Singing With the Composer of Star Wars

A performance with John Williams and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Singing With the Composer of Star Wars
The Boston Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John Williams in an annual tribute event. Image via The Washington Post.

By Gabriel Frommer

Staff Writer. Class of 2024

My choral director looked at me and the rest of the high school singers. “This will be a day you will never forget. I would put this in your top five days ever.” Some singers were nervous, others emotional. I was excited for this much anticipated night. 

Each year, composer John Williams conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in playing his own music at Tanglewood, a music venue in Lenox, Massachusetts. If you are unfamiliar with John Williams, think of every famous movie franchise and he is probably the mastermind behind the film’s music. Some of his notable compositions include the music for Star Wars, Harry Potter, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, E.T., Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Amistad. At 91 years of age, John Williams has become one of the most famous American composers, as well as an icon of the cinema world. In the eyes of many classical music enthusiasts, John Williams is recognized as one of the top three best living composers — and I rank him as number one.

John Williams, standing in front of the orchestra, looks back out at the crowd.
John Williams is one of the most famous American composers, as well an an icon of the cinema world. Image via The Washington Post.

I was fortunate enough to meet John Williams on four different occasions with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Vocal Program (BUTI YAVP) Chorus for rehearsals. For me, it was wonderful to sing the composer’s works in front of him while he conducted us in the way he wanted his piece to sound. I could see the spark in his eyes as he waved his arms and smiled at our choir. He certainly did not seem like he was a 91 year old man. His youthful qualities and beaming personality were unforgettable. 

During the long-awaited night of the concert, the town of Lenox had bumper-to-bumper traffic. All of the restaurants in Lenox were much busier than usual the days surrounding Film Night, and some people even turned around and left because of the extreme amount of traffic.

While I marched onto stage, following my fellow singers, I did not feel any nerves. I felt pure adrenaline and excitement. I turned my head to face forward, towards the maestro and the sea of people behind him. The inside of the “shed,” as the performance space is known, seats 5,000 people — and it was filled to capacity. And there were at least four times that amount of people out on the lawn. Once “Duel of the Fates” (from Star Wars) played, I saw several red lightsabers light up into the far, far distance and wave. It was a very powerful feeling to be singing on stage with a professional orchestra, being conducted by the famous John Williams in his own music.

A crowd on blankets and folding chairs assembles on the lawn of Tanglewood.
A large crowd turned out to Tanglewood for John Williams' Film Night. Image via The Washington Post.

First, we sang “Call of the Champions,” the official theme of the 2002 Winter Olympics . This was magical, as the choir was fully together on the harmonizing “ahhhs” of the song and the loud “CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS, CLARIUS,” for which John Williams looked at us and threw his hands in the air on each powerful blow. The big screens around the shed displayed an epic montage of Olympic athletes in their sports. The audience roared in the loudest applause and cheering I have ever heard. 

Next, we sang “Dry Your Tears, Afrika,” which comes from the movie Amistad. The piece is in the language Mende, the language of many people in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. The percussion was right on point and the piece was very clean and empowering to sing. The cameras zoomed in on the performers, including myself, projecting us onto the big screens.

The most powerful and amazing piece to sing was “Duel of the Fates.” The orchestra was tremendous and very loud (especially all of the horns in front of me and the percussion next to me) . The screen played a montage of Star Wars moments  and we sang in Sanskrit. “Korah, Mah Tah, Korah, Rah Tah Mah.” I could feel the powerful energy in the room as the music transformed the environment into the feeling of an intense battle. 

There was one part where the orchestra stopped playing for a second, leaving the choir fully exposed. I could feel our hard work paying off at this one moment. We were all united and sang the harmonious, dark line perfectly. For that moment, I was transferred into the Star Wars world and I really felt the music. I looked up at John Williams, who seemed like a wizard, waving his baton and hands in the air for the next line of music. 

Suddenly, the percussion rolled in and the sound continued to fill the space. After the music halted, with an intense ending and percussion, there was a laugh from the Emperor on the big screen. Then, the red lightsabers made fast waves in the distance and I heard the noise that 22,000 people could make.

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