Make new memories with John Williams

In its season-opening concert, the Fresno Philharmonic offers a lineup of movie music written by the “Star Wars” composer

Diana Portugal used to work for a guy with at least two distinctive qualities: He was a huge “Star Wars” fan. And he had a sense of humor.

Which is why, to this day, the Darth Vader theme in John Williams’ classic music for “Star Wars” strikes such a memory for Portugal.

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Photo / Fresno Philharmonic

“I love it because at work our boss would come in and my co-workers would hum the tune,” she says. “He felt complimented by the group. We did have fun at work.”

Countless fans have had fun at many of the movies for which Williams wrote the music. Besides “Star Wars,” the composer is responsible for the eminently hummable scores for the first three “Harry Potter” films, “Superman: The Movie,” “JFK,” “E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jurassic Park,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and many others.

The Fresno Philharmonic opens its 2017-18 season with a pops concert devoted to movie scores by Williams. For a ticket giveaway, The Munro Review asked readers to share the themes most memorable to them.

Roque Rodriquez, random winner of two tickets to Saturday’s concert at the Saroyan Theatre, votes for the Indiana Jones theme in “Raiders.”

“Still to this day, it makes me want to stop what I’m doing and seek out adventure,” he says. “Also: punch Nazis.”

The theme from “Jaws” is another favorite.

Stuart Chafetz, conductor 1
John Williams fan: Guest conductor Stuart Chafetz.

For Stuart Chafetz, a former resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra who will be guest conductor at the Fresno concert, it’s hard to narrow down the most memorable Williams score. But those two notes from “Jaws”? You can’t beat ‘em.

“I remember being terrified as a kid when I saw it at the movies,” he says.

That terror translated into everyday kid activities, says Scott Hancock, another “Jaws” fan. “We used to scare each other to death in the pool growing up by humming it whenever someone would jump in,” he says.

Eve Suzanne Fiorello shares this “Jaws” memory:

I was 17 years old and just getting ready to leave home and move out of state,I lived in NYC at the time and everyone wanted to see jaws.I was already scared of sharks as we went to the beach many times growing up and we did see sharks. We were waiting in a long line at the theater to get in and there was a speaker outside the theater and it was playing this very ominous music over and over. When the movie opened that music was playing and I was scared out of my wits. To date, this music always evokes a memory of my friends and I watching this movie and the last time I saw any of them.

Williams’ music from “Harry Potter” (he wrote the themes for the first three films) is another fan favorite.

“The ‘Harry Potter’ theme music evokes memories of eagerly awaiting the next film release and going to the theater with friends,” says Kym Spain. “Now that my children are fans of ‘Harry Potter,’ I love watching another generation experience the magic for the first time. The music is a crucial aspect of the movies. It creates a mood of tremendous mystery and adventure.”

‘It makes me want to stop what I’m doing and seek out adventure. Also: punch Nazis.’ — Roque Rodriguez

For James F. Smith, “Hedwig’s Theme” from Williams “Harry Potter” is never far away. It’s his ringtone.

“Every phone call I receive reminds me of the overwhelming excitement I would experience when a new ‘Potter’ film would come out,” he says.

Some Williams themes are lesser known than others. Chafetz, the conductor, says that of all the Williams songs on the Saturday program, the march from the movie “1941” is probably the most obscure. “It shows John Williams’ ability to capture the style of his main character (in this case John Belushi) through music,” he says.

A couple of other themes mentioned by readers:

“A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Says Chris Carreon: “It reminds me of my mother when I’m away from her. Makes me tear up every time.”

“Hook.” Says Laura Dodds: “I remember seeing this movie in the theater on New Year’s Eve when I was a kid. I still watch it every New Year’s. It reminds me of home and fills me with warmth.”

“Memoirs of a Geisha.” Says Christina Motta: “I saw it again yesterday with solos of Yo Yo Ma. Very good sounds!”

And then there’s the granddaddy of them all.

“Star Wars” is hands down one of the most emotionally evocative scores John Williams ever composed, in the opinion of Stephen Torres.

“I remember being a child in the late ’80s and loving the score for ‘Star Wars’ before I even understood the story or the cultural significance of those movies,” he says. “Even today I’ll listen to the soundtrack in my car, listening to the Death Star battle them as I’m weaving through traffic or the Imperial March as I’m working out. The score for ‘Star Wars’ has stuck with me for my entire life, and will probably continue to underscore many countless moments in my life for years to come.”

Still, Williams is such a prolific and accomplished composer that it was a real challenge for Chafetz to narrow down the program. That’s probably the greatest testament to a musical mastermind.

“There are so many great scores to choose from,” Chafetz says. “Honestly, I could do two more shows and not repeat a single tune.”


Show info

Fresno Philharmonic presents “The Music of John Williams,” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St., Fresno. $25-$79.

Author: Donald Munro

Covering the arts in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

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