Remembering Composer James Horner
On Monday, June 22nd, the world of film music suffered a devastating loss when James Horner, winner of two Oscars for his musical contributions to Titanic, died in a plane crash. Mr. Horner’s death sent shockwaves through the film community. He scored three movies awaiting release and was on-board to do the scores for the Avatar sequels. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Horner’s work for years now, and so I would like to take a look back at some of the scores he wrote that either had an impact on me or I just enjoyed for what they were…Wonderful music.
I first heard Mr. Horner’s music in the 1995 movie Casper. About a month-and-a-half before the movie’s release, I lost my father to a heart attack. I was only 12 years old. Just a few days before he died, we had returned from a trip to Florida, and it seemed like things were going to continue getting better. Losing my father at such a young age devastated me. When a family friend took us to a mall to buy suits for my dad’s funeral, I stopped into Suncoast Video. They had a selection of posters, and one of them was for the movie Casper. The poster was purchased for me as a gift when I requested it. I saw the movie on opening weekend with my friends, and the movie served as a cathartic experience for me. James Horner’s music was a large part of why that was. The piece that sticks with me the most from that movie is “Casper’s Lullaby”, which was later heard during the end credits.
There’s a tremendous sadness to this piece as Casper talks about how he died. It made me reflect on my own father, and all the fun we had together. I loved this score so much that a few years later, I purchased the CD of the score. I would often listen to it on rides to school in the second half of my 9th grade year. The sadness and whimsy reflected what I was feeling as a teenage son of who was now a single mother. This score made me reflect on that. Mr. Horner’s work could do that.
In 1997, I had my second experience with Mr. Horner’s music when I went to see Titanic with my high school girlfriend. This was one movie we both enjoyed. Most of the movies we saw only one person or the other liked. I didn’t particularly like Spice World and she didn’t really care for Blues Brothers 2000. We both enjoyed this movie, though, and once again, Mr. Horner’s score was one of the reasons why. It was nice to hear the Celtic influences in the music as I was partially of Irish descent. That was best exemplified by the piece “An Irish Party In Third Class”.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about Irish music. It may sound heretic as a man of partially Irish descent, but I tend to prefer the music of British musicians. Sometimes, though, a piece comes along that makes me think, “Hey, Irish music isn’t so bad”. This was one of those cases. They really seemed to be having a lot of fun, despite the poor lot the Irish below deck found themselves in. When you don’t have the things that the rich people do, you have to make your own fun. Mr Horner’s composition understood this.
I know what you’re thinking. Will he write about “My Heart Will Go On”, the song that won Mr. Horner one of his two Oscars for Titanic? After all, that’s probably the song they’ll choose for next year’s Oscars In Memoriam when they have a star come out and sing a song after the montage. I know that’s probably what the producers of the Oscars will do, but there are some other songs they could go with. One of them could be “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail.
Mr. Horner did the music, while Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil did the lyrics. This was a song of familial love in the movie and romantic love in the pop version that played over the closing credits. I think the song could also go well with the In Memoriam at next year’s Oscars, if only because it’s nice to think that the people who we love and admire are still watching us even after they pass. Is there any truth to that? I don’t know…Nobody really can know until that day comes. The song can make you think in that way. Who out there is thinking of us? Is it a family member? Is it someone stalking your Facebook profile? Is it the bartender or the barista or your boss?
Another song that Mr. Horner co-wrote that could possibly be heard either during or after the Oscars In Memoriam next year is “If We Hold On Together” from The Land Before Time”. The song was co-written with Will Jennings, the writer with whom he would later share the Oscar for “My Heart Will Go On”.
The song is all about the importance of friendship, a theme that runs throughout the Oscars In Memoriam each year. From actors and actresses to directors and writers to sound editors and special effects people, there are a lot of friends in the film community, just as there are in all other communities. Whenever one loses a friend, it’s sad. At the same time, though, even if they’re gone, you can still hold on to their memories and recall all the wonderful things you did together. I think that’s the main message of this song. Even if your friends aren’t with you physically, they’re with you in your heart and in your mind.
To wrap things up, I would like to return to Mr. Horner’s instrumental work. In 1989, he composed the score for the classic fantasy “Field Of Dreams”. I loved this movie, which is strange because I was never really a sports fan of any kind. I could relate to the idea of wanting to see a dead loved one again. That was the overriding theme of the movie, and nowhere is that more evident than in the climatic musical piece “The Place Where Dreams Come True”.
This musical piece enhances the emotions of when Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella sees his father for the first time since he died. As they finally make their peace and the road leading to Ray’s farm fills up with cars full of people ready to play ball, there’s truly a kind of magic to it. The magic comes partially from the music. That’s what the best music can do, and Mr. Horner was something of a magician with the music he did.
It’s easy to hurl brickbats at James Horner and accuse him of ripping off classical composers or recycling his themes, but he wasn’t like a Sean Combs or a Robin Thicke. He utilized multiple sources from the past to create sounds in the present that would forever resound in the future. Once these last three movies come out, we’ll never hear another score from James Horner, but we do have almost 35 years of music to look back on, and that’s something amazing.
R.I.P James Horner.