Last Friday I went to the Hollywood Bowl for the very first time. I know, I know – I’ve lived in LA for ten years, shame on me, blah blah, shut the fuck up.
It was the annual John Williams event, where Maestro Williams conducts the LA Phil as they play any number of his greatest hits, including of course the themes to Star Wars, Superman, the Olympics, and E.T. In fact, as it’s the 30th Anniversary of E.T., Spielberg lent the Bowl a remastered version of the last reel of the film, so they played it while the LA Phil scored it live. I mean….
I love John Williams. No. I fucking love John Williams. His contribution, not only to film music, but to popular concert music at large cannot be understated. Kids as young as 3 or 4 left the Bowl singing his tunes. His mastery of creating palpable tension and release through music is admirable, as is his ability to create countless memorable earworms. Seriously – that shit is witchcraft. How does he do it time and time again!?
What stuck me this time around was his love themes, of which he played (I think) a few, but one in particular that I recognized outright. It was the love theme from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
What struck me most about hearing this theme was the churning I felt inside. It got me all twisted up. It’s not an “easy” melody. You’ll notice, for example, how the melody never quite rests on the “home” note. (Warning: music theory coming up…) The opening figure dances around the 3rd and 5th scale tones, leaning back and forth on half-steps. Translation: you get a sense of yearning, while never fulling feeling entirely happy or satisfied. It’s almost tragic.
And then (at :29) notice how the strings are so fragile and frightened to enter. I mean – is this not love?? Doesn’t it toss and turn you about, and make you feel melancholy and frightened, and yet make you yearn for more and more?
I’m not sure I’ve heard a musical theatre love song that quite captures that same essence. The closest I can think of in recent years would be “The Word of Your Body” from Spring Awakening. Otherwise, musical theatre love songs tend to be too pat, and, as anyone who’s experience love will tell you, love is anything but obvious.
Styles change, tastes change, but one thing that doesn’t change and has never changed through out our history is human emotion. So moving forward, I challenge myself, and all Millennial composer/lyricists, to capture love in its true, complicated form.