[James Horner, composer of countless iconic movie scores, died in a plane crash yesterday. I wrote a reflection piece about his body of work and the way his music has touched me on a personal level.]
I first discovered the name ‘James Horner’ in 1993. I was small and just starting to read, but his name scrolled across the screen during a viewing of The Land Before Time, a favorite film at that time. I couldn’t help but take notice, as I was receiving a film education early, from a father who loved to dissect the working pieces in order showcase and share the many components that made a movie such a mystifying, magical, and surreal art form. One of the elements he zeroed in on was the power of music. He’d blare it from the speakers when my mother went out some nights. My father would play movies in the other room when he made dinner, just so he could hear the sounds…
…because the film’s visuals were already firmly implanted in his mind, and by listening to the music, he could relive the story again.
The Land Before Time became one of the first film score obsessions I’d carry with me. I’d watch the movie constantly, sometimes putting it on in the background while I played with toys. The music hit all the right notes — adventure, terror, courage, curiosity, birth, death, and the breath of wonder of a world around us that was magical and new. In moments of doubt, when the burden of my parents’ divorce weighed heavily on my mind, The Land Before Time was a score that even promised hope, that asked me to endure and climb over the mountain to see what was on the other side. There was a whole world out there, and though the one I was familiar with was crumbling, a new landscape was on the horizon. Always.
James Horner would once again capture my fascination a couple of years later, when I was introduced to Aliens. I spent a few weeks that summer saving up paper route and allowance money, so I could beg my mother to drive me to Rolling Stone Records down Irving Park Rd. in order to pick up the “deluxe edition” of the Aliens soundtrack I was enamored with. I remember lying on the bed with track eleven blaring from a boombox, looping on endless repeat. With my eyes closed, I could see every pulse-pounding minute. As the military drums reached a crescendo, I’d let the music carry me away, inserting my own imagination into memories of the movie. I’d re-watch films hundreds of times this way.
The visuals of a movie create the canvas and feed us a story, but it’s music that breathes life into cinema. Sometimes it’s a subtle whisper in the background. In other moments it’s a tumultuous clash of thunder, ripping the soil and rock beneath us asunder. The music excites us. It swells us with emotion. It terrorizes us as the camera fumbles around in the darkness. Music is the cohesive glue that firmly solidifies a film in our memories. When we think of Superman, Batman, the time-traveling adventures of Doc and Marty, or the voyage of the Titanic, what do we always think of in tandem with these thoughts?
The film score resonates with us, baring its soul for us to hear.
One of my favorite scores of all time comes from one of James Horner’s earliest works. It’s a soundtrack I listen to on a weekly basis and have for many years now. It was the music I immediately played when I was given the title to my first car. It was, and is, that extra burst of motivation that keeps me going on stressful days. This morning, this soundtrack provided the perfect tune to weave together my thoughts at the news of James Horner’s passing.
I was stopped at a red light in the middle of a wooded area. Sunlight filtered through the overhanging leaves, and bounding through the bushes near my car was a white-tailed fawn. It was small, barely able to see above the bushes. The fawn darted across the intersection. As it crossed the street, heading beneath the cover of some trees, music from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan boomed from my stereo. It was the scene where Captain Kirk discovers his friend, Spock, dying from radiation poisoning. It’s a heartbreaking moment, amplified greatly by a downpour of raw emotion from the orchestra. The strings, alone, bring us to our knees, as much as they stop Kirk in his tracks.
The beauty of the moment was overwhelming, and I thought of how touching and amazing and it felt. Witnessing a fawn like that, so energetic and carefree, at a stoplight on a sunny morning was a gift. And having that music playing through my speakers, day in and day out, altering the outcome of any given day of the week, was a gift too. I thought of all the times I put The Wrath Of Khan on in the background, of all the times I shared my love of the soundtrack with friends. James Horner enhanced my experience of life. He created the gift of harmony and offered it to the human condition over and over again.
I will always remember him, and I will always carry his gift with me, wherever I go.
Every one of us probably has a favorite theme or a favorite moment from one of James Horner’s works. I know mine; feel free to share yours.