Wichita Symphony Celebrates May The Fourth With Music Of 'Star Wars'

May 3, 2019

Fans of the Star Wars film franchise will celebrate the series' mythology and characters on Saturday, May 4. For many Wichitans, the celebration will include attending the May The Fourth Be With You concert from the Wichita Symphony Orchestra at Century II Concert Hall.

Symphony conductor Daniel Hege recently stopped by the KMUW studios to discuss the music of John Williams and its enduring impact on moviegoers in general and Star Wars fanatics in particular.

Interview Highlights

What's the deal with John Williams and Star Wars? The main theme is something we all know. Why is it such a fascinating piece of music?

First of all, it's the way he uses these motifs. It's so memorable. And it's the way he orchestrates. His themes are beautiful. The themes, the melodies, the tunes. There's a kind of visceral quality about the music. When you hear it, you're immediately drawn in. Even if you don't know anything about the story, you get sucked in.

I remember I was, I think, in the sixth grade when the first Star Wars episodes came out. Those are episodes four through six. I remember [that] I got the soundtrack on a cassette. I listened to that and remember being so sucked in by that. I just couldn't stop listening to it. The music was so powerful. Then, I went to see those films afterwards, and I was so drawn to the music.

Whenever you see those films, the music is exhilarating.

It is. Even if you think of something like "Princess Leia's Theme," which is very inward and emotional, it's so touching. John Williams can just cover this extreme range of emotion. At the same time, the music is so descriptive you can almost feel the mythology in it. He basically took a page out of Richard Wagner's playbook by using this idea of leitmotifs. Of using different short melodies that match up with certain characters. They transform throughout the series. He brings that back and so, I think people who aren't even consciously aware of that somehow are aware of it, just by soaking it in as they watch and listen to the music.

Will we get to hear "The Imperial March"?

Yes, we will. That's one of my favorites, too. It's incredible how that theme and so many others … Like I said earlier about leitmotifs: different musical motifs going with different characters. That is just an indelible mark, I think, in pop culture, to know about his march.

I want to add that costumes are encouraged for the audience to wear when they come to this. I know people will relish getting to do this because it's just an exciting excuse to go to a John Williams concert, Star Wars, and actually get dressed up.

That was actually going to be my next question. This a chance for maybe some people who wouldn't necessarily go to the symphony on a regular basis to hear this music that they're really familiar with and then, maybe, as an unintended consequence of that, you hook them.

Well, yes.

(Laughs.)

It is the goal, and I think John Williams' music is a great bridge for that because … John Williams, you can tell by listening to his music — and if you know a lot of music that was written before [him] — you know that he has cleverly used other compositional devices that he's heard from other great composers. He's not new at doing this. There're so many other composers, going way back, even to Bach, composers were borrowing from each other. All the time. It happens all the time. And the composers that lived after, certain other composers, were able to stand on [the shoulders of past greats] and know how certain things worked.

John Williams knew those clever devices that he learned from other master composers, but he made it something incredibly original, something that just sounds like John Williams. That's one of the marks of a great composer is that they have their own distinctive voice, they have their own distinctive quality even though he may have borrowed from other composers here and there, just in terms of devices of how you make the music so well.

So, yes, if people come to the concert to hear John Williams they may get hooked and say, "You know what? I just love symphonic music. I just love how the orchestra sounds. It sounds so great. I want to come back and hear some more."

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.