John Williams at 90 

He’s the only living classical artist that the general public can know his face, sing a tune or two, and recognize his contribution to pop culture, cinema, and music.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Superman: The Movie. What do all of those movies have in common, besides John Williams? There’s flying, and a lot of it. Bikes, brooms, cars, spaceships, and a man.

Williams’ music is often described as “floaty” or “makes you feel like flying.” Just go ahead and listen to the Superman opening if you don’t believe me. By the end of that build-up, if you don’t want to run through the fields of Smallville to get back to Ma and Pa Kent’s farm, something may be wrong, and you should go consult your doctor.  

Source: The Hollywood Bowl

Film scores are meant to elicit emotion and/or boost the visuals of a scene. It’s there to contextualize a scene and bring it to its full potential. However, this is where John Williams sets himself apart from everyone else. He doesn’t make a film score; he just makes good music.

People regularly listen to his scores for fun. They mean something. My favorite Christmas song is “Somewhere in My Memory” from Home Alone. The second that starts playing, I think of the holidays, but what’s even more profound is when someone says “Christmas,” I think of Somewhere in My Memory.

As per usual, when something or someone gets remarkably popular, regardless of quality, there will be criticism. John Williams has come under fire quite a bit by many YouTubers finding his work to be too derivative or blatantly stealing from other classical artists like Strauss and Stravinsky. Critics have come after him for saying that his music all sounds the same. Classical musicians have even dismissed him a little for being too pulpy, and the quality is lessened because it is based on visuals. Some have valid points, but I also disagree. 

From everything I’ve heard, seen, and read about the man, he’s very quiet and humble. Additionally, every criticism of the man has been from a distance. In contrast, everyone who has worked with him has only spoken of his pure genius, modesty, and genuine love of his craft. He doesn’t seem like the type to steal something. As for what critics have said of it sounding all the same…yes. It’s written by the same man. Plus, if it all sounded the same, how come when I did a poll with a few friends, almost all of them could distinguish each main theme?

As for the classical musician bit, I understand. But, there has been an absurd amount of interest in classical music because of John Williams. There have been many musicians who practice just so they can get the chance to get near the London Symphony Orchestra or the Boston Pops merely because they have been graced by John Williams. I’ve even become engaged with a bit of classical music simply because that’s the place where John operates, and I am most definitely not the only one. Yo-yo Ma has worked with him on non-film pieces for a while and even inspired famed concert violinist Anne Sophie-Mutter to pursue music in the first place. He single-handedly brought a little life into a frankly rapidly dying genre of music and is cast aside by the artists he’s helping. 

Even if he’s helping just a little, he may be the only classical artist on the planet who can still consistently sell out an entire music hall, and he deserves the credit. He’s the only living classical artist that the general public can know his face, sing a tune or two, and recognize his contribution to pop culture, cinema, and music.

Source: Boston Magazine

Now, I could continue by regaling you with the tale of Spielberg hearing the Jaws score for the first time. I could talk about how both men have become lifelong friends with over 25 film collaborations over almost 50 years. I could then explain he’s conducted multiple Olympic themes, the NBC nightly news theme, played at Obama’s Inauguration, and additional music work for Lost in Space and Gilligan’s Island. I could maybe even go into his extensive film resume after 70 whole years of music. Maybe I’d even throw in that at 90, he’s still making film scores. No, maybe I should tell you about the awards he’s won; he’s been nominated for 52 Oscars, 6 Emmys, 25 Golden Globes, 72 Grammys, and 16 BAFTAs. Perhaps the multiple lifetime achievement awards, Hall of Fame inductions, and awarded doctorates? But I’m not going to do that.

I am going to tell you that his music means more than numbers, extremely impressive numbers they may be. He impacts the audience on an emotional, core level. At the end of the day, Williams never wrote any music for a screen or classical music; he wrote it for the viewer. He wrote it for dreamers and artists, and the human spirit. He wrote not for what music should fill the time the editor left him or boost the movie’s visuals. Instead, he wrote for what emotion the audience should feel. Whether or not I’m watching the binary sunset scene, I always feel the same longing for adventure and purpose Luke feels when only just listening, and that makes all the difference.

Thank you for making me think I could fly if I listened to the Superman theme enough. Thank you for making me believe that if I closed my eyes, put my hand out, and listened to the force theme, I could lift something. Thank you for making me believe Hagrid would take me to Hogwarts any day now. Thank you for tricking me and generations of people into thinking that if you become an archeologist, you will find dinosaur bones and hidden temples only to find that it’s just kinda dull. 6-year-old Willy Teare thanks you, and over a decade later, I thank you once again. Happy birthday Mr. Williams.