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 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
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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”