Attack of the horns

The Juneau Symphony performs scores from 'Star Wars' at its summer pops concert

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

Juneau Symphony French horn player Bill Paulick doesn't know what inspires classical composer John Williams' fascination with brass sections.

But as soon as Paulick heard symphony Music Director Kyle Wiley Pickett wanted to play five of Williams' scores from the original "Star Wars," he knew he had to do something to strengthen the orchestra's horn section.

Paulick, the brass section leader and a symphony member since 1974, went so far as to double the section.

The symphony will have eight French horn players, twice its usual four, in its Summer Spirit Pops Concert, 8 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at Centennial Hall.

"I'm not sure if (Williams) loves brass, or if he hates brass, but he gives them a lot of work," Paulick said. "You don't starve if you're playing. It gets the adrenaline flowing, and it's really fun for the players."

In a tribute to Flag Day, Pickett's pops program includes movie and Broadway music. The symphony will play the theme to "Magnificent Seven," two suites from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Sound of Music," one selection from Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods," a few pieces from "Carmen," and five arrangements from "Star Wars."

Joyce Parry-Moore, Lorraine Marshall, Jason Alexander and Phillipe Damerval are the evening's featured singers. The Thunder Mountain Big Band will play at the end of the program.

"I try to find things that have good stories to them," Pickett said. "We want things that would be fun and interesting and also really rewarding. These songs all sort of inspire that element of storytelling and fables. It's American music, and it's Flag Day."

Williams' complete soundtrack scores for "Star Wars" recently have been made available to orchestras. Before, symphonies had to settle for simplified arrangements for smaller groups.

The symphony will play "Princess Leia's Theme," "Yoda's Theme," "Darth Vader's Theme," "The Main Theme" and "The Throne Room."

"Movie music in a way is some of the best music that's being written for orchestras these days, and John Williams is one of the best," Pickett said.

"Part of it is I love this stuff," he said. "I was 6 when 'Star Wars' came out. They were formative movies. For another generation, ('Magnificent Seven' actor) Yul Brynner was their cowboy."

Most orchestral arrangements use four French horns. Beethoven used two. "Star Wars" includes parts for four horns. Paulick doubled the section to ensure the horns were audible in Centennial Hall.

"It's very unusual for a small community of 32,000 to have enough competent horn players to put together something like this," Paulick said. "There's always that question of balance on some of the pieces. Eight horns will blow you off the stage. We can double up and not be overpowering."

Seven of the eight horn players met Sunday, June 9, at Paulick's house on Back Loop Road to resolve intonation, articulation and note length issues.

"Every horn has a couple of notes that are out, and we have eight different models," Paulick said. "There are a lot of intonation issues and also a lot of different playing levels."

Paulick, the first chair first seat, has been playing since 1965. His daughter, Kristina, the second chair fourth seat player, has been playing for a year and a half. Other horn players include Jennifer Porter, Lyle Perkins, Austin Rickards, Alex Gagne-Hawes, George Koenig and Russell Strandtmann.

In addition to the eight horns, the brass section for the pops concert will include four trombones, three trumpets and a tuba.

"If you can imagine a movie without music, it would be bland," Paulick said. "When it comes to real emotion, they'll give that to French horns. They can sound happy or sad, play love themes or hate themes."

" 'Princess Leia's Theme' is a love theme, echoed in flute and clarinets and trumpets," he said. " 'Darth Vader's Theme' is all brass. It's the brass that gives it the punch and excitement, the brilliance and the depth of tone."

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