The Music Lives: John Williams

“I have to say, without question, John Williams has been the single most significant john-williams-star-wars-999375-1280x0contributor to my success as a filmmaker.” – Steven Spielberg

Address four of the questions after engaging in the materials below. Due April 9 (11:59 pm).

The music of John Williams has had a lasting impact of cinema and it has changed the voice of music’s impact on film. From “Jaws” to “Star Wars” to the “Harry Potter” franchise, his mark is well-established, and now in his eighth decade of life, he’s still producing award-caliber scores.

john-williams-george-lucasAt 85 years old, John Williams has earned 51 Oscar nominations (22 wins), which is more than any other person alive; only the late Walt Disney has more nominations (59). Williams’ latest nomination was for Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

Explore his biography, articles, and video clips below, and then address the questions for the response post.

Read the biography and check out clips of his music in action on the link below from the Biography Channel:

https://www.biography.com/people/john-williams-9532526

Here – John Williams discusses the “power of music” in this 6-minute interview:

In this five-minute clip from the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award recognition, you get a glimpse of the humor (and humbleness) of John Williams as he celebrates other within his journey:

This eight-minute segment explores the universal language of music from John Williams score for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

After taking in all the materials  – address the following questions and post your responses to four of the questions by Monday, April 9.Star-Wars-9-Soundtrack-Score-John-Williams

  1. How does John Williams discover and find musical voice for characters?
  2. What intrigued you the most about Williams’ life?
  3. What did you find most interesting about Williams’ approach to scoring film?
  4. Provide thoughts about Williams’ exploration into “the power of music.”
  5. As we’ve explored the importance of music, sound and silence this semester in film, how does getting to know more about John Williams and his approach help you appreciate the audio journey of film more?john-williams-star-wars
  6. Williams has been involved in some amazing blockbuster films throughout his life, as you’ve explored his life through the bio, clips & interviews – which of his films have had the biggest impact on you? Why? And how did his music add to that impact or appreciation?

13 thoughts on “The Music Lives: John Williams

  1. 1. How does John Williams discover and find the musical voice for characters?

    From what I saw, it seems that Williams sees how character’s stories turn out. Then he works backward to create an evolving musical score and character themes.

    2. What intrigued you most about Williams life?

    His relationship with Steven Spielberg. I have started to see a pattern with successful filmmakers. They work with the same talent multiple times. Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, JJ Abrams, and Martin Scorsese. They find people (usually actors) that they work well with and they keep creating with them. John Williams and Steven Spielberg have worked with each other for over 40 years. They have worked on films like Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Jaws, and more. I believe that this is the untold successful thing to do. Find people you work well with and keep working with them.

    4. Provide thoughts about Williams exploration into “the power of music”

    What I found interesting about Williams, compared to Hans Zimmer, was that Williams has a growing theme. Unlike Zimmer who has a branded continuous theme (Batman theme example). I was first exposed to Williams’ style with Star Wars. It was also with Star Wars when I really felt connected to a musical score. Partially because I associated them with my childhood memories.

    6. Williams has been involved in some amazing blockbuster films throughout his life, as you’ve explored his life through the bio, clips & interviews – which of his films have had the biggest impact on you? Why and how did his music add to that impact or appreciation?

    Without a doubt, it was Star Wars: A New Hope. There is one scene that always makes me emotional. When Luke looks out at the two moons setting on Tatooine. This 30-second clip has music that foretells Luke’s story. It starts off quiet and reserved, it builds, has a crescendo, and goes quiet again. To me, this is a character sketch of Luke’s life. This scene also shares Luke’s feelings about his current life and his desire for more, but then to be reminded that he still has done nothing.

    -Samuelle Grove

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sam – I’m so happy you’ve found those patterns for filmmakers; those too, become trademarks. When filmmakers find others (actors, writers, editors, composers, producers, etc.) who click with them, they find a cohesive chemistry that allows them to work with a singular vision.

      Great description of the “Luke & Two Moons” scene. Excellent. NTM

      Like

  2. What intrigued you the most about Williams’ life?

    I am intrigued by Williams commitment to write something every day, whether it was good or bad. This interests me because I myself committed to doing this two years ago, and for the most part I’ve followed through with it. Writing daily forces one to constantly invent, reinvent, and work through even the roughest of ideas, and it produces some truly remarkable ideas. I believe this method of daily work is what caused Williams to create such memorable music, and is definitely a practice worth imitating.

    What did you find most interesting about Williams’ approach to scoring film?

    I love Williams’ willingness to experiment with note placement, and his commitment to finding the perfect notes explains why we as listeners can never forget the themes he writes. He talked about having hundreds of iterations of the five note theme in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I’ve heard similar stories to his approach on the Indiana Jones theme and even on Jaws. The fact that he cares so much about each note to create hundreds of different versions of those notes is incredible, and it truly shows the care and commitment he has to his job.

    Provide thoughts about Williams’ exploration into “the power of music.”

    “Music represents the words that cannot be spoken…I don’t think any of us fully understand how it works.” What an incredibly well spoken explanation by John Williams. Music holds a near-mystical power over people that very clearly communicates a message, even without words. I loved that his attempt to communicate with music is more intuitive than anything else – this goes to show that he goes about the film just like an audience member, and writes music that he would want as a viewer. Writing based on his intuition means that our first instinct as a film-viewer is met by Williams’ music.

    Williams has been involved in some amazing blockbuster films throughout his life, as you’ve explored his life through the bio, clips & interviews – which of his films have had the biggest impact on you? Why? And how did his music add to that impact or appreciation?

    Out of all of Williams’ films, two have had the biggest impact on me. The first is Star Wars. When I first saw Star Wars as a kid, I was mesmerized, and the music never left my head. I hummed it everywhere I went, I bought the soundtracks as quickly as I could save the money, and I can honestly say it is what first set me down the path to seriously exploring film music and wanting to become a film composer. The second film that has impacted me is Saving Private Ryan. Williams’ use of silence in that score is as powerful as his music, and it taught me a great deal about how music can be used in moderation. The placement of music is as important as the notes being played, and Saving Private Ryan is a perfect example of that. The lack of music during battle scenes adds intensity, and when his music softly enters afterward, nothing seems as sweet as the notes being heard in those moments.

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    1. The creating “daily” method also works for authors, artist, athletes, etc. It is a practice that can indeed make perfect.

      Music can become this amazing universal language that if written and composed correctly can transcend cultures, class, races and time. I believe Williams has found a way to do that with some of his works.

      Thanks Christian

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  3. How does John Williams discover and find musical voice for characters?

    As Williams paraphrased Alfred Hitchcock’s quote, “In film, music represents the words that cannot be spoken,” he was perfectly describing the emotional impact of his musical scores in film. I have always been a big fan of the “Star Wars” franchise, and John Williams’ role as the composer for these films has had a huge impact on my fandom. While the stories of the films are indeed very rich and emotional, they would not be nearly as such without the masterful music created by John Williams. Some of the most moving scenes from the franchise have little to no dialogue, with the music overwhelming the sense of sound. There is nothing the characters could have said that would have provoked this emotional response.

    What intrigued you the most about Williams’ life?

    I was surprised that John Williams originally was not on the path to becoming a composer. Rather, he aspired to be a concert pianist. However, as he attended the famous Juilliard School in New York to advance his musical knowledge, he noticed that he would be hard-pressed to be the best in the business with other piano players like Van Cliburn and John Browning in the school. He decided that he would have a better chance to become a prominent force in the music industry as a composer, moving to Los Angeles, the film capital of the US, to work toward this dream. Within a few years, Williams was already making an impact in the music of television and film, a trend that has continued even up to present-day.

    As we’ve explored the importance of music, sound and silence this semester in film, how does getting to know more about John Williams and his approach help you appreciate the audio journey of film more?

    I don’t think I have ever given enough respect to the incorporation of silence and ambient sounds in film. Music has always been prominent and noticeable as I have viewed films, but this is directly connected to other sounds throughout the film. Silence and background noise serve as the bread in the peanut butter sandwich. Without these critical components, you would not have the vessel for your peanut butter (not that peanut butter needs anything else to be enjoyed, but you get the idea). As I recently viewed Steven Spielberg’s film “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” with music by John Williams, I was thoroughly impressed by the skillful use of silence and background noise to build suspense, followed by iconic, sweeping music that relieved this tension, creating an enchanting mood. Before going through this film course, I would not have recognized these auditory elements of movies.

    Williams has been involved in some amazing blockbuster films throughout his life, as you’ve explored his life through the bio, clips & interviews – which of his films have had the biggest impact on you? Why? And how did his music add to that impact or appreciation?

    This appears to be a common theme compared to other posts, but John Williams’ work in “Star Wars” has definitely impacted me personally on many levels. Having done the music for all eight films in the main series, his DNA is all over this franchise. There are various themes across all eight movies, but the music from the original trilogy of films from 1977-1983 had the most effect on my feelings. I still get chills when I hear certain movements, especially “Yoda’s Theme,” which first appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back,” and has appeared on other occasions throughout the years, even in other Star Wars properties like the animated television series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” This particular musical arrangement has loud, drawn out notes from the lower strings, with the higher strings providing soft, light balance in the background. It creates a sense of wonder and captivation in the listener.

    – Thomas Manning

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The emotional appeal of music (and especially John Williams) is pretty amazing, and yes, in Star Wars there is plenty of that.

    I think the fact that William’s didn’t follow his original path is a great example to all of us – sometimes the path we think we want to take becomes a pitstop (or though-point) along our journey to our greater calling. I believe it shows we should always be open to the different places to use our talents. Think about it, if Williams had pursued his original path as concert pianist … Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones and others would not have the same memorable connections (musically) to us.

    Silence, ambient sound and peanut butter … and excellent combination 🙂

    Great musical theory observations of the use of music and exploring “Yoda’s” themes throughout various Star Wars properties. Nice work – NTMII

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  5. Tanner Hoyle Response

    2. What intrigued you the most about Williams’ life?

    I thought that it was interesting how a man so accomplished in composing did not originally start out as a composer. He wanted to be a concert pianist, but ended up composing instead. I think his training and skill in being such a food pianist however has helped him in his success as a composer.

    4. Provide thoughts about Williams’ exploration into “the power of music.”

    As someone who places a lot of importance on music in film, I agree completely with Williams on how important of a role music plays in film and in connecting people together. He spoke a lot about music connecting the conductor, the audience, the orchestra, the composer, and the film itself all in one big link. This makes a lot of sense because when you take away a part of it, the connection is gone.

    5. As we’ve explored the importance of music, sound and silence this semester in film, how does getting to know more about John Williams and his approach help you appreciate the audio journey of film more?

    After studying the materials, it’s clear that Williams takes the entire process of music in film very seriously and really pours his soul into his work. He understands that connection that we all have to music and how it speaks to all of us. When we start to understand how important those small clips of music are and how a few horns can make a shark scene extra suspenseful or how 5 notes can bring an alien encounter film to life, we will appreciate the entire process more.

    6. Williams has been involved in some amazing blockbuster films throughout his life, as you’ve explored his life through the bio, clips & interviews – which of his films have had the biggest impact on you? Why? And how did his music add to that impact or appreciation?

    Growing up, I was always a huge fan of the Harry Potter books. When I began watching the movies I was amazed at how much I enjoyed them just as much as the books and how incredible it was that they were able to transfer that world from pages to a screen, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized the music of Harry Potter played a bigger role than anything in my love for the films. From the first time I heard that opening theme, I fell in love with the score for the films. I loved the way they altered the sounds of certain themes to fit the mood of the film and it has always been my favorite John Williams film scores.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Music as a “connection” point really can be heard with Williams’ work. The power and impact on music (and instrument choices) can change our emotions (and even manipulate them). Thanks Tanner

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  6. 2. What intrigued you the most about Williams’ life?

    I am intrigued by the fact that Williams is attached to so many projects that are forever engrained in the minds of society. From composing music for “Jaws” and “Star Wars” to creating themes for Olympic Games to conducting orchestras for major events, Williams has had an effect on almost everyone’s life, whether they realize it or not.

    3. What did you find most interesting about Williams’ approach to scoring film?

    In his interview with Tavis Smiley, Williams talks about his “intuitive” approach to scoring film. I think that similar to how Peter Jackson has natural talents for directing, Williams has innate abilities in composing music. Over the span of his lifetime, from going to school at Juilliard to working as a movie studio musician to actually scoring films, Williams has found a way to hone and improve these skills, paving the way to his incredible career success.

    4. Provide thoughts about Williams’ exploration into “the power of music.”

    I appreciate how Williams spoke about the power of music to unite us across boundaries. Through encountering different cultures, I have experienced this phenomenon. For instance, I studied abroad in Costa Rica for a month. Regardless of difficulties with a language barrier, I could always share in the joy and humming and dancing that music brought along with it.

    6. Williams has been involved in some amazing blockbuster films throughout his life, as you’ve explored his life through the bio, clips & interviews – which of his films have had the biggest impact on you? Why? And how did his music add to that impact or appreciation?

    I would have to say that Star Wars has had the biggest impact on me. I’ve known the franchise’s music for as long as I can remember. It’s actually one of the few movie themes that I have memorized. Even though Star Wars isn’t my favorite all-time film, I actually remember its music better than some of my favorite films. Williams’ music has this truly unique ability to with you, which isn’t something that all film composers are able to achieve.

    -Kathryn Manning

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The last sentence in the answer #6 should read, “truly unique ability to stick with you”

      Sorry, I couldn’t figure out how to edit my response.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think for people who don’t know the name of John Williams, have certainly at least heard elements of his work somewhere.

        Very interesting comparison to “approach” using Peter Jackson .

        Music can become a “universal” language. Thanks for connecting it to your study abroad in Costa Rica.

        Its pretty amazing when a musical theme can connect beyond the movie … Williams is a genius at that.

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  7. 1. It seems that Williams makes an effort to understand the motivations and actions of characters and plot in order to make the music to accompany them. This is a neat and inspiring process that seems to ensure care taken in his work and an intimate knowledge of the piece he is working with and shaping.
    2. I was rather impressed that Wiliams had gotten some early experience providing piano work for films like To Kill a Mockingbird. This is another classic favorite for me, and makes me want to rewatch the film to observe the score and see if any part of it may have influenced Williams or the other way around.
    5. Understanding the way that Williams gets a feel for characters and the plot of films in order to score them emphasizes the importance of where song, sound effect or silence is placed in film helps tell the intended story. Before this semester, I can’t say that I had paid a great deal of attention to film soundtracks other than the catchy songs that could be heard in atmospheric musicals, etc. But, the work of Williams and others makes me want to explore this further.
    6. Like several others, I would have to say that the greatest impact Williams’ work has had on me is from the Star Wars franchise. While I was too young to remember my first viewings of the original films, my family watched all the preceding ones together in anticipation of the release of Episode III during the summer of 2005. Upon returning to the theatre to view Epsiode VII, just hearing the music brings back the memory of the wonder of experiencing and appreciating the story for the first time. The strong opening theme is practically synonymous with the films, and brings good feelings overall.

    -Chelsea Sydnor

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  8. I; too have always loved it when characters and music collide and become connected to each other. Williams has dome that on so many, many occasions. Darth Vader, Indiana Jones & Jaws just to name a few that come to mind. Thanks Chelsea.

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