The Alpha Chi National College Honor Society has launched a brand new website, and with it, a spotlight article on my life as a composer, specifically writing the music of Star Wars: A New Score. It's an honor to be featured on their website and I appreciate their continued support in my composing career. Read the article here!
"If you’re treating the music as part of the storytelling, it needs to reflect what’s in the movie."
One advantage I held over Williams’ original score is in regards to the placement of the music, which I was able to accomplish without the commercial concerns of a studio. It must be noted that Williams himself was not solely responsible for placing his music in the film. Any film has directors, producers, and editors who can override the composer and have the final say in the matter. This filmmaking hierarchy is glaringly obvious in Star Wars when it is evaluated from a musical standpoint.
Several key scenes in the film feature no music, such as lightsaber battles and scene changes. The lack of music in these instances can make for an awkward visual experience in certain instances. In addition to the scenes in the film in which there is no music being played, there are many moments in which the wrong theme is played during crucial moments of the film (such as Leia’s theme playing during Obi-Wan’s death). Below I have outlined a few of these instances and compared them to my own musical choices in scoring the film.
Members of Alpha Chi, a national collegiate honor society at Gardner-Webb University, earned top honors at the society’s national convention held recently in Louisville, Ky. Christian Jessup of Boiling Springs, N.C., won a Gaston Scholarship, and Hannah Ray of High Point, N.C., won a Nolle Scholarship.
The Gaston Scholarships, worth $3,000 each, are presented to the two highest-rated submissions at the convention. “We have never won a Gaston Scholarship before,” said Dr. June Hobbs, Professor of English, Director of Undergraduate Research and Alpha Chi sponsor. “Christian came in first of the 65 submissions with nearly perfect scores from all judges.”
Jessup, a senior music composition major, presented a paper describing the original score he wrote for the 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars, “New Music for a Galaxy Far, Far Away.” In addition to the scholarship, he also won the best presentation prize in the Art/Music/Dance papers category. His research for the project was funded by the GWU Undergraduate Research Scholars program.
In the process of scoring the original Star Wars film, the most important advantage I had over John Williams was hindsight. Remarkably, Williams himself had little-to-no information regarding the background and development of the main characters, a process that is still occurring today. In fact, in the summer of 2016, Williams revealed how little he is told regarding the Star Wars franchise, saying he still does not know key plot details of the upcoming films. “Your guess is as good as mine,” says Williams. Given how little he knew about the film, one must acknowledge the magnificent score Williams wrote under less than ideal circumstances. In his book indexing film music, Laurence E. MacDonald writes, "Williams. . .had the challenge of scoring each new film to reflect aspects of the story that are part of the first [film], while maintaining the integrity of scenarios and characters that are not in the earlier films.” How do composers write an appropriate theme for characters if they are unaware of the arc of those characters? The simple answer is that they cannot achieve such a task.
A comparison video between an original Star Wars scene by George Lucas and my re-scored scene in Star Wars: A New Score.
Enjoy this special preview of Star Wars: A New Score! This scene is Han Solo's first “musical” introduction in the film. His theme needed to be prominent in this scene so that the listener forms an immediate connection that lasts the entirety of the movie. Han’s theme at its core represents the spirit of adventure, a common man off on a journey. However, if this theme is introduced before the viewer meets Han, he/she may unintentionally associate that theme with another character, such as Luke, Leia, the rebels, or Obi-Wan, all of which are adventurers, but who don’t encapsulate that same spirit. All this is to say that introducing Han’s theme is of the utmost importance to “The Millennium Falcon” scene. I introduce it in its “idealistic form” (an idea inspired by Wagnerian leitmotifs), and then use this theme in different variations throughout this scene to ensure the listener picks up the association.
I was honored to be interviewed by radio station WGWG regarding my upcoming project, Star Wars: A New ScoreStar Wars: A New Score.
I'm in the final few months of preparation for the premiere of Star Wars: A New Score, and the work has been tedious! I'm producing the tracks (and likely will be doing so up until December!) and it has been a huge growing experience. Thanks to some generous funding from Gardner-Webb University, I have the MIDI sounds I needed to realistically recreate an orchestral sound - the EastWest Hollywood Orchestra. The sounds are phenomenally realistic, and they've provided me with the tools I needed to successfully complete a project this large.
Production can be tiring! I've spent hours and hours tweaking 3-4 minute clips, all to make sure that I have the perfect blend. In the end, I hope that the audience can't even tell a difference, and that the experience will be like that of a full orchestral score. Check for more updates soon!
I wrote a new version of the opening crawl, and it’s by far my favorite of all my demos for this scene. It is completely different from John Williams’s original music, but it is just as effective (in my opinion). I decided that this is also the music I will use for the beginning of the credits, and for the Throne Room finale. I went with a “battle preparation” sound, with horns and a snare beat, because I thought this fit the mood of the opening, especially considering this is Star Wars. I used Luke’s theme, Luke’s secondary theme, and the Force theme all in the opening crawl, although this is really just a way to introduce these sounds to the listener before they form the associations.
I finished up the cues from the Death Star escape scenes at the beginning of the week. I really enjoyed writing music for “The Trash Compactor,” because it provided me another genre of music to write. This scene is the scene where a monster attacks Luke, and it’s the closest to a horror scene as the film ever gets. Dr. Moser had suggested listening to Krzysztof Penderecki’s The Dream Of Jacob and borrowing orchestration techniques and timbres for suspenseful or scary scenes. I particularly employed his use of a low, pulsing brass, and screechy, sliding strings for this scene.
I'm winding down to the final stages in my compositions for Star Wars. I'm tweaking a few articulations/dynamics and writing alternate sections for parts of my score that didn't fit the film well. I now have a premiere date! The film will be showing at Gardner-Webb University's Tucker Student Center on DECEMBER 8 at 9 pm. More details will come soon, but for now, mark the date!
I worked quite a bit extra this week to make up for missed time from vacations. Dr. Moser and I met early in the week, and he offered suggestions for my pieces, the most important of which I have outlined here:
Droids for Sale - Less predictable, remove random downbeats or other beats, just to throw the listener slightly off kilter
Lost in the Desert - Needs something for the transition in the middle of the scene
“Your Father’s Lightsaber” - Needs a change of timbre when Leia’s message first turns on (maybe just take out droid theme)
The Millennium Falcon - Once ship takes off, lose tension, then regain it when they realize they’re being chased
I am on vacation this week, and have finished less than I had hoped. I did complete several small scenes scattered throughout the second half of the film, which at least made me feel better about the number of cues I have completed. I have a busy week coming up, but I am determined to complete as much as I possibly can.
Since these cues were mainly small, I did not need to incorporate much thematic material or any romantic influences. However, I did (quite by accident) create my leitmotif for the heroic team (Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia). This leitmotif emerges when they arrive on the Death Star, as it is their first situation in which they must all work together. It is introduced rather late compared to the rest of my themes and leitmotifs, but its prominent usage in the film’s second half will be more than enough to connect with the audience.
I spent a large portion of my time this week writing music for the scene, “The Millennium Falcon.” Dr. Moser and I had discussed the importance of this scene in an earlier meeting. Since Han’s previous scenes were in the cantina with the diegetic music playing, this scene is his first “musical” introduction. His theme needs to be prominent in this scene so that the listener forms an immediate connection that lasts the entirety of the movie.
This week doesn’t offer much for me to journal about, simply because I focused on scoring scenes, and didn’t use any specific romantic influences. I spent a large portion of my time at the beginning of the week working on the cue “In the Garage.” This was an important scene for me; it really introduces the viewer to Luke, but also spotlights Leia, the droids, and briefly mentions Obi-Wan. That gives me a lot to introduce musically. A scene this full of important character background could easily give the listener thematic overload, so I struggled to maintain a consistent flow. I decided this scene needed a more tonal approach than some of my other scenes, but this isn’t a bad decision in my mind. Luke is introduced as a homebody, someone that’s lived on the farm his entire life. It makes sense that he would be surrounded by “tonal” music during this portion of the movie, and as he begins to experience life outside the farm, the music becomes less and less tonal.
I started this week by tweaking and finishing small portions of the “Binary Sunset” and “Burning Homestead” cues. I started working on ethnic music ideas for certain scenes on the desert planet of Tatooine. I wanted it to have a unique sound, so I’m combining instruments from Africa, India, China, and Europe to create a timbre that is distinctive to the planet and cannot be attributed to any single place on Earth. I wrote a percussive, “marketplace” type of music for the scene in which they enter the spaceport, and I created a breathy, flute-like piece for when R2-D2 is wandering the desert alone.
This week I was on vacation at the beach, so I didn’t quite reach my hourly goal. I mainly focused on the cue “Burning Homestead,” in which Luke sees his house burned down. This cue took quite a bit of time because it has three very distinct parts
I worked on the “TIE Fighter Attack” cue, the last of my cue demos. I wanted to write a few demos before I began scoring the film, and the demos worked out beautifully. They gave me a good idea of how I would go about scoring scenes in the movie, and they allowed me to experiment using a variety of moods, the “TIE Fighter Attack” scene being an action sequence. Dr. Moser had suggested I use Movement 5 of Stravinsky’s Firebird for a chase scene or action scene, and I thought Firebird was perfect for temp tracking the TIE Fighter attack. I drew heavily from Stravinsky’s orchestration when I wrote this cue, and occasionally imitated his style, particularly when the TIE Fighters first appear in the scene.
For week 2 of my project, I finished researching Wagner’s leitmotifs, this time studying more of their use in film. Bribitzer-Stull observes that “Layering of associations throughout a film make themes more powerful at the film’s conclusion. It is thus the musical development of themes rather than the crafting of the themes themselves that should comprise the bulk of a film composer’s work.”
Week 1 was a great starting point for my project. Monday’s meeting with Dr. Moser yielded some interesting questions. These questions will remain unanswerable, but I believe they will guide me as I look to write my own music for Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope…