News / Arts & Entertainment

Writer of America's Soundtrack Turns 80

(From left) Jessye Norman, John Williams, Steven Spielberg, Yo-Yo Ma, Keith Lockhart and James Taylor celebrate the composer's 80th birthday onstage at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in western Massachusetts. (Hilary Scott)
(From left) Jessye Norman, John Williams, Steven Spielberg, Yo-Yo Ma, Keith Lockhart and James Taylor celebrate the composer's 80th birthday onstage at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in western Massachusetts. (Hilary Scott)
LENOX, Massachusetts — For over 50 years, John Williams' music has taken us to galaxies far, far away with the "Star Wars" theme, or on rollicking adventures around the world with the Indiana Jones movies.          
 
His scores make us feel giddy with joy and occasionally scare us to death as with the music from "Jaws," which foreshadowed the impending appearance of the giant man-eating shark.

Starting out
          
Williams might be the most recognized contemporary composer in the world but writing music wasn’t his focus when he was young.
 
"My primary focus was always on piano performance," he says. "I had no idea that I’d ever compose music." 
John Williams, Composer of Soundtrack of America, Turns 80
John Williams, Composer of Soundtrack of America, Turns 80i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

 
Williams grew up in a musical household with a father who was a professional jazz percussionist. Williams himself was such a serious pianist that he studied with a famed teacher at the Juilliard School after a stint in the Air Force Band.
 
"I did hear players like John Browning and Van Cliburn around the place," he remembers, "and I thought to myself, 'If that’s the competition, I think I better be a composer.'”

Changing course
 
Williams moved to Los Angeles, where he played piano on movie and television soundtracks.

He picked up jobs arranging music and then composing it. For seven years, Williams worked at Universal Studios, writing TV scores.
 
"We had twelve shows a week at Universal that had to be recorded, which meant there were 12 three-hour sessions with orchestra of some kind on the stage every week, three sessions a day, usually," he says. "So, I filled one or two of those as a composer and conducted my own work, also."

America's soundtrack
 
Williams wrote his first film score in 1960 and hasn’t looked back. Whether he’s writing for Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or Oliver Stone, Williams' process remains the same: he writes music the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper, and doesn’t begin composing until he’s seen a rough cut of the film.
John Williams wrote the ominous music from "Jaws," which foreshadowed the impending appearance of the killer shark. (Universal Pictures)John Williams wrote the ominous music from "Jaws," which foreshadowed the impending appearance of the killer shark. (Universal Pictures)
x
John Williams wrote the ominous music from "Jaws," which foreshadowed the impending appearance of the killer shark. (Universal Pictures)
John Williams wrote the ominous music from "Jaws," which foreshadowed the impending appearance of the killer shark. (Universal Pictures)

"I, over the years, have always felt more comfortable if I could go into a projection room and look at a film and not really know what to expect," he says. "And If I have the luxury of going into the dark projection room and being surprised when the audience is surprised and being bored when they’re bored,  I think that gives me a sense of what my job is, where I can press the accelerate button if I need to, or support an emotion or don’t."
 
Lukas Kendall, founder and editor of Film Score Monthly, says there's an inevitability to Williams' themes. "They sound like they fell out of his sleeves, they sound like they’ve always existed."

According to Williams, it takes two-to-three months, on average, to compose a film score, going back and forth from his studio to his screening room to make sure everything matches up properly.

Making his mark

In mid-August, the Boston Pops celebrated John Williams’ 80th birthday with a gala concert at Tanglewood.  

In a video tribute, President Barack Obama said, "It's hard to imagine "ET" taking flight, Indiana Jones taking on the bad guys, or Darth Vader taking over the galaxy without your booming scores. Few artists have left such an enduring and extraordinary imprint on our culture as you have, and on behalf of all Americans, I want to thank you for sharing your incredible talent with us for all these years."

At age 80, Williams shows no signs of retiring. He's laureate director of the Boston Pops, is composing new classical works and recently worked on the Steven Spielberg film, "Lincoln," which comes out in November.
 
"I’m happy to be busy," he says. "I’m happy to have a wonderful family and I think, especially for practicing musicians, age is not so much of a concern, because a lifetime is just simply not long enough for the study of music anyway; you’re never anywhere near finished."

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.