Melinda’s Brew: Music To My Ears

Melinda’s Brew: Music To My Ears

Wow! Sitting here this evening, looking back over 2018, I can’t help but grin at what a Star Wars studded year this was! It began riding the high of The Last Jedi still in theaters. The wave continued with the May release of Solo: A Star Wars Story. While I was sad to see it come to a close, the last season of Rebels was a fitting end to the acclaimed series. Rebels may have ended, but Resistance picked up the mantle in the fall. I procured my family’s tickets to Celebration Chicago. Filming of Episode IX began. We hardly had time to catch our collective breath when news came down the pike regarding future Star Wars series and films. There was a plethora [I love that word!] of new books that found their way onto bookshelves. I attended my first ever Star Wars Night at Miller Park in Milwaukee, and even though our beloved Brewers lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, I never had had so much fun at a baseball game.

Yet, as thrilling as all that was, the highlight of the year – at least for me – was attending the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s performance of “Star Wars A New Hope In Concert” in July. It was the perfect way to cap my Birthday Week [yes, we celebrate an entire week in my family 😉 ].

I had a couple of extra tickets to the concert/viewing of A New Hope on the big screen so it was with pleasure I invited my brother-in-law and youngest niece, 20, to join my husband, daughter and me. Once Scott and Vanessa arrived from Chicago, we headed to downtown Milwaukee, to the beautiful Marcus Center. I knew it would be a memorable evening listening to the world renown Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra play the entire John Williams score while A New Hope played across the humongous screen hung above and behind the orchestra!

A few moments before the common area lights flickered, signaling concertgoers should head into Uihlein Hall, our group of five headed into the concert hall to take our seats. Many musicians were already in their chairs, tuning their instruments, quietly going through segments of the score they’d soon be playing. Emblazoned on the huge screen overlooking the stage were the bold words – Star Wars A New Hope In Concert. You could feel the electricity in the air as more and more people filed into the hall!

The lights lowered. First, Concertmaster Frank Almond emerged and took his seat. The crowd applauded. A few moments later, Associate Conductor Yaniv Dinur took his place at the podium, and the smile gracing his face indicated this was going to be a thrilling concert. [It was! 🙂 ] “I’ve always wanted to conduct this,” Dinur told the audience after the applause welcoming him onstage died down. He quipped, “What I’m talking about is this…” He turned to face his musicians, raised his baton, and the orchestra broke into the 20th Century Fox Fanfare. The crowd cheered! “Can we do it again?” Dinur offered. And they did! 🙂 After encouraging the audience to cheer and boo wherever it saw fit during the movie, the house lights dimmed even more. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… appeared onscreen, C3-PO and R2-D2 delivered the first lines of the film, and before long, the MSO provided the iconic score. I found it all breathtaking. 🙂

As the Millennium Falcon was sucked into the dreaded Death Star, the movie paused for a short intermission, and I couldn’t wait to ask everyone around me how they were enjoying the film/concert. “Seeing A New Hope like this reminds me of why I fell in love with Star Wars back in 1977,” my brother-in-law Scott Reese shared. “You realize how much the orchestra is part of the experience.” A staunch Star Wars fan as well, my niece Vanessa was taken aback when her dad pointed out that this was the first time she had the opportunity to see ANH on the Big Screen. Vanessa wasn’t born the last time the Original Trilogy was released in theaters [in 1997]. “I love A New Hope,” Vanessa smiled. “This is so good [seeing it this way]!”

Before the lights flickered to encourage audience members to retake their seats, I had the opportunity to chat with the two young men sitting on the other side of me. Brothers Kyle and James Karweik of Milwaukee, both Star Wars fans, were making their first appearance at an MSO concert. [What an initiation!] Kyle, 16, thought everything blended together extremely well, and James, 18, agreed. “Having the orchestra playing while the movie played didn’t take away the focus at all,” he added. Scott chimed in: “You forget [the orchestra] is there because you get so caught up in the movie.” I was so delighted that everyone was enjoying the concert so much. I watched with a grin plastered on my face, and while I haven’t any idea if others were as enthralled as I was, the fact they said they were enjoying themselves immensely was enough to make me happy.

At one point during the second half of the movie/concert, I took my eyes away from the screen [considering I had seen ANH more than 100 times – I am not exaggerating – I felt I could let my eyes roam a little without fear of missing anything], and I thought it would be fun to watch the musicians as they played their parts to the sweeping music. We were sitting close enough to the stage [but not too close that it was uncomfortable to watch the movie] that I could see what looked like a mini movie screen affixed to the conductor’s podium. At various intervals, white or green lines moved across the screen. I was intrigued. Admittedly, I wondered why Mr. Dinur would use such a contraption [for that is how I thought of it] when he had the movie playing on a much larger screen right in front of him. I have a good friend whose husband composes music for television and film, and a few days later I reached out to him, via my friend, to ask if he’d explain what was going on. Louis [Febre] was ready to answer all my questions. For those of us ignorant of such “contraptions”, Louis kindly explained:

“In order to properly explain what that line scrolling across the screen is – it’s called a “streamer” – I’d like to briefly mention the mechanics of synchronizing music to film. There was but one reliable system for synchronizing music played by an orchestra to film in the early days. That system was… a clock! A big clock, maybe a foot in diameter, placed right in front of a conductor. The score would be marked with timings; a conductor watched the clock [a chronometer really] as he went, and knew that, as an example, something would happen at 2 minutes and 43 seconds, and also knew that that timing coincided with some bar/beat down the line. As that particular bar and beat approached, he [or she] would slow down or speed up the orchestra in order to assure the arrival at that particular spot *in time*. It was not an easy task, and as an aid to the conductor in “hitting” those timings, the studios created the concept of the streamer and the punch.

“Of course, we’re discussing techniques developed for film – actual 35mm celluloid with sprocket holes. I mention this because, in the film days, streamers were created by drawing a line across a length of film. The end result, once projected, was a line scrolling from left to right at a predetermined rate [the more frames one drew across, the longer the streamer took to travel across the screen]. No one works in film anymore, of course, but we’ve inherited the concept of streamers and adapted them to our computer driven world.”

I don’t know about you, but I love the technical and history lessons Louis provided. Thus, I wanted to share them with you. Thank you, Louis! 🙂

Just so you all know, “Star Wars A New Hope In Concert” still is playing in some cities around the country. And tickets for “Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back In Concert” already have gone on sale in a few locations. It’s a great experience to see the films while a live orchestra plays the scores so I highly recommend seeing the SW films this way if you have the chance.

Yes, 2018 was a year with lots going on in that galaxy far, far away. And it looks like there’s no slowing down in 2019! All I can say is – Yay!

Before I sign off, I’d like to wish you all a safe and happy 2019, and as always –


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