On the occasion of “Night at the Movies,” the Long Beach Symphony’s POPS! final concert of the 2008-2009 season, Guest Conductor Larry Blank cajoled us, made us swoon, and refreshed our memories with soulful, delicate, and energetic renditions of soundtracks from classic films.
All of us of a certain age know what we were doing when JFK was shot. But I bet you or your Mom also remember with whom you or she first heard the “Overture to Citizen Kane” and “The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Face it, films without music would be, um, almost silent and certainly not as memorable.
The evening’s excursion took us across meadows (“The Sound of Music”), over prairies (“How the West Was Won’”), from outer space (“E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) to inner space (“Theme from Laura”).
No tribute to movie soundtracks would be worth its weight in popcorn and Milk Duds without a “Judy Garland Overture.” Special mention must be made of Rick Baptist’s trumpet solo on “Over the Rainbow.” He made the journey to the pot of gold as sensuous to the ears as a pair of ruby slippers is to the eyes.
Guest vocalist Valerie Perri, universally acknowledged as the best Evita ever, not only brought her songs to life (“Almost Like Being in Love” from “The Boys From Syracuse” and “The Sound of Music”), she also made you feel as if sang each song especially for little old you.
She turned a cavern into a cabaret. No small feat, that.
We got schooled as well in the art of orchestration, as well. Blank told us how David Raksin, who composed the sinfully lovely “Theme from Laura” as well as “Love Is For the Very Young from The Bad and the Beautiful,” orchestrated Charlie Chaplin’s equally sinfully lovely song “Smile” based on The Little Tramp’s whistling of the melody.
And Marc Shaiman, who composed the “End Credits from The American President,” showed us in-person how his simple, lovely-in-itself tune on a piano becomes a magnificent fully-orchestrated credit to movie credits.
Such innocuous beginnings, such an expansive conclusion.
The importance of soundtracks?
Try to imagine, without accompanying music, horses that clip-clop along across a prairie, a trolley car that makes its way down a crowded street, a spaceship that wends it’s way through the stars.
Doesn’t quite work, does it?
Likewise try to be mesmerized, without their hummable tunes, by Bette Davis eyes (“All About Eve”), by the deft dancing of the dynamic duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (“Cheek to Cheek”), and by the antics of that naughty, cheeky Michael Caine (“Alfie”).
Sometimes in theatre we contend that the set design should be given billing equal to the actors. In cinema, the same can be said for these soundtracks. It’s the music, after all, not the dialogue, that you hum on the way out the door, that flickers Proustian memories of who-knows-what.