Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In loving memory of maestro James Horner

I realize I have not updated this blog for a long, long time now. I do hope to pen down more thoughts once the professional and personal fronts permit. However, I simply cannot keep silent in wake of this terrible tragedy that has shaken all of us film music fans, movie audiences and human beings alike. I cannot think of what more to say than everyone already has. There are so many who knew Mr. Horner so well, worked with him, shared wonderful memories with him, at least had a chance to meet him or get a photo taken with him. I know that all those dreams of this humble fan from India, of meeting him or seeing him live in concert, will now remain dreams forever. But that is not what concerns me. It is for the first time, that I am truly feeling a gaping void inside, some essential part of me that has been torn away and left me forever. I may not have known Mr. Horner in person, but he was always there for me in some of the darkest times of my life, in the form of his timeless music which has touched the hearts of so many all across the globe. I can only express what James Horner meant to me in my life and offer my humble words in his memory, if at least to get some of the sadness off my heart.

I must admit that my collection of Mr. Horner’s music is woefully incomplete. Several of his most cherished and praised scores such as Jumanji, Battle Beyond The Stars, Krull and Deep Impact, I still am not very familiar with. I have also not actually seen many of the films which he scored, the most notable one being Titanic, mostly due to my general aversion towards the romance genre. I don’t know when, or if I will ever see it though I see it playing on Star Movies or AXN all the time. But I do know that its soundtrack will forever maintain a special place in my heart. Not because it won maestro Horner two well deserved Oscars, not because it’s the highest selling film score album in history as of now, but because it was one of the first scores I fell in love with and which turned me into a film music fan. I’ve read many accounts of viewers being blown away by the well known Southampton piece with the famous synth choir as the ship moves away from harbour, or the tender piano pieces during romantic scenes, but for me it was the dramatic The Sinking cue which carved a niche in my mind from the first second. I first heard it during a gymnastics performance in high school and the crashing percussion, dramatic horn chords and heart-searing strings under a relentless line of shrieking trumpets had me captivated. Once I found out what the track was, I set out to search for it. With film score albums being nearly impossible to find in local markets, at least in my place, I had to settle for a rip from a streaming site. The tinny sound quality barely bothered me. The track was on repeat for weeks and I could feel the sheer panic and desperation of the helpless passengers caught in the midst of that dreadful tragedy.

I watched Commando at a friend’s place years back when I was only in 4th standard or so, in black and white. While I never liked violent action movies much, I still have vague memories of the dramatic music during the climax as Arnold Schwarzenegger impales the bad guy with a metal pipe. Although I didn’t realize the importance of the score at that time, it was a nostalgic moment of joy when I got the soundtrack several years later, a souvenir of those carefree days of childhood. Once I was familiar with Mr. Horner, I took the opportunity to listen to more of his works including How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Land Before Time, Braveheart, Mask Of Zorro, some of Krull and Balto. Disappointment of a poor performance in college exams was mellowed down after listening to his beautiful score to The Spiderwick Chronicles. I am usually not someone to fall in love with something upon first sight or listen. Mr. Horner did it first with The Sinking, and now with the well-known track War from Avatar. The moment I heard the powerful battle choir and forceful yet beautiful themes from the orchestra in the 30-second samples during November 2009, I knew this was something that would get countless repeat plays from me. As much as the Avatar soundtrack received criticism for being derivative of Mr. Horner’s earlier works and prominently featuring the famous four-note “danger motif”, it doesn’t bother me at all. I find his distinctive style to be moulded aptly for each different film and never becoming repetitive or monotonous. He proved his versatility with scores like The Karate Kid.

Watching the film Avatar made me fall in love with the entire soundtrack all over again, the wondrous musical world Mr. Horner crafted for the film. Be it the tribal chants during the flight scenes and call for arms, sublime orchestral themes for Jake and the Na’vi, his relationship with Neytiri, the menacing martial music for Quaritch and his army, everything fit like a glove. I also lamented that some of the best cues from the score including the Thanator Chase and the final battle were not included on the commercial soundtrack album. It was right before a very tough and draining phase in my life that I was able to obtain these tracks from a promotional version of the score (not that I’m encouraging that kind of stuff, but where else do we die-hard fans have to go? I’ll be the first to buy an official complete release of the score when it happens). I literally stuffed these tracks into my phone music folder as the taxi stood waiting outside; I did not want to leave without taking along these tracks I had been yearning to have for so long. It was the sheer joy of having these four tracks to listen to, on a loop for hours, that somehow counterbalanced the despair I was facing then. I cannot imagine how I would have fared if Mr. Horner was not there with me every day, every moment as I drowned myself into the world of his music.

It’s still not possible for me to accept and digest what has taken place. I keep hoping I’ll wake up and find out it’s nothing but a nightmare. It feels incredible that only a few months ago I was listening to his new album to Wolf Totem, which is as glorious and striking as any of his much beloved classics to blockbusters. Whether a little known film like Cristida or blockbusters on top of the box office like Titanic and Avatar, he did justice to all of them with his wonderful music. As much as I was disappointed by the first Amazing Spider-Man film, almost regretting my decision to watch it in the cinemas, I’m now grateful and proud to have had the opportunity in my lifetime to watch a new film featuring Mr. Horner’s wonderful music in the cinema, a soundtrack which will forever remain special for me now. It's devastating to think that there will now be no new soundtrack album from James Horner to look forward to, except the last few films he had finished scoring. We can only treasure his beautiful works more than ever and be thankful to have had this legend with us. I thank you, maestro Horner, from the bottom of my heart for enriching my life and inspiring me and countless others all across the world with your brilliant music, your gentle and humble personality and your spirit of dedication, hard work and adventure. My humble thoughts go out to your loved ones and all your well wishers. You will live forever in our hearts and will be immortalized with your timeless music. May it continue to soar and keep inspiring us forever. God be with you.

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