Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Somewhere Out There

Quick! Name your favorite film composer!! Don’t think, just react. Who?!”

Well, if you know me at all, you know that my instant answer is That Guy From The Star Wars Films.

I first banged into Mr. Williams’ score for the first Star Wars film pretty much when everyone else did. “Everyone else”, for the record, includes the Hollywood filmmaker types, who forcibly re-learned that American music history is littered with fine pieces of symphonic music created specifically for film. Williams (and his co-conspirators, some otherwise unlikely fellows named Lucas and Spielberg) kicked that door back open, after some years of the movie orchestral music tradition having lain fallow.

And a number of new composers barreled through that door.


Sad news yesterday, that began in an odd way. First came reports that a small airplane that was registered to motion picture composer James Horner had crashed. There was a short period of dogged resistance to declare that he had actually been in the thing (somewhere between responsible journalism and not wanting Horner to have been in it, perhaps). Finally, Horner’s publicist confirmed that he had been in the crash.

Since the online world allows for such things, tributes have been popping up madly. I would like to join the rush.


Horner Thought #1: with respect to the justly-famous Jerry Goldsmith, I have felt that Horner’s Star Trek theme was the best of the movie-franchise music. If Star Trek was originally thought of as Horatio Hornblower in space, then Horner’s unabashedly naval score launched the USS Enterprise out of drydock in high style in “The Wrath of Khan”, and made some of us forget that we were watching stock footage cannibalized from the first movie.

That’s where I first became aware of James Horner – because it was probably where the very most people became aware of him. It was arguably his first work for a “major” motion picture. He was not quite 30 years old when he wrote the Trek II score.


Horner Thought #2: According to sources cited by Horner’s Wikipedia entry, he “has been criticized for writing film scores that incorporate passages from his earlier compositions and that feature brief excerpts or reworked themes from other classical composers, [including Sergei Prokofiev, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner and Carl Orff] [although honestly, what composer in the last two decades hasn’t gone all “Carmina Burana” at least once?]. The movie-soundtrack review website Filmtracks said that Horner was “skilled in the adaptation of existing music into films with just enough variation to avoid legal troubles.” (And yes, the eight-note Trek II title theme is unquestionably hiding somewhere in Mr. Prokofiev’s catalog.)

I’m not here to tell you this is not so. There is a particular passage that I first heard at the end of the Trek II main title, a rhythmically-active sequence of rising harmonies that is very exciting and very effective and very Horner … and very prone to reappearing often in the remainder of Horner’s scores (all the way to his work just a couple of years ago in “The Amazing Spider-Man”) … such that when I hear them, it does take me out of the cinematic moment. But John Williams also has taken flak for sounding a lot like Wagner, Gustav Holst, and Erich Korngold. I’m not advocating for plagiarism; but at what point is it poaching, and at what point is it merely homage or influence?  And at what point does it become in the style of Horner?


Horner Thought #3: I would suggest that an undeniable truth about James Horner is that he was successful as a film composer because he knew what to do musically that supported – and sometimes greatly enhanced – films’ visual moments.

From the destruction of a flying American entertainment icon to the creation of a set of spacegoing American heroes to the launch of a flying comic-book jetpack-wearing hero, he was particularly good at getting movie audiences airborne.

Even amidst the bloated budgets and overwhelming visual effects of the two highest-grossing movies ever released, Horner managed to find ways to allow audiences’ imaginations to be carried away … by using musical conventions that those audiences were all too familiar with. And made those conventions work.

He even made grown men weep, contributing to a scene that, minus music, might have been somewhere between cheesey and truly odd.


But, although Horner was often tasked with adding musical accompaniment to bombastic, grandiose and fanciful images, he did manage less sweeping but equally memorable movie moments. From a movie that is best remembered for this tear-jerking little number, featuring a six-year-old boy voicing an animated mouse …

this little item might be my favorite of all.

June 23, 2015 Posted by | entertainment, movies, music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Year Later

Readers of this space … or UMass band members, alumni, parents and fans … or people who fit into any of a great number of other categories … know quite well what happened on September 16 of last year.

If you should need a refresher course, it’s okay … visit these blog posts, websites, online articles and YouTube videos, and recall the fall of 2010, and I’ll meet you back here in a moment.

“You CAN learn from any situation. Successful people DO.” –George N. Parks

The best things I’ve learned in the time since Mr. Parks’ passing have come from the insights of other people. … As often as I blather on, in this space… I swear the best applications of the English language regarding last fall’s events ALL came toward me, not from me. Here, I’ll quote some thoughts that were sent to me in what were understood to be private eMails or Facebook posts or conversations … but I won’t identifying who wrote what; and I do hope that the purveyors of these thoughts won’t slap me for publishing their fine work.

It’s a weird day for me, because I didn’t really know Mr. Parks, or formally meet him, but he’s a part of ‘home’.”

Today I taught the freshmen ‘Eyes with Pride’. I hope someday they can really understand it.”

Even knowing nothing about him until the other day, the way that all of you have responded through Facebook alone is a remarkable tribute to him and to the deep effect he had on so many people’s lives… he was clearly an amazing man and I’m sorry I didn’t know him.”

I never even met him, but even I knew how great he was just because of knowing his students and having seen the marching band in action.”

Everything we did, and everything we continue to do, will be to make Mr. Parks and our alum proud. … We didn’t make it through this weekend, he taught us so well, we knew no other way!”

…by chance my mother’s cousin has season tickets at UMichigan and was at the game. He and his wife said they had never ever heard the stadium as quiet as it was for a moment of silence for GNP…”

Definitely ready to cash in all the virtual hugs we’ve all been sending back and forth with real ones.”

Good to be with my second family.”

I would travel to any end of the earth for George. To see the lives he impacted gather to celebrate … speaks volumes. That was exactly where we all needed to be.”

It will be so good to be surrounded by so many great people this weekend. It’s interesting – it’s been so long since I last marched with everyone but they all still mean so much to me.”

What a legacy to leave behind when you depart this world — to leave legions of people committed to spreading love (can’t think of a better way to say it) on the planet.”

GNP was infectious and there is no cure.”

George did make UMASS and all the special band places safe for all of us to be ourselves….. Our best selves!”

Amongst maces flying how many stories into the air? Drill moves that had to be done exactly right or ruin a brass player’s career? Battery percussion learning to ‘spin out’ to avoid pile-up collisions when things went bad crabbing at a tempo of 160? A team of drum majors holding a challenging piece of music together with the band spread all over the field? Yes, even amongst all that and much more, we were indeed, safe.”

[Homecoming 2010] A rollercoaster of emotions and you’re strapped into the front car!”

Amazing how the UMass band just spans generations yet, I bet most of us could name most of those people on your list [of band alumni at Homecoming].”

Thank you so much for sending me the links to the videos for GNP’s celebration of life. I am amazed by the beauty of the ceremony and the magnitude of sound from the band. What a fitting tribute to such a tremendous person!”

I remember saying out loud ‘I don’t think I can’ when My Way started but then, and twice later, I felt something come over me and lift me up so I could sing loud and clear all 3 times…”

How awesome is it that ‘Silly’ band tunes like Gloria, Phil, or Madonna hit that spot in the heart that makes want to be 20 again and tear the roof off a stadium with the Best Band Anywhere!?!?!”

I’m just having a hard time with the reality of all of this.”

We’re blessed to have been brought together by such an incredible personality. And we’d be remiss to ever let those things that he taught us go to the wayside.”

I was thinking the other day about 6 degrees of separation – and the number of people George touched and in some small way we got to enjoy the experience with many of them. Now it’s time to BE Santa.”

And finally, see if this doesn’t sum it all up, make you smile, and choke you up in one fell swoop … this, from the UMMB alumni newsgroup:

I will be eternally grateful for the welcome I received on August 31, 1989, on the first day of band camp when Mr. Parks had the entire band sing Happy Birthday to a 18 year old teen from south central Los Angeles who never thought she deserved to make it that far. … Mr. Parks you are my hero and I will always remember to ‘think the note…..’ Everything I ever learned about music that mattered I learned from my two years as a member of the band. I do not know if I ever thought I deserved to accomplish what I have in life but for one beautiful humid summer day in August on the rehearsal field so long ago I KNEW I had become a part of something that truly mattered. I pray that the Angels in heaven have given you the welcome you gave me so long ago.”

What it comes down to, I think, is this: Mr. Parks created a community, a massive family, and taught them in such a way that they’re strong enough to make it through a year like this, for the very most part, with Power and Class … With Pride … and with each other.  And I think it’s revealed the UMMB family as a group of people who are capable of expressing themselves with insight, dignity and, many times, beauty.

Starred Thought®: A band is a reflection of its leader.

September 16, 2011 Posted by | band, Facebook, GNP, marching band, Starred Thoughts, UMMB, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments