you have a composer who every now and again tries to resurface the glory days of symphonies, or the great American days of Bernstein and Copland, but the majority of the music that is produced---and certainly the majority of the music that is enjoyed by the general public--is music for the movies.

Not that I'm complaining. 
As much as I love me a Shosty Symphony or good ol' "Appalachian Spring," I first fell in love with the world of music through film score. 
And what a rich world it can be. 

The two tracks I posted above both contain the same "funeral" cue, used, potentially purposefully, in the bookends of the prequel series; first, as a lament for the character Qui-Gon; then, in the third movie, as a lament of young Anakin Skywalker's eventual transformation into Darth Vader. 

One thing that never fails to amaze me is Williams' mastery of emotion. In this funeral cue, you feel the full force of a huge chorus in the same way you enjoy a great Requiem of the old. The chorus' weighted dominance of the track--broken only briefly by a short restatement of the "Force Theme" before diving back in--lends itself perfectly to the point that is being driven home: sometimes things happen, and you can't wish it away. The inevitability of this track is marvelous; it sounds so impossibly sad, but in a trudging, laborious manner that reminds us that we knew. We knew from the beginning of "The Phantom Menace" that the sweet, little, blonde boy was going to turn into Luke's evil father.
 We knew there was no other way these prequel trilogies could end. 
And yet, still we hoped. 

Another interesting fact is the actual use of the funeral cue to tie-in the two movies' scenes. 
-Qui-Gon died in the hopes that young Anakin would be trained in the right, brought up to bring balance to the Force. His death was, in a way, a sacrifice to bring about a balanced and just universe. 
-The use of the same funeral lament when it is discovered that sweet little Anakin has turned now completely to the dark side and has become masked and cold Darth Vader is perhaps a clever way of reminding us, again, of the inevitability of it all. 
A bit of brilliance by the composer to recycle a powerful, emotionally charged cue and maybe bring a bit of continuity into the whole situation. 

Another point on which to honor maestro Williams is his brilliant ability to weave his own cues, themes, and ideas together to create something new and relevant. 



While there are many who complain--and perhaps rightly so--of the lack of regurgitated themes during the birth scene in RotS, one thing you cannot fault the seasoned composer for is his use of "Leia's Theme" to introduce the new baby-girl Skywalker--and a softer, muted rendition of the "Main Theme" to introduce our future hero, Luke. 

The statement of "Leia's Theme" is fairly straightforward, an almost "textbook" rendition, which ties neatly to the original trilogy; it is the use of the "Main Theme" to celebrate the new hero which is truly the focus. Giving the theme to the string section, over soft woodwinds and harp, tones down the drama of the bombastic "Main Theme," making it appropriate for baby Luke, but also gives audiences and listeners alike a bit of gentle nostalgia and, for the first time in what seems like a while, a bit of hope

We still know what happens.
But, this time? It's a reminder of the good that is to come. 
The only complaint I have is that this clever little foreshadowing (maybe "past shadowing"?) is too short. 


Other favorite things about this particular album? 
"Anakin's Betrayal"




One of a few tracks that contains worthwhile brand-new music, this theme accompanies Anakin's decision to abandon the way of the Jedi, and join the Emperor and the Sith. 
Opening with a somber idea in the strings, the music builds to include a first-gentle, then overpowering, choral idea, building finally to the brass' inclusion about a minute into the track.
From there, the cue ebbs and flows, painting with several different portrayals of grief; from angry and terrible brass bellows, to bitter and heartbreaking string refrains, to mercurial "gentle-then-weighty" choral entrances. The cue ends quietly, setting the tone, really, for the rest of the movie; there is no going back now. 

Besides being a truly brilliant example of heavy emotion, flow, and composition, "Anakin's Betrayal" is also an interesting study on the use of the "Dies Irae" in modern-day music. 
Found in everything from Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" to Zimmer's "Lion King," the "Day of Wrath" melody is often used, in bits and pieces, in fragments of ideas, to portray sorrow or funeral music. 
And Williams jumped right on that train. 
If you're unfamiliar with it, here is the main idea of the "Dies Irae:" 
(you really only need to listen to the first few seconds; the first four notes are the most commonly recycled)



Now take a second and re-listen to the track, "Anakin's Betrayal."
Probably completely stated only once in its entirety, but towards the middle of this cue, the influence of the ancient Gregorian Chant is obvious--and brilliant. 


Yet another favorite is the other track that contains the most new--and worthwhile--music, 
"Anakin's Dark Deeds."



Beginning with, as dear Filmtracks described it, an almost-ode to Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" franchise, the strange, eerie calm is broken suddenly with crashing brass, unsettled back-up strings, and angry chorus. A march-like theme begins in the lower-registers of all string instruments, which gradually builds and leads into a terrifying brass, woodwind, and choral moment--very reminiscent of the "Battle of the Heroes" cue--that crescendoes to its terrible end, before a new (and absolutely beautiful) theme is introduced at about 2:15 into the track.
A descending idea, based over a sort of passacaglia-like bass-line, grows into a powerful brass/string movement, a sneaky "Dies Irae" fragment, and finally, a fanfare-like ending.

Though accompanying one of the most absolutely soul-destroying parts of this "final prequel" (where newly-Dark Anakin sets out to destroy all enemies of the Sith--including tiny Jedi children), it is one of the most glorious and heartrending examples of Williams' best work.

It perfectly walks the line of setting up the horror that is felt when seeing little Anakin go completely crazy, and forget everything he ever cared/fought for (with rushed strings, determined brass, and Wagnerian chorus, it's plain that there is no turning back from the decisions he is making) AND playing to the audience's need for a little moment to grieve; to mourn not only the loss of all those tiny Jedi padawans, but to mourn the loss of Anakin himself, to mourn the little blonde pod-racer that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan found and brought before the Council; the little boy who was supposed to restore balance to the Universe.

There are many who may justly complain that more of this type of music was missed in this particular Star Wars installment, but in any case, this track provides more than enough hefty and emotionally-driven material to satisfy even the snobbiest of listeners.


It's hard to explain just why John Williams is one of the greatest of his kind--though it is definitely easier to explain that he is the last of his kind. The best way, really, to drive the point home is to refer listeners to some of the composer's finer moments.

In an filmscore world that is slowly being dominated by Cage-like "non-music" (see: The Social Network's Oscar win for "Best Soundtrack in a Motion Picture) and pounding bass/synthesizer cues a la Zimmer (Inception, Batman, etc etc etc), it's so refreshing to listen to Williams' more traditional style; to hear flecks of Wagner, Shostakovich, and Holst in "everyday" movie music. There is absolutely room for experimenting and new ideas, but I truly worry that when Williams dies, his art and this more traditional style of composing will die with him, leaving us in a sea of pounding bass rhythms and scouring soundtrack albums for the thirty-second representations of real, weighty, emotional music.

To think more positively, I hope and pray that Williams will remain well enough to take on the responsibility of continuing the Star Wars franchise

--

And if that's not to be, then I sincerely hope for another composer who can truly leap out of the woodwork and take up Williams' mantle. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Track Spotlight: CAPTAIN AMERICA

I admit. I wasn't the first in line to see this movie.

I wasn't even the second, third, or millionth, probably.

I mean, "Captain America" ? A comic book hero? From the 1940s?

No, thanks. I'll wait until it comes out on video. I'm sure it's a good renter.

...


I hate when I'm wrong.

You guys.
This movie ROCKED.
It was funny, it was dramatic, it was patriotic, it was sad...there were feel-good-fuzzies moments everywhere.
And the music wasn't too bad either.

Alan Silvestri, to me, was a weird composer-choice. I totally expected a movie with this amount of hype to be scored by Zimmer, Powell, maybe even Newton-Howard or Giacchino.
But Silvestri?

I guess most of that surprise is my own fault. For some reason, the big-name score that comes to my mind when I hear the name "Silvestri" is from 2004's The Polar Express. A good score, mind you, but not one that you would typically associate with a "Superhero Composer."

The main theme--Captain America's theme--that I posted above is just what you would expect; loud, brassy, patriotic, American, epic. As Silvestri said in an interview discussing the score, you expect a superhero fanfare to be given by the brass. It fits, it works, it enhances the action.
(Also, love that he references Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man...that is exactly the influence you can hear in this main theme!)
He also mentions how he appreciated the director's willingness to go with a "themed" or "leit motif" style for the score.

The Captain America theme is great, but one of my favorite tracks is this one, the one that accompanies one of the most emotional and dramatic scenes in the movie:

Uh. Maze. Ing.
 The track opens with low, rumbling sustained notes (anyone hear the incoming planes?) This leads into a melody in the lower strings that you just want to wrap yourself in while you have a good cry. The phrase that starts at 0:24 in the "mid-strings" (I'm guessing doubled violas and cellos, but I could be wrong..) pulls at your heartstrings; a wash of sad, rich beauty that includes the melody in the violas with the low strings moving harmonically way down in the depths of the orchestra. The violins and french horn enter and help lead the music into the dramatic tone-changing moment at 0:53. The strings continue the thick chord progression, trading the important melody between the upper and mid strings, while the low strings keep the steady harmonic changes coming in the gorgeous low register.
A small break at 1:17 allows you to catch your breath before the violins lead us headfirst back into the drama at 1:21.
A particular favorite moment of mine is at 1:48, where the mid strings carrying the main idea let the suspension resolve softly into the violins sustained note that carries until 2:01, where the low strings re-enter with a last reminder of heartache.

The theme that starts hopefully at 2:14 is taken and warped by the entire string section into a minor-ish rephrasing that has the violins playing in their distinctive sounding lower registers while accompanied by moving harmonic changes in the lower strings. The depth that the composer constructs by keeping all the strings in their lower registers at this point brings an emotional feel to the piece that is hard to describe. Blame it on the cellist in me, but the theme in the lower register carries a ton of emotional pull, splitting open your heart and cradling you in its arms all at the same time. The violins jumping into their usual range at 2:36 helps drive the music towards the brass' re-entry at 2:50 with a varied quotation of the Captain America theme.

The dramatic theme peels back its layers to reveal a quiet oboe solo, a faint voice from the distance that quiets the orchestra and allows the strings to end the track with a gentle fadeaway, like the cooldown after a long hour of exercise.

Critics of the score have said that it isn't exactly groundbreaking, or even entirely new (and, I have to admit, that if you listen to last track on the album, "Captain America March", it sounds very much like a John Williams Star Wars suite...) but even so, I've found much to love about this classic score that plays sidekick to Chris Evans' heartwarming Captain America.

Plus, if you buy the complete album, you'll get a brand new Alan Menken original, complete with all the corn and fluff of every great 1940s patriotic hit. "Star Spangled Man" was even recorded and "distressed" to sound like it came straight from the speakers of a WWII radio. I thoroughly enjoy Menken's little trip to the past; it in no way fits in with Silvestri's superhero score, but it fits the timeframe of the movie and is just Broadway-patriotic enough to capture your heart as winningly as Captain America's "All-American Boy" smile does.


All in all, a great movie and a great score.


I'm slowly turning into a Superhero geek. Heaven help me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mahler.

Go on YouTube.
And watch this whole Symphony.
You won't regret it.

This is Gustav Mahler's 2nd Symphony, most commonly known as the "Resurrection Symphony." It is one of the most powerful works I've ever heard.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2 men. 11 hours, 5 minutes. 3 days. History.

I, like everyone else, underestimated what that match would become. 
Then I got involved.

Then I got an entire hallway of musicians interested in what would turn out to be the Longest Match of All Time (LMOAT).

Then it was over and I cried.

And then came the talk shows and the interviews and the special appearances. The photographs, the montages, the obligatory blog posts.

ESPN, Yahoo, Facebook, and the world took notice. The match became a "must-know-event" for all sports lovers.

But in the end, it was over.

And we all thought it was an incredible little chapter in tennis--and sport--history. But there's no way it would happen again.

Fast forward one year. Scene: SW19, 2011, Wimbledon Draw.

Honestly, when I first started hearing about this on Facebook and Twitter, I thought people were being "funny."
There's no way, I thought, that these two will have to play each other, again. I mean, Mahut hasn't even been able to get a wildcard entrance to any of the Slams since that epic 3-day-er. Izzy has been slightly off his game ever since. There was no foreseeable possibility that the two would meet in a later round of a slam, and HIGH unprobable that they would ever meet in another early round.
The tennis gods wouldn't be that cruel, would they?

This is all before I knew more about the tennis gods.


There were thousands of wild speculations, perplexed musings, and cries of "WHY?" but it was still set:  John Isner. Nicolas Mahut. Round 1. Wimbledon 2011.


Now let's be honest. We all knew this match wouldn't live up to ANY of the hype. How could it?
The best it would do is be a disappointment, a situation where, once again, we'd have a "loser" made out of one of these two men who deserve nothing more than to WIN.

In fact, the match is going on right now, and, as predicted--and expected--there's nothing too spectacular about it. Izzy's up 2 sets to love, but Mahut is leading in the third with a couple of breaks.

But...can we all take a second and remember? Remember the epicness we witnessed here a year ago? Remember the extreme display of athleticism, heart, class, character, and strength we saw?
Can we remember that the mere sight of these two playing each other on the gorgeous green turf still gives chills?




I mean, I don't know how this Round Two match-up will end, but either way...
Izzy? Nico?
You guys are still epic heroes.

Just play well, both of you.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ten years.

Just a short note.

Osama bin Laden is dead.

Almost ten years after the 9/11 attacks, we finally got him.

I still remember that day. I'll remember it forever. There are things about that day that I can never forget.

And now he's dead.

The thing is, I can't feel completely relieved. There's a part of me that feels sick. There's a knot in my stomach. I would never put it past that man to have a backup plan in place. Who knows what retaliation may come to us because of this.

God bless America.
I don't think we're done with this yet. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Track Spotlight: "Voce Existe em Mim"

Album Version

Live Version


I love this song. Like....lots. It was one of the few songs that JG released before the whole album (Illuminations), but even before that, I found this video:

It's the recording of the percussion line of the song. You can hear some of the actual music in the background, but it was also super fun to see the all girl drumline rocking out on a Josh Groban song! This little inside video made me that much more excited for the actual album to come out!

Anyway. I don't understand Portuguese, and it's always been a language that kinda throws me off, because it's so close to Spanish...but just that far off. But this song is absolutely beautiful. My favorite part is the bridge and one of the coolest parts is the meter change right before the bridge. It just has such a powerful melody and the percussion line is so fun!

Plus, Josh Groban's voice is absolutely beautiful. Right?

Track Spotlight: "Arrival To Earth"

So I took a little trip down to Utah this weekend, spent sometime with my roommate, her BF, and her family. It was definitely a good trip, but one of the best things about it? The drive was about 3.5 hours.

Let me explain: I love driving, for a lot of reasons, but a big reason is that you can listen to so much music while driving; so a 3.5 hour drive there & 3.5 hour drive back = AWESOME.

Anyway. Nothing super great (read: I wasn't in the mood for it) was playing on the radio--either satellite or FM--and my iPod FM transmitter was freaking out, so I turned to my Cds. I know, ancient right?

My car's system has a 6-Cd changer thing that, before I got my iPod transmitter, I filled with a few of my favorite Cds:

Slot 1: Mix of Josh Groban songs (from all but his newest Cd)
Slot 2: Mix of some of my favorite score tracks
Slot 3: Favorite mix of classical music
Slot 4: Mix of a bunch of different Glee/pop songs
Slot 5: Josh Groban's newest album, Illuminations
Slot 6: Michael Buble's Crazy Love

Don't worry, I'm getting to the point, I promise, and here it is: I started playing through the Cds, just listening to what I have. And that's where I "re-discovered" this song.

Steve Jablonsky isn't super mainstream, but I absolutely LOVE the work he's done for the Transformers series. My favorite thing about it is his willingness to allow the lower strings to shine (of course) and, basically, his melodies are just kinda pretty :)

So check this piece out, let me know what you think, and if you really love it, go look up the other tracks. You won't be disappointed. :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oh, Beethoven.



I mean, I had to. How can I pretend to write a blog that (sometimes) discusses music if I don't talk about Beethoven 5?? Sure, everyone knows the main theme (DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN, right?) But how many have actually listened to the whole symphony, or even the whole 1st movement? Well, let me help you out. Listen to this whole video and then try to tell me that Beethoven isn't one of the most brilliant people ever. Try it. You can't.

Also? This piece is really good music to clean the bathroom to. Just sayin.


"It's called a lance...Helllooooo..."


"You have been weighed. You have been measured. And you have absolutely been found wanting."

Love this movie.

Also, the best character?

This guy.
"Sir Ulllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllrichhh von Lichtenstein!!!!"


And if you don't know what I'm talking about, go check out this movie. No, seriously. It's great. 

It Must Be Love: Ana Ivanovic and the Sport of Personalities

I didn't always like her.

Now, I never disliked her. I just never really knew her well.

See, just as I was really getting "in" to tennis, she was kinda falling "out" of it.
This was Ana Ivanovic in 2008 when she won the French Open at age 21. With her win over Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals of the 08 RG, she took over the number one ranking. She went on to beat Dinara Safina 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the final to gain her first (and so far only) Grand Slam title.

From that point on, everything kinda...deteriorated. Some people have speculated that all the pressure of taking over the #1 ranking so suddenly was the catalyst for her downward spiral that would follow her for the next three-ish years. She quickly lost the #1 ranking; bothered with a thumb injury, she had a pretty awful summer hardcourt run, which culminated in a disappointing withdrawal from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and a loss in the 2nd round of the US Open-- the earliest loss of the #1 ranked player since 1973. After that, her troubles just continued; her game slipped, her serve practically disappeared, and she had a near debilitating lack of confidence.

Anyway. Since that French Open in 08, you hadn't really heard much about Ana Ivanovic and she was almost completely out of the Top Ten by the time I fell in love with tennis.
But now--she's back.

Slowly, piece by piece, Ana is picking herself up. She's gone through a lot of coaches and a lot of criticism, but she's on her way back. The 2011 season has started pretty well for her, and hopefully she'll continue to improve and gain confidence.

But now I'll explain why I've come to be such a fan of hers. First, I'll have to admit, it's a lot because she's in the public eye again; she's making her way into the later rounds of tournaments and getting more media attention.

I mostly started cheering for her because her story was kinda sad; incredible talent and potential, a win...and then a quick crumble to the bottom. (It's the same with Dinara Safina; I find myself cheering for her a lot because her story is pretty heartbreaking). But then she started doing things like participating in the Rally for Relief (the tennis exhibition all the top names did before the AO this year to raise money for the flood-ruined lands of Australia and NZ) and playing doubles with Novak Djokovic in the Hopman Cup and you got to see more of her personality. Basically? She's kind of a dork.




Ok. So I'll admit it completely: I love tennis because you get to see the players' personalities. Why is Rafael Nadal my favorite player? Because not only is he an incredible athlete, competitor, and tennis player, but he is also one of the best examples of humility and sportsmanship and...well...awesomeness. Why do I always find myself rooting for Novak Djokovic? Cuz he's a total goof. The class clown of the tennis world. Why will I always love Andy Murray, no matter what? Because of his personality (trust me, he has one!!). C-Note--over at Forty Deuce-- (Sidenote: I reference her stuff a lot. Mostly cuz she's brilliant and funny and somehow always manages to the get the best inside stuff; the inside tennis world stuff. But, in full disclosure, she has a bit of a mouth on her and sometimes her posts aren't very--ah--family friendly. Just a warning.) has written two blogposts that describe pretty accurately how I feel about tennis. One actually deals specifically with Ana and the other talks more about falling in love with players' personalities in general. The one-on-one aspect of tennis really lets you get to know your favorite player; you don't "lose" them in a sea of teammates.

Back to Ivanovic. Here's what I've decided: each tennis player kinda falls into a high school personality. No, really, think about it!

Roger Federer would be the hot-shot baseball player, who thinks he's better than anyone else because he's got a lot of talent and looks--and he knows it. (I'm not a baseball fan.) Rafael Nadal would be the hot, hard-working, incredibly talented quarterback--who is also the sweetest and kindest guy on campus. (I do, however, love football.) Andy Roddick would be the smart aleck kid who you'd usually laugh with, occasionally want to punch in the face, but always love. Novak Djokovic (as discussed above) would be the class clown. Serena Williams would be the star of the girls' basketball team; able to get dirty and sweaty and competitive on the court, but also the one who'd be dressed like she was on a runway every day of her life when out of uniform. (At least....that's how my high school was....anybody else?) Caroline Wozniacki is that girl who flirts with all the boys, a volleyball player probably, who is probably nice when you get to know her, but not too many people like her outer layer enough to to get to know her better. Jelena Jankovic is (do I really have to say it?) the cheerleader; not the nice one, but the stuck up Cheer Squad Captain who hates her co-captain and won't let anything get in the way of looking fabulous.

And then there's Ana. When you first see her, you pretty much put her in the role of the popular, gorgeous, nice-to-everyone-but-no-one's-real-friend girl whom you always want to think is snobby.

I mean, come on. She is, I think, the prettiest player on the WTA tour. She's just naturally beautiful.

And it's kind of disgusting.

Anyway. Then you get to know her personality, see her interact with the people she calls her friends (Another checkmark on the "pros" side: she's been friends with Novak Djokovic since they were 4 or 5. Adorable, right?) and you realize she isn't that high school persona at all.

No; Ana Ivanovic is definitely The Best Friend.

C'mon, you know it's true. She's that girl who you'd absolutely hate (because she's gorgeous and skinny and funny and popular) --if she wasn't your BFF. 

And that is why I have become such a fan. I'd pull for her anyway, just because of the sad freefall she had and because of her great work ethic that is, slowly, putting her back on top. But you throw in the whole personality thing, and I'm totally sold. For the first time since I've become a tennis fan, I can honestly say I have a favorite WTA player.

I mean, Besties support each other, right? :)


(I absolutely HATE the word "Bestie.")