Tim Williams ’83 Returns to SMUS

by Brandon Chow, Grade 12

Last Friday afternoon culminated in a dramatic finale for many participants in the music programme at the Senior School, with a workshop delivered by multiple award-winning film composer and SMUS alumnus Tim Williams ’83. Maestro Williams graduated from the Senior School in 1983, and is a recipient of the 2010 Distinguished Alumnus Award. He has established an impressively prolific and versatile oeuvre of music scores for film, including 300 (2006), Doomsday (2008), Watchmen (2009), and Butterfly Circus (2009). In addition, he has composed and orchestrated music for well-known live spectacles, including Wicked, Aladdin, and Peter Pan. He is a recipient of two Thea (Themed Entertainment Association) awards and a Dora (Dora Mavor Moore) award for his work in this arena. He composed the award-winning score for the musical, Napoleon, which opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London in October, 2000. His latest project is the film score for the new movie Sucker Punch which is scheduled to be released in late March of 2011.

Maestro Williams began the workshop with captivating excerpts of dramatic movie scenes, underscored with equally dramatic music. He introduced the software behind the highly precise coordination of sound and visuals demanded by today’s film industry. He also enlightened us with some details as to some of the processes that contribute to the final musical product; he explained that he uses computer synthesizers to generate a model of the music that would then be read by a large orchestra of 90 to 110 musicians, in many instances without much preparation. He also discussed the integration of an expanded percussion section and complex rhythms into film music, and their ability to enhance the drama of chaotic scenes.

Freshly inspired by these demonstrations, members of the SMUS orchestra were now given an opportunity to learn experientially through playing movie excerpts written by the composer himself. This provided an exciting glimpse of the rehearsal process for the actual, recorded movie soundtracks. Our guest composer’s supportive guidance was both constructive and enlightening. The most exciting portion of the workshop came after these score readings, when the Maestro introduced various orchestral timbres and techniques which are often used to develop that breathtaking suspense in film music. Through his improvisational brass cluster chords, pizzicato cluster chords, sudden dynamic contrasts, and use of extreme instrument ranges, we became intellectually, spiritually and emotionally engaged in the powerful sounds we were generating.

What impressed me most was the experimentation with these sound effects, as these are not only characteristic of movie scores but also of much contemporary symphonic music. For many, this was an introduction to the enthralling mixture of contrasting and peculiar timbres, complex rhythm, precise dynamic contrast, and improvisation which permeates symphonic music beginning in the late 20th century. It reveals an entirely new sonic world, and a new pathway for adventurous exploration for aspiring musicians, composers, and artists alike.

Music can be described as an extremely active art. Even at its most theoretical, one must fully engage oneself aurally, analytically, spiritually, and kinaesthetically in order to harness its full potential. Under the professional, compassionate and exciting mentorship of Maestro Tim Williams, we were challenged to think, to interact, and to create a most memorable musical experience.

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