The Music of Star Wars: Traditional Classic Hollywood Sounds

During the 1950s and 1960s much of the Science Fiction films and
TV Shows used the means of modern musical techniques and musical instruments. The Theremin became a popular instrument that evoked futuristic sounds, so therefore it was used extensively in the underscore of many films. Modern musical composition such as atonality and electronic sounds were also used to express this futuristic sounds. However, Star Wars is not about the future. As explained by Lucas both at the beginning of each film with the phrase “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away” and in interviews, he was creating an adventure story and a mythology. Star Wars is more about the past. He was creating a story that had taken place perhaps centuries ago, maybe longer. The space ships, the blasters, the droids, and anything that seems futuristic to our minds is a mere part of the society that this story was taking place. When watching any of the Star Wars films, one needs to take out the expectations of a Science Fiction film and look at it at a different point of view. One needs to look at it as if they are watching an old Hollywood Classic Film. This is where Lucas was inspired for Star Wars. He wanted to evoke the elements of the old adventure films such as Robin Hood and Sea Hawk.

Not so long before Lucas was working on Star Wars was Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Schaffner’s The Planet of the Apes. Both these films went away from the modern electronic sounds and went back to traditional orchestral sounds. However, Kubrick rejected Alex North’s original score in replacing with pre-existing music. This to me is very weak because there is no leitmotif, but rather music that was created for the concert stage. The Planet of the Apes did use an original score composed by Jerry Goldsmith, however he was using modern atonal and extended techniques for the score. Even though these were using the traditional orchestra, Lucas wanted a more “classic” sound in his work. He was then lead to meeting John Williams by Steven Spielberg. John Williams was the best choice in composing the music for Star Wars as he has the influence of the classic Hollywood sound that Lucas was seeking.

Rather than the use of mood to the underscore of Star Wars, John Williams created leitmotifs to describe each character and event. This was a technique in film created by Max Steiner, known as the father of film music, with the 1933 original King Kong. This concept then went on to be used by other composers of the era, including Enrich Korngold. Each of the classic Hollywood films has this technique of a leitmotif embedded into the music. If Star Was was going to be a film that goes back to the old adventure films of Hollywood then this is what John Williams was going to do in creating the music. This makes logical sense because the music needs to cater to the film. Williams also references to older composers in his work, this is intentional. As many composers before him, including J.S. Bach, Williams has used the music of other composers and influences to evoke the mood and spirit of the music. Some of the leitmotifs in Star Wars are recognizable and others are not. When listening to the music there is a lot going on. In many ways this is similar to Max Steiner’s score to Gone with the Wind. In that score, Steiner used strings of leitmotifs one after the other, evoking an Epic mood.
At the surface, Star Wars seems to be a Science Fiction film, but going to the deep core it is far from Science Fiction. It is an adventure film series with stories, mythologies, and a soap opera among a family known as the Skywalkers. John Williams follows in the same thinking pattern as George Lucas and catered the films exactly how it should be. If there is anything outside of this feel and mood it would the the source music from Return of the Jedi with the song Lepti Nek, which is more of a disco feel of the late 1970s, however this is another story.




Comparing the Anakin and the Darth Vader Theme from Star Wars


Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) is one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars franchise. John Williams created the leitmotif(s) for him very carefully as to express the character and nature of his personality. A leitmotif is a reoccurring theme that resembles or exemplifies the character in the deepest of all aspects. John Williams is a master at the craft of creating the best possible themes for characters in films. For Anakin/ Darth Vader he has done just that. It is clear that he had to create two separate themes for this one individual since when he became Darth Vader he was no longer that Jedi he once was.  Let’s take a look at each of these themes at the musical level.

Anakin Skywalker was an unstable character. He was always conflicted but yet had desires. The leitmotif is structured in the key of E major. A major key makes sense as Anakin was basically a good person, however never stable. Therefore Williams created the melodic line with an unstable harmonic progression. It seems to change key, but yet it does not. It is chromatic in nature and with a hint of the Darth Vader theme in the basic melodic structure. Perhaps this is how he shows that anger inside of Anakin (the Vader in him). At the final 3 measures of the theme there is more than a hint of the Vader Theme. It is melodically , rhythmically and harmonically familiar to the Darth Vader theme, expressing his destiny.
The Darth Vader Theme (also known as the Imperial March Theme) is a total opposite of the Anakin theme. The tonal center is G minor and even though it is chromatic in nature, the theme is much more stable harmonically. There is a clear goal in the thematic material. We know where it’s headed and we know there is a clear and stable stride in the march like theme. Even though we know that Vader was still as conflicted as he was when he was Anakin, he still had a clear vision of what he wanted. He had hate in his heart and through this hate he went to gain what he wanted. The theme sounds very dark and a minor key was clearly the best choice.

Of course we know that the Vader theme was composed 20 or so years prior to the Anakin theme, but still if you look at them both the Vader theme is sprung organically from the Anakin theme. The Anakin theme is in E major and the Vader theme is in G minor. Traditionally the iii of E Major is G# minor, but that is not far off from G minor (the actual iii of E major).  Therefore a key change from the Tonic (I) to the mediant (iii) seems to be happening.  I am not sure if Williams was thinking of a modulation or not, but it can viewed that the Darth Vader theme is the iii of the tonic of the Anakin theme. Major as to the light side and minor to the dark side.

Feature Artist: The Pacific Trio

The Pacific Trio is a piano trio ensemble founded in 1979 in Los Angeles. The members are Edith Orloff on piano, Roger Wilkie on violin and John Walz on cello. The ensemble has performed in the United States and Europe over the decades. They have several recordings and videos. Currently, they just completed a tour in Europe. They will appear in California in January of 2015, including Los Angeles, Wilmington, and Rancho Palos Verdes.

The ensemble brings music to life with their personal touch and artistic approach. When they play together it’s more like a conversation between the three of them, and the audience is not like a secondary party but rather they bring them into the performance and create an environment and mood of musical language that everyone can understand. After a concert with the Pacific Trio, the listener comes out feeling they were at a joyous occasion. Their contact with one another while performing and contact with the audience always becomes an incredible experience that words can’t describe.

Personally I feel that the Pacific Trio is one of the best ensembles of their instrumentation. With a huge list of repertoire, the Piano Trio has been around since the 18th Century. The Pacific Trio has in their list of much of these works; ranging from the Classical Period, Romanic Period and the 20th Century. They also perform music arranged for the Piano Trio including Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. This piece is on this blog for you to enjoy. If you want to hear more of their music or read more about them, follow the link to their website.

Alfred Surenyan


The Future of the Profession of Music

imagesThe recent move of Taylor Swift removing her music from Spotify is a major statement in the music world. The trend of music has gone towards streaming online, but what does this do to the value of music? What about the profession of music? Musicians have studied and perfected their art through eduction,just like any other profession. Many have gone to colleges and earned a degree in it. What is their job? They compose, perform, and record albums. This has been the job of musicians for centuries (recording added in the last century). This is how they earn a living.

Many feel that music should be free, but let’s flip this to the other side of the field. What about other professions. Do we feel that legal advice should be free? How about other services? Many of these services are offered by professionals who have gone to school and studied their craft. Should a lawyer “stream” their services online for small monthly fee? Should an engineer offer their services for free? How about an architect? Should they design a building or houses for free? I know this sounds extreme, but all of these and many others are professions. Artists should not be any different. In many centuries past artists were valued. They were paid for their work, they studied their craft like any other profession and were able to survive doing their work. The concept of a “starving artist” is actually a modern concept. Even Mozart was able to earn a living as a musician. It is a stereotype that has only been created in recent times and one that should be remedied.

Below is a link to a great article about the concept of how the value of music has lowered in recent times.

And here is a recent cartoon that has been passed around the internet for at least a year. It may look funny, but it also brings up tragedy to the artists that many love who have given joy and warmth of music for decades.


These are just a few things to think about. What is the right answer and what is the wrong answer. Perhaps we need to just move forward and see where the future of the profession of music goes.

The Evolution of Producing & Recording Music



It was only 30 years ago when an artist had to rent a studio in order to even record a demo, much less a professional recorded album.  It was expensive as studio time costs a lot of money (mainly to pay the engineer and other employees).  The studio also included the analog recording system, which brought the price high.

If an artist wanted to record in those days they had to either rent a studio or own these expensive and rather large equipment.  For the independent artist who had barely enough money to pay the rent or the bills it was extremely impossible for them to even get one song out.



Let’s now fast forward to 2014.  We now are living in the digital world.  Desktop computers has made work faster, but also cost effective in creating music.  An independent artist who wants to share their music, perform, create an album or have a download has now more advantages than ever.  It is cost effective to have a project studio with a computer, a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), a microphone, and a MIDI Controller.  All of these equipment would cost less than $2000 to own.  Many Project Studios are also in personal homes.  Creating a space where it is sound proof with the computer, audio interface, microphones, and MIDI Controller makes it possible for the independent artist (or even the music hobbyist) to have a professional quality recording in a matter of weeks.

There is a lot of criticismIMG_3142 regarding digital and computer environments, however in the modern world these tools have made it possible for anyone to be able to work in their dreams, Music Industry or not.

Logic Pro X is a Digital Audio Workstation that is sold by Apple, Inc.  This software has become one of the leading products in the market for the project studio.  It is user friendly and has all the tools in order to composer, arrange, edit, and record music.  It can be used in any style or genre from good old Rock N’ Roll, Pop, Hip Hop, Classical, and Film Scoring. Learning how to use it can be fun and can be done online.  Here is a video presentation for Alfred Surenyan’s course on Music Recording and Production with Logic Pro X.

If you are one who dreams about producing your own music you can learn Logic Pro X.  This course, taught by Alfred Surenyan, can be enrolled for only $49 for the entire course.  A $1500 value when taking at a school.  The following link gets you to enrolling to this course today.

The Source Music From The Star Wars Films

Source music is the music in a film that is heard by the characters of the story rather then the underscore, which is the mood that fits the scene and heard by the audience. There are different levels of source music, however here I will be talking about the various source music found in the six Star Wars films.
Episode I
Augie’s Municipal Band: Played at the end of the film. It was played during the parade victory celebration among the humans and the Gungans on Naboo.

Tatooine Street Music: Several eastern sounding music was written by John Williams as a set for the street music of the city on Tatooine.
Episode II
Dex’s Diner: The scene where Obi-wan visits Dex at his diner. There is music playing in the background. This is source music that is either being performed or in the jukebox of the diner.

Arena Percussion: The percussion that is played in the area in the final major scene just before Anakin, Padme, and Obi-wan were going to be executed.

Episode III
Opera music: This is a bit of a weird music but it is source music. When Palpatine is talking to Anakin about the Dark Side of the Force at the Opera House. The strange sounds is the performance of the opera.

Episode IV
Cantina Band NO.1 & No.2: There are two numbers that the Cantina Band plays. The first one is the one that is the most popular and is played when Luke and Ben first enter the Cantina. The second number is played while they are having the discussion with Han Solo at the booth.

Ceremony: This is a bit of a fooling to the audience. It is not source music but the music that is played in the underscore sounds like source music. One would think that music would be played during a ceremony, however this scene does not have any musicians nor does it sound like there is music. It does make a fit as source music and  thought I would add it to the list.

Episode V
The best film in the entire series and NO Source music at all!!!.. Why?


Episode VI
Jabba’s Baroque Recital: This is the music that the Max Rebo Band is playing when C-3PO and R2-D2 first see Jabba The Hutt. It was available in the CD recording after the special editions were released.

Lepti Nek: This is the song that Sy Snootles and the Rebo Band perform during the scene where Jabba throws his slave girl to the Rancor Monster.

Jedi Rocks: This is the replacement of Lepti Nek in the Special Edition. Personally I felt that the original song was better suited for this scene.

Max Rebo Band Jams: The Max Rebo Band Jams a couple of times during scenes in the palace and on the Sail Barge.
Ewok Celebration: This is the victory song at the end of Return of the Jedi. It is written in a primitive style to fit the sounds of the Ewoks lifestyle.

Victory Celebration: This is the replacement source music at the end of Return of the Jedi. The primitive song was replaced with this song as it fits the new scenes showing other planets in celebration of the end of the war.

Logic Pro X- The Adventures of Creating and Composing Music

Logic Pro X

Logic Pro X is the updated Digital Audio Workstation by Apple.  This new update has taken the software to the next level.  New plug ins have been added to the list along with a new drum track.  The entire look and feel of the design has changed and with the new mixer it has become much easier to work around the interface.


Logic Pro has become a leading software for composers, arrangers and film composers.  It has gone to the top 5 most used DAWs in the industry.  What makes it so popular is the ease of use and intuitive functions.  If you are a composer and creator of music Logic Pro X is an idea software for you.  The price is also just right, it now only costs $199 from the App store.  Check it out.



A Play into film then into an opera

It is common knowledge that the famous Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire became a motion picture not to long after it’s theatre performance.  It included most of the same actors from the play in the film version; Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter.  However not many know of the opera version that was first performed San Francisco Opera in 1998.  It starred Renee Fleming in the star role as Blanche.  The music was composed by Andre Previn.

This opera will be performed by the LA Opera in May.  It is an opera that many would not want to miss.  If you are interested in opera and love the story here is a link to the LA Opera for more information.