It was pouring rain, and we had lawn seats. I had neglected to bring a poncho, an umbrella, or even a towel, so my friend and I sat in the car for a moment before heading into the deluge. The box office was a quarter mile away. “Ready?” she asked. “Let’s do it, “ I said, and opened the door into the rain.
Ten minutes later, we arrived dripping at the ticket window, soaked through, rain running in rivulets down our hair and into our eyes, shirts hanging heavy with water. “We’d like to upgrade to covered seats, please,” we said, stating the obvious. Laughing, we took our new tickets and bought wine in plastic cups. We huddled under an awning with several equally wet strangers, gulping our wine and striking up conversation about why we were there: Star Trek and music.
The National Symphony Orchestra was performing the score to Star Trek: Into Darkness live at Wolf Trap while the movie ran–the perfect event for Trekkies and lovers of symphonic music ahead of the release of Star Trek: Beyond.
We got to our seats (beginning to dry off and getting a bit cold as the sun set). While we waited for the show to start, a preview ran of the upcoming documentary For the Love of Spock. I watched the audience file in and ruminated on the power of fanhood to bring people together. As the orchestra warmed up, I turned my thoughts to the power of the score.
Unlike other movie franchises–Star Wars, of course, comes to mind–Star Trek has not had a consistent musical tenor, in large part because the composition of its scores has been passed from composer to composer, each looking to put their own touch on the music. Most have used Alexander Courage’s theme from the original series for inspiration for at least one piece (generally the overture), but apart from that, they have scored largely original music. Michael Giacchino is the biggest contributor to Star Trek movie music since Jerry Goldsmith (composer for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and several others back in the ’80s and ’90s), and has brought consistency to the reboot of this favorite in Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Star Trek: Beyond. He used Courage’s theme for the credit music, but outside of that wrote original themes. His score is in keeping with the frontier/space western style that many previous Star Trek composers have used (heavy on horns, with orchestral support), but brings a new and memorable theme that is carried from Star Trek to the latest film.
Giacchino’s career is not long, but he is the composer of such memorable and affecting scores as those for Ratatouille, Up (yes, the music for the first ten minutes that leaves you a bawling wreck when the movie has barely begun), and Jurassic World, among others. His is a star on the rise, and though Star Trek is perhaps the most visible and impressive of his projects so far, I doubt it will be his greatest.
Before the movie began, Michael Giacchino himself addressed the audience, explaining the pressure he felt as a composer, faced with writing music for something he had been a fan of since childhood. As the movie began, my friend and I grinned at each other. We, along with the rest of the fans there, listened with excitement to the overture, and applauded as the music faded and the action began. Giacchino did just fine.
At intervals during the movie, I glanced down at the orchestra to remind myself that this was live, and marvel at the precision required by the conductor to keep the music in sync with the film (he had a screen of his own and a pulse to keep him on tempo but even so…). The novelty of this was fun, though of course, my dad later pointed out that this was less novelty than a return to our roots, when musicians played along to silent film.
In fact, the show hearkened back to even earlier traditions, when audiences would cheer heroic feats from favorite characters or jeer at the villain. As one, we applauded Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and booed Khan (it’s possible we’re just good at following instructions, because we were told to do this by the conductor). Regardless, it was the most energetic and interactive symphony performance I have attended, and as we left the amphitheater following the show, I felt as though I were exiting a stadium after a really great game.
As we walked, we (along with everyone around us) talked about the impact of a film’s score, and reflected on how this sort of concert drew a crowd including many people who might not otherwise go out to a symphony, or get that involved in cheering during Star Trek. My friend wondered if this bothered the musicians, considering they work hard on “more serious” music, too. I didn’t think so, somehow. My limited experience with performing for an audience has taught me that who is there doesn’t matter much, but the amount of fun they have directly affects how well we perform and whether we have fun, too. I can’t imagine the musicians felt anything other than exhilarated when the show was through (okay, perhaps a little tired, too).
That’s the real magic of fanhood. It creates a community of people who care about every aspect of one specific thing, and who find great joy in coming together to share their excitement in it. For the fans at that concert, the film score was yet another thing to be excited about. For fans of movie music, generally, like me, it was thrilling to be reminded of all that goes into a great scene, beyond words on a page, or camerawork, or acting. The music makes the movie cohesive, and amplifies the reaction of the audience–the music tells us what we’re supposed to feel, and helps us remember that feeling when we hear it again later. When I hear this score in future, I’ll immediately think Star Trek–and also recall a very damp, fun as hell night.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures