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I owe my career to John T. Williams!


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Hey guys and gals,

I've never posted here before, but I've been a big JW fan since I was in 6th grade and wanted to introduce myself. The first cassette tape of orchestral music I ever bought was Return of the Jedi with Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic. I completely fell in love with the sound of a symphony orchestra, and was especially knocked out by the bold timpani and percussion scoring. I was already playing percussion in the school band, but this gave me a huge boost of excitement and I resolved to make a career playing music like that in a symphony orchestra.

Anyway, two music degrees and 16 auditions later, my dream has come true and I was appointed Principal Timpanist of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra this past Monday. Then, I was thrilled to discover that our very first concert is a Pops concert featuring selections from Star Wars! I couldn't ask for a better start to my professional career.

Anyway, if anyone on this board is from the Chattanooga/Atlanta/Knoxville area, you may want to mark this one on your calender, 'cause it'll be right up your alley. The second half is entirely Star Wars, six selections including the Imperial March, Throne Room/End Title, and Duel of the Fates. The first half has some more Johnny T. in the form of E.T. Adventures on Earth and Flight to Neverland from Hook. Also of interest to film score fans: James Horner's Rocketeer and Apollo 13. The program is rounded out with the opening from Also Sprach Zarathustra (the famous 2001 theme, and an all time timpani moment to boot!) and Gustav Holst's Mars from the Planets, which isn't film music, but was a major inspiration for the Star Wars scores, and is just an all-around bad ass piece.

The Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra

October 18, 2008 at 8:00pm

Fantastic Journey!

Celebrating NASA's 50th Anniversary

Conductor: Carl Topilow

www.chattanoogasymphony.org

-Rob

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Hey guys and gals,

I've never posted here before, but I've been a big JW fan since I was in 6th grade and wanted to introduce myself. The first cassette tape of orchestral music I ever bought was Return of the Jedi with Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic. I completely fell in love with the sound of a symphony orchestra, and was especially knocked out by the bold timpani and percussion scoring. I was already playing percussion in the school band, but this gave me a huge boost of excitement and I resolved to make a career playing music like that in a symphony orchestra.

Anyway, two music degrees and 16 auditions later, my dream has come true and I was appointed Principal Timpanist of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra this past Monday. Then, I was thrilled to discover that our very first concert is a Pops concert featuring selections from Star Wars! I couldn't ask for a better start to my professional career.

Anyway, if anyone on this board is from the Chattanooga/Atlanta/Knoxville area, you may want to mark this one on your calender, 'cause it'll be right up your alley. The second half is entirely Star Wars, six selections including the Imperial March, Throne Room/End Title, and Duel of the Fates. The first half has some more Johnny T. in the form of E.T. Adventures on Earth and Flight to Neverland from Hook. Also of interest to film score fans: James Horner's Rocketeer and Apollo 13. The program is rounded out with the opening from Also Sprach Zarathustra (the famous 2001 theme, and an all time timpani moment to boot!) and Gustav Holst's Mars from the Planets, which isn't film music, but was a major inspiration for the Star Wars scores, and is just an all-around bad ass piece.

The Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra

October 18, 2008 at 8:00pm

Fantastic Journey!

Celebrating NASA's 50th Anniversary

Conductor: Carl Topilow

www.chattanoogasymphony.org

-Rob

Congrats with your new job and welcome at the board!

Can you describe what exactly is so attractive about the timpani parts to you as a timpanist, when you compare the parts with those by other composers?

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Congrats with your new job and welcome at the board!

Can you describe what exactly is so attractive about the timpani parts to you as a timpanist, when you compare the parts with those by other composers?

Well, first of all he uses the timpani quite independently and soloistically. Think of the numerous timpani solos in the Star Wars scores, in particular. And despite the fact that he writes very virtuosic parts for us, he can also show admirable restraint. Listen to "Duel of the Fates" (on my first program, incidentally) and observe how he holds the timpani in reserve till the last minute or so. The chorus sings acappella, punctuated with only a dramatic timpani roll. Would this have been nearly as effective if the timpani had already been playing non-stop for the last couple minutes? Also, without getting into technical specifics, his parts are very idiomatic for the instrument and he's the rare composer who realizes how effective soft timpani parts can be. Listen about 1:00 in to "Imperial Attack" from Episode 4 for a great example of that (and the wonderful playing of Kurt-Hans Goedicke). In the hands of lesser composers the timpani are often either neglected, slavishly following the brass, or used in an amelodic style more suited to tom-toms.

Of course, Williams' mastery of scoring for every instrument of the orchestra is nothing short of astonishing! The Star Wars scores were my very own "young person's guide to the orchestra", as there is practically no orchestral instrument you will encounter that does not have a prominent role somewhere in the classic trilogy. Actually, that sounds like an idea for a new topic: favorite passages from JW scores for different instruments. I immediately think of the Jabba the Hutt tuba solo, and the wonderful harp work in E.T. and Angela's Ashes.

-Rob

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Also, without getting into technical specifics, his parts are very idiomatic for the instrument and he's the rare composer who realizes how effective soft timpani parts can be.

I would love to here more technical specifics, if, of course, you have the time. I always love to learn more about an instrument from someone who really knows it.

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War of the Worlds also has some very interesting use of timpani, with a double part that creates a very compelling antiphonal effect.

Let's not forget that JW's father was a great percussionist/timpanist.

So that's why Williams' percussion always sounds so fluently 'musical'. It's always in the right place and it's always the right dose.

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And so is his brother Don. Who played those parts in WOTW, I think.

Exactly.

Very interesting! I knew about his father, but not his brother. A lot of his use of timpani is reminiscent of big band drumming; the timpanist frequently "sets up" the orchestra with a strong solo down beat figure (often with a couple grace notes), or plays something very much akin to fills.

- Rob

And so is his brother Don. Who played those parts in WOTW, I think.

Exactly.

Very interesting! I knew about his father, but not his brother. A lot of his use of timpani is reminiscent of big band drumming; the timpanist frequently "sets up" the orchestra with a strong solo down beat figure (often with a couple grace notes), or plays something very much akin to fills.

- Rob

I found a nice pic of Don in action:

http://www.scoringsessions.com/img/large/2...ne/dsc_6717.jpg

Check out all the drums! I count 7. A standard set is 4.

Spoke too soon. Here he is again with 9 drums!

http://www.scoringsessions.com/img/large/2...ty/dsc_0307.jpg

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Is the timpani difficult to play? I remember playing once, a few years ago. I played the "Underground Theme from "Super Mario Brothers" (is that a surprise, given my avatar?), but I have no recollection of my experience performing it. Pedals are used to control pitch, are they not?

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Very interesting! I knew about his father, but not his brother.

Actually, both JW's brothers (Don and Jerry) are percussionist and both regularly perform with L.A. studio musicians. Also, one of JW's sons (Mark) is a jazz drummer.

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Is the timpani difficult to play? I remember playing once, a few years ago. I played the "Underground Theme from "Super Mario Brothers" (is that a surprise, given my avatar?), but I have no recollection of my experience performing it. Pedals are used to control pitch, are they not?

Pedals are indeed used to adjust the pitch of the instrument, and they also come in different diameters, thus giving different ranges. I believe the piccolo timpani can reach up to a D4 (the D in the first space under the treble clef) and the largest timpani can reach a C2, the first C below the bass clef. I think that's how they are, anyway.

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Is the timpani difficult to play? I remember playing once, a few years ago. I played the "Underground Theme from "Super Mario Brothers" (is that a surprise, given my avatar?), but I have no recollection of my experience performing it. Pedals are used to control pitch, are they not?

Pedals are indeed used to adjust the pitch of the instrument, and they also come in different diameters, thus giving different ranges. I believe the piccolo timpani can reach up to a D4 (the D in the first space under the treble clef) and the largest timpani can reach a C2, the first C below the bass clef. I think that's how they are, anyway.

Pedals first came about around 1900. Richard Strauss was one of the first composers to write timpani parts that could not be performed without the aid of pedals. (In Till Eulenspiegel and Der Rosenkavalier, for instance.) Originally, you had to painstakingly turn 6 or 8 different handles to change the pitch, so the pitches usually changed only between movements. Then, someone had the clever idea to link all the handles via chain, allowing you to adjust the pitch of the drum much quicker, though still not as you play. Every once in while, I'll still come across a school that has timpani without pedals, where you have to adjust with a crank.

Timpani can theoretically reach C2 (I've even seen the B below that), but there is a substantial loss in tone quality in that register. They're really only effective in very soft dynamics. I've never seen John Williams write lower than Eb2, for instance. The Vienna Philharmonic has a special 34" drum they use for the low Db's in Mahler's 7th Symphony (the lowest timpani notes in the standard repertoire).

The timpani are usually considered one of the more difficult orchestral instruments to perform well, and even some otherwise excellent percussionists struggle with them. Consider that well into the 20th century, and the advent of more virtuosic parts for the other percussion, the timpanist was likely to be the only professional member of the percussion section, with the others frequently drafted from other sections, military bands, etc. Compare the They require a highly developed sense of pitch, as you must often change to pitches outside the current key of the orchestra. Also, being such large drums, they respond more to touch than any other percussion instrument, and it is possible to make a true legato or staccato attack, unlike with a snare drum for instance. The technique is quite challenging, as you have to cover the large distance between drums and stay rhythmically precise, and rolls, in particular, require years of practice to perfect. Also, although the drums may appear to be very large targets, there is a specific playing area of maybe 2x5" on each head in which the maximum resonance is achieved.

-Rob

Do I need a pedal if I have 12 timpanis?

Well, even if you had every pitch in an entire piece at your disposal (which could be even more than 12), the timpanist is probably going to find is difficult simply covering the enormous distance between drums (remember, these drums range in diameter from 20" to 32") and staying in time and rhythm. Sometimes, it is actually easier to pedal a part.

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Do I need a pedal if I have 12 timpanis?

Well, even if you had every pitch in an entire piece at your disposal (which could be even more than 12), the timpanist is probably going to find is difficult simply covering the enormous distance between drums (remember, these drums range in diameter from 20" to 32") and staying in time and rhythm. Sometimes, it is actually easier to pedal a part.

I'll hire 3 players.

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