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Old 03-19-2017, 06:14 PM
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Default John Williams' Orchestrator - Conrad Pope

In case you missed it, there's a huge discussion going on, on Facebook Orchestration Online (an excellent group by the way, if you have any interest in orchestration I'd warmly recommend to join this group).

Somebody asked whether John Williams does his own orchestrations, and then, after dozens of replies, John Williams' long time orchestrator Conrad Pope replied with this.

"A colleague and friend contacted me earlier today and informed of this thread.
Please forgive my intrusion, but I thought I could shed some light because of first hand experience.

Dear [...], the short, succinct, undeniable answer to your question, “DOES JW ORCHESTRATE HIS OWN MUSIC “, is a resounding, unequivocal YES.

John Williams is the only and absolute author of his music and the architect of the “orchestral sound” of his work. I do not regard his “sketches” as “sketches” in the conventional understanding of the term (e.g. Beethoven’s Sketches) where one grasps simply a rather powerful, yet inchoate, manifestation of a possible musical idea (remember I’m referring to Beethoven here, not most MIDI transcriptions I receive! --- a touch of “film music” humor)

John’s sketches are rather more akin to what the Germans refer to as a “Particell”-or “short score” (an example of this is the published “particell” of Schoenberg’s Vier Lieder op.22).

With JW, every detail is generally accounted for: even in the string divisi and in the disposition of brass. The only discretion an “orchestrator” or copyist truly has is in the voicing of the woodwinds—and even there it is generally only with regard to their role in an “orchestral” tutti. The reason for engaging an orchestrator with respect to JW, really, is in the woodwind writing. As anyone who has heard or read what I have to say on the topic: the strings almost always balance themselves regardless of bad writing. The brass can find a “blend” in spite of a composer’s efforts to achieve the opposite, HOWEVER the woodwinds require attention if one seeks to achieve and blend and balance within that particular choir of the orchestra. More than the “instrumental” assignments in JW’s sketches, what I find more important in making a correct and balanced orchestration are his precise indications of dynamics and articulations. Here he reveals that he is a true master, not just of composition but rather of the mechanics of the orchestra and orchestral performance. For the most part, “register” and dynamic remain the most determinative factors of choice of instrument (particularly with regard to the woodwinds). These dimensions convey to an orchestrator more the weighting and balancing the orchestra to the musical idea presented—and provide a touchstone for the orchestrator to know if everything is “correct” in the “sketch” (particell). Therefore, an orchestrator (at least for JW) is more like a proofreader or an editor. (Also know that all the scores for JW were transposed—young people: understand the instruments and what is the most efficacious for them to read! Finale doesn’t play any instrument!)

With JW, at least in his most “busy” years, his orchestrators functioned as someone, to quote my mentor Arthur Morton, transferred from the “white paper onto the yellow paper”. (Please see Judy Green’s Catalog for an explanation of music paper- a business about to go the way of the “buggy whip” business). Now that JW has more time he can send his work to the copying office directly and review, revise and correct what he doesn’t care for- a method I’ve used for my original music for almost 25(!) years now and still use to this day as an orchestrator with my assistants (though I always try to get my colleagues who input my stuff orchestration screen credit--- though not always successfully, sadly. Orchestration is a “film business credit” NOT a “music credit”- as anyone who has heard me speak knows.)

Please know, that I, too, only use “pencil and paper”—I wish I knew Sibelius (actually, I think one should find a better program--- at least at the level I work) or Finale (the best, for any orchestrator/copyist because of its flexibility and ubiquity in Hollywood. Sibelius is a “composer’s tool”-intuitive, simple, effective. Finale is an “engraver’s tool”--- more what orchestrator’s and copyist’s do --- not only do we work for “geniuses”, we sometimes work for real geniuses who demand flexibility and creativity in their graphics). But, today, Hollywood is dominated by deadlines dictated by “previews”, “mock-ups”, and “what is approved” as opposed to what “ is emotionally moving”. I fear that most film makers no longer have music as an intrinsic component of their inner lives--- that music can touch and convey what only words and image are a shadow of. Music is the TRUE emotional content and heart of film. Music, rather ironically I think, has always awaited the invention of film--- to unite our eyes, our ears and our emotions. Opera was a “good” beta attempt. Film is something that Wagner would have applauded enthusically.

Thank God for Steven Spielberg. Thank God for John Williams.
As an “old dog” I find that pencil and paper frees my mind to imagine what my skills at the computer only “circumscribe”.
Orchestrating for John William was always a joy for me in that his sketches always reflect a mind, an ear that soars, imagines, to dare, and challenges us to develop our own talents to be as expressive, imaginative and truthful to what our own gifts can be.

And to paraphrase my colleague Tim Davies above, until you have walked in the “moccasins” of those who have “orchestrated” 50 or more motion pictures it is hard to know what an "orchestrator" truly does--- it’s the difference between having a 9mm pistol at a firing range and making every “bull’s eye” and being at Custer’s Last Stand managing not to be "scalped"- apologies to my non-American confreres who don't apprehend the reference.

BOTTOM LINE: John Williams is the greatest, most amazing composer today. Indeed, he is the singular musician in every realm it has been my great honor to not only meet but serve.The chances are you will never equal nor surpass him. Your challenge: Be as competent and as clear in your musical intentions as he is--- and THAT, doesn’t mean just making a simply MIDI sequence that "sounds good" in MIDI--- unless, MIDI is the only performer. Music is meant to not only be listened to. A composer- and certainly an orchestrator- thinks not only about how the audience feels, but how the music makes the performer want to perform!

Forgive the length of this response but it didn't seem inappropriate given the length of this thread."

Old 03-19-2017, 06:45 PM
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mriley mriley is offline
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This is great! I'll check out that FB group!
Matt Riley
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Old 03-20-2017, 09:04 PM
Raden Agung Raden Agung is offline
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Old 03-21-2017, 02:44 AM
tommyrack13 tommyrack13 is offline
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What a great response. Truly John Williams is one of the single most important contributors to film music of all time, and it's really great to hear from someone who has worked so closely with him from a musical perspective. Also super interesting to hear his viewpoints on what it is to be an orchestrator!
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