Background Music Comes Forefront

Every year, the Dallas, Texas-area Metropolitan Wind Symphony fills the sonorous Morten H Meyerson Symphony Center with movie music. If you are a fan of genre films, including television, their annual film music concert takes on special significance--not just because some of the most memorable and enduring film scoring has been done for science fiction and fantasy cinema, but because the Metropolitan Winds, and their conductor, Randal Bass, enjoy a special relationship with the pre-eminent practitioner of the art, John Williams.

Full disclosure: I am a film music geek. I use the term affectionately--but specifically: 'geeks' are most readily identifiable by their devotion to even the most absolutely minute of details about their fixations, and while I am not exclusively a film music geek (this is, after all, a miniatures wargaming-centric blog, I've already written about GIJoe conventions, and getting me started on comic books is downright dangerous, as I am certain will become evident in time, just for starters)--I am *devotedly* a film music geek. Mess with the objects of my affection at your peril. I warn about this in advance because it is necessary to understand why there were parts of the Winds' concert that I enjoyed rapturously, and parts that inevitably disturbed me...and so that readers will know that *they* might well feel precisely the opposite about both things, depending on whether they, too, are subject to taking their film music overly seriously :)

John Williams is an illustrative place to start. For many people, John Williams is synonymous with film scoring. He has the Oscars, blockbuster motion pictures and endless string of memorable themes to prove it. For many--arguably, most--people interested in a film music concert, pulling more than half your programming from Maestro Williams' repertoire would be perfectly logical and satisfying.

Find a film music geek and you will be hard-pressed not to find John Williams' influence on that love in evidence--and I am absolutely such a specimen: much as the household I grew up in was filled with classical, sacred and orchestral music from the time of my first memories, everything crystallized for me in 1977, with the double-album release of John Williams' score for "Star Wars." I love his entire ouvre, from the most well-known Raiders and Imperial Marches to the least-heard choral Glorias. But find a film music geek--this one included--and you will also likely find other personal favorite composers whose work has, over time, come to speak as personally as Williams'--and it inevitably chafes to hear lesser compositions from the Williams canon given live performances when geniuses like Erich Wolfgang Korngold or Jerry Goldsmith rate only a single work each. So we get grumpy over programming--and that probably won't bother most concertgoers at all.

Conversely--if they are going to tackle John Williams, it is nice to see an organization like the Winds do significant compositions beyond just the staples. At this year's concert, the Winds climaxed the first act with a dizzying medley of his two "Lost in Space" television themes (bad as that show became, it was scored from beginning to end by masters, and listening to the complex, explosive main titles Williams composed in light of what music scoring for television has become makes one mourn for the state of the art); then in the concert's second half, delivered the terrific-but-almost-never-heard-because-it-is-so-darkly-named "March of the Slave Children" from the second Indiana Jones film, "Temple of Doom," and beautifully executed both the mournful, Americana-midwest-defining "Leaving Home" from Williams' 1978 masterpiece "Superman" and a really-nicely arranged suite of Krypton/Fortress of Solitude music from the same film. Film geeks know every bar of this music, and positively revel in hearing it given a rare live performance...but more voices around me than one, after the completion of the "Superman" selections, bemoaned the lack of its signature theme, instead.

For the Winds, one person's 'lesser composition' is another's rarely-performed gem. Catch-22 :).

End of the day, the Metropolitan Winds obviously enjoy a great relationship with the composer, something their listeners are the ultimate beneficiaries of. Much as I might have wanted more Goldsmith or Korngold (or Elfman or Bernstein or Barry or...), I cannot fault them their programming choice.

(though I do have this quibble with their selection sequence: heavily advertising the concert as geared toward such music, it would reward those most eager to hear it not to hold all of it until the second act: my youngest hums the Raiders March as the personal soundtrack to his life these days, and had grown frankly frustrated with the programming of unfamiliar music he had to sit through until nearly concert's end to properly enjoy "Raiders" when it was finally played...whereas he might well have found interest in the exposure to some of that music had it followed hard on a early performance of a selection or two he'd come wanting to hear...)

Highly regarded movie critic Gary Cogill hosted the concert, as he has done for some years, providing running commentary between selections. Here again I absent myself from fairly commenting on the value of such a thing, because I'm such a purist about it: I want music, not talking, and if there must be talking I want it ontopic rather than working toward comic effect and I want it dead-on accurate instead of close-enough...and I recognize that's an intensity of experience most people do not share. I have been lucky enough to deal with Mr. Cogill a time or two personally and have found him as cordial 'off-stage' as on, and his enthusiasm for the Winds' music never flagged. I could do without spoofing a composer's name for a cheap laugh (there is no 'von' in Korngold)...but in fairness, the fact that bothered me probably says far more negative about me than it does him, really :).

Ultimately, genuine geek or casual listener, what counts is the performance. The Metropolitan Winds is a 501C charitable organization, and an all-volunteer orchestra, which performs a calendar of a half-dozen or so concerts annually; that is a big reason ticket prices to their film music concerts are so family-friendly (admission this year was twenty dollars for adults, half that for children, an extraordinary value for an evening at a venue like the Meyerson). The only thing 'amateur' about their performances is the fact the participant musicians do not do it for pay. The Meyerson is such an acoustically-glorious facility that it would be difficult for any outfit not to sound its best there; and the Winds' reading of their various concert pieces was extraordinarily bright and rich, with a particularly deep and resonant colour in their lower brass (the bass trombones were most notably 'on' that evening, and the Winds' supporting percussion were exceptional, especially handling all the special effects in a Goldsmith 'Wind and the Lion' suite). There were sections which were stronger than others, of course, and the truth that film music can be complex and difficult occasionally tested musicians to their limits. One does not go to hear Goldsmith or, indeed, Williams and not expect to hear horns and tuba and oboe taxed...but the Winds performers in each of these areas answered the composers' considerable challenges. The sound was pleasing throughout, and powerful when asked by Conductor Bass. If it is criticism to say that the only real negative I left the concert with was a desire to have heard the symphony perform *more* music (see 'film music geek' above), I suspect that is a criticism the fine talents of the Metropolitan Winds can live with :).

The Metropolitan Wind Symphony's 2008-2009 concert calendar can be found at and their signature concert of movie music at the Meyerson is already scheduled for June 28, 2009. Those of us who live our lives with music in our heads, whether it be while pushing model armies across tables in our own theater-in-miniature, or simply because we don't know how else to pass the minutes of the day, are encouraged to be there for it.