Playing Timpani on the Fourth of July!

Here’s a picture of my daughter Lexi and her friend Connor trying out our new timpani (kettle drums) during our Fourth of July cookout. New timpani? In the back yard? Does this require a little explanation?

Last Sunday, Allysen was scanning our town email list, and she came across an unusual item: Things being discarded during clean-out of old school building, including this, that, and two kettle drums. “Do we want kettle drums?” she asked me. “Why not?” I said, and we hopped into the trusty Ranger to go take a look. Sure enough, two old but serviceable-looking copper kettle drums were beside the dumpster. Soon thereafter, they were in our back yard.

I played snare and bass drum (and clarinet) in my high school marching band, but I haven’t played any kind of drum since then. Maybe it’s not too late! These didn’t come with any sticks or mallets, so I popped into our neighborhood drum store. The owner, having worked with the schools, knew all about these drums. He said they were good ones (if in need of some repair to the base of one), and he made a call to confirm for me that they had indeed been put out for anyone to take. He was sold out of mallets, unfortunately, but the local guitar store had some that would do for now.

And so, for the Fourth of July, I called upon our guests to hum the melody of the theme to 2001, while I expertly (?) played the prominent timpani part: Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. Maybe a new career for me?

Next challenge: See if we can fit them through the door into the basement!

James Horner, 1953 – 2015

Another heartbreaking loss for film and music lovers. Composer James Horner died in a small plane crash north of Santa Barbara last Monday. He was 61.

James Horner was right up there with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith in my pantheon of beloved composers. I first fell in love with his music with the scores for two of the best classic Star Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. Just as the second movie built on the first, so too did the music, adding depth and texture to the themes introduced in Khan. There was a nautical flavor to the themes, evoking the wonder and peril of deep space like nothing else I had heard.

His credits included Aliens, Titanic, Avatar, Apollo 13, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, and countless other films. He was by all accounts a man of extraordinary generosity.

James Cameron, in a tribute in Hollywood Reporter, recalls beginning work with Horner on the score for Titanic:

I asked if he could write some melodies. I believe that a great score really consists of something you can whistle. If that melody gets embedded in your mind, it takes the score to a different level. I drove over to his house and he sat at the piano and said, “I see this as the main theme for the ship.” He played it once through and I was crying. Then he played Rose’s theme and I was crying again. They were so bittersweet and emotionally resonant. He hadn’t orchestrated a thing, and I knew it was going to be one of cinema’s great scores. No matter how the movie turned out, and no one knew at that point — it could have been a dog — I knew it would be a great score. He thought he had done only five percent of the work, but I knew he had cracked the heart and soul.

Of all of them, though, his haunting score for The Search for Spock is the most memorable to me, and one I’ve listened to countless times while writing.

Farewell, James Horner. May you continue to fill the heavens with your splendid music!