The Score Awakens

I may have gone a little too far this time.

I have not been content to merely listen to the soundtrack to Star Wars The Force Awakens while driving around to all my students (let me tell you, I kind of wish my car automatically played the Star Wars Main Theme every time it turned on and, you know, blasted it from exterior speakers.  Yes, every time I turned it on.).  Over the past week or so, I’ve actually sat down and started a really rough draft of a sort of listening map for the entire score.

I don’t cite my sources in the paper, partially because some of the info is common knowledge (I mean, if you don’t know that it’s called The Force Theme or Han Solo and the Princess I don’t know if we  can be friends anymore), and also partially because I can’t really confirm an exact source.   Wikipedia has a good page on the Star Wars themes (and also doesn’t cite sources), and an article from Mashable actually helped me sort out a few of the newer themes (and confused me on a few others, ha!).

This is also far from finished and far from perfect.  I’ll actually be out at the theater tomorrow with my listening map in hand to see how my notes match up with the action on screen, and if the action can help clue me in to what some of the themes and motifs might be associated with.  (For example, I have one cue that I keep referring to as “desert music” because it reminds me of a music cue from the original trilogy whenever the characters are on Tatooine).

I’m sharing this for any other geeky music or Star Wars fans out there who may be interested in this work.  I’d be so happy to hear your thoughts and comments on the listening map!  Maybe there’s something that I got wrong, or maybe something you’ve got a question on!

George Lucas may have given us a vast universe of characters, planets, politics and relationships, but John Williams has given us an equally lush universe of music to listen to and explore.  I hope for me that this is just the first of many excursions really diving into each movie’s score.  Stay tuned folks, and may the force be with you!

Leitmotif Listening

Stuck inside all day in the snow?  No worries!  Spend some time with your favorite epic movie franchise and give it a closer listen.  You may be surprised at what you find.

With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” breathing new life into the epic Star Wars series, I was recently inspired to do a lesson plan for my middle school students on the concept of leitmotif and how composer John Williams uses this technique to bring to life a galaxy far, far away.  This was a really fun lesson that engaged my students to the max – I’ve never seen the more attentive (even the non-Star Wars geeks).  I won’t go through all the listening examples with youtube video links here (if you’re having trouble pinpointing a specific theme, give me a shout out on Facebook!), but if you’d like to do the activity I outline later in this post, my handout from class will help you out.

So now that you’ll be stuck inside all day, peering out the window wondering when Luke and his Tauntaun are going to show up, you might want to pop in your favorite Star Wars movie to while away the hours.  I’m a teacher, though, and I can’t suggest such a brainless activity without giving you something to enrich the experience.

1. Print out a few copies (the pdf is only one page) of my Leitmotif Listening Worksheet.

2. Check out my class handout or the wikipedia page on the music of Star Wars to familiarize yourself with the various themes from the movies.  There are dozens you will recognize throughout the series and some you will hear only in one of the movies, so a little musical briefing before you dig in will be helpful.

3. As you watch AND LISTEN to the movie, jot down notes on the themes you hear.  In the Leitmotif column, write the title of the theme.  Also notate if the theme appears in a different form (more drawn out, truncated, different instrumentation) from when it is originally introduced.  Use the words motif or theme to help you differentiate between shorter and longer pieces of music.    Under the Action column, write a few short words on what is taking place on scene.  For Emotions, write down what the characters might be feeling or what you as an audience member are experiencing during the scene.

4. Afterward, think about how the music adds to the action and the emotions of the scene.  Or, discuss with friends!

If Star Wars isn’t your thing (I won’t hold it against you, I promise), another great series to do this exercise with is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The music for these movies was composed by Howard Shore, and it is every bit as complex and intricate as the tapestry of Star Wars themes Williams has created.  If you do this with any other movie, beware, you will only have the best results for a franchise or series where the music was composed by the same person throughout (unfortunately, this rules out Harry Potter, but you can still analyze each movie as a standalone).

So, my friends and students, have at it!  If you plan on doing this activity today, or sometime soon, please leave me a note in the comments!  Or, join me on Facebook with any comments, questions or observations you may have.

24 Days of Music: Day 3 – Geeking Out

Well, I should mention to begin with that I started my practice day with about 30 minutes of just scales and Hanon exercises, which is almost triple the amount of time I expect my students to spend on those two areas of practice per day.

After that, of course, I took a break, because 30 minutes of straight practicing is pretty much too much for my fingers.  (Something I may or may not have mentioned here before, I have arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome and tendonitis prone hands, so.. I’ve got to be very careful with my practicing.  It’s not a major problem, because I haven’t had a flare up of any of those in over two years, but it’s still something I have to always consider).

And then, when I got back to it, I geeked out.  Geeked out like whoa.  I will be the first person to admit that I am a geek, a nerd, a total dork.  I mean, I majored in music theory in college, after all.  And I liked pirates when I was ten.  And read the Lord of the Rings trilogy before the movies came out. And own two light sabres.

Do you see where this is going?

Yesterday I practiced music from all my favorite movies – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean.  Why?  Because it’s OK for music to put more of a smile on your face than a challenge into your fingers.  In fact, it’s really kind of required.  If you don’t love it, then why do it?  SRSLY.

This happens every where in life.  Vegetables first, then dessert.  We hope to get a job in a field we enjoy.  Actually, those are two really important rules that I go by.  Veggies first.  And also, do what you love.  I tell my students all the time that I am a piano teacher because it’s so much fun, it never ever ever feels like a real job.  OK, sometimes it does.  But the fun points, the high points, the happy times, the play times the goals reached, the challenges met, outweigh all the downright cranky times.

So, yeah, I spent day 3 of my 24 days of music playing nerdy movie music piano arrangements.  I’ll get back to the hard stuff tomorrow. :)

Audience Participation Time
What music makes you smile?