Music For The Grim(m) Season: John Williams’s Harry Potter chorus

As those of you who regularly follow this blog may have noticed, SpookyThings online is really a blog for adults.  That doesn’t mean it’s x-rated or anything like that, but we deal with a certain sensibility and subject matter that (let’s face it) isn’t really for the littlest kiddies, much though they may love Halloween, Gothic tales and strange goings on.  We make no bones about that.  Ooops – accidental pun.  It’s true, however, even though we deal less with horror and more with the haunted, less with the grisly and bloody-minded (wow, there we go again) than with the grim.  Or Grimm, if you prefer.

Still, there are thrilling tales even for the young, and since Halloween has become very much a day for the young in some respects, perhaps it’s appropriate for our Spooky Song Of The Week for Oct. 27th to reach for both a little Shakespeare and some J.K. Rowling.  By now, anyone who’s seen even one Harry Potter film knows the theme music, known as either “Hedwig’s Theme” or “Lumos!”, depending on which film you have in mind.  “Hedwig’s Theme” is all mysterious and magical sounding, but no.  That’s not the track I mean.  It’s another cut from John Williams’s fitting soundtrack for the film series that comes to mind – and sung by a very English boys’ choir, too:  “Double Trouble” from the film Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban.

 

 
Now I’m not always a big fan of John Williams and his film scores.  They’re occasionally too ‘Hollywood’ for me, though most have been quite enjoyable.  I also enjoyed his tenure as leader of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1995, when he succeeded the late Arthur Fiedler (this was when you could hear the Boston Pops regularly on PBS; I miss that now in Chicago – they usually have a great fourth of July concert).  However, Williams acquitted himself particularly well with the Potter scores.  Although he only scored the first three films, the themes he established were maintained for the succeeding films.

This choral piece is, I think, the best vocal track of all.  And what a lovely piece of haunting music it is, right up until you realize that the words come straight from the witches’ scene in Macbeth.  The contrast of the actual words and the young, pure voices of the children’s choir provides the same edgy juxtaposition that the unrevised, unadulterated Grimm’s Fairy Tales have:  the innocent smack up against the horrible.  Rowling, of course, combines the danger with virtue in her Harry Potter books, in the tradition of the best of the old storytellers, and this is part of the reason why kids love the Potter books.  It’s not just that there’s magic and imagination in those stories, it’s that there are clear consequences for actions, and this creates some of the needed tension in the novels.

Both the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen had stories with hard lessons in them, pointing out to children that life doesn’t always go so well and, thereby, preparing them gradually for the hard realities of life.  This is why I so hate that Disney changed the ending of “The Little Mermaid,” for example (which no doubt made Andersen roll in his grave).  In the original story, the mermaid has her hard lesson and pays the cost – because she gave up her voice to be with a shallow, faithless man, she couldn’t speak up for herself when the moment came … and so he married someone else.  He might have anyway, but at least she would have been able to say her piece.  To give up your ability to speak up for yourself is a grave crime against yourself, and an avoidable one at that.  Nor did she regain that voice later; but because she won’t do evil in order to return to the sea, she gets a different kind of second chance, one that will allow her to earn a soul.  Anderson himself changed to original ending, whereby she merely dissolved into the sea, to one of redemption; but that doesn’t mitigate the loss of her voice.  Like I said:  consequences.  What did kids learn from the cleaned-up Disney version?  Not much and nothing good, that’s for sure!

The Potter books, however, didn’t make that compromise in order to be popular.  Each in his or her own way, Rowling’s protagonists learn to be true to themselves and each other.  Harry, Hermione and Ron aren’t perfect, and they do fight on occasion – but in the end, they do the right thing and stay true, despite the great risks.  That’s a much better lesson to children.  And we do love the ghosts in those books:  Nearly Headless Nick, aka Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, the Bloody Baron, the Grey Lady, and the Fat Friar, not to mention all those former headmasters snoozing in their picture frames.  Too much!

There are always critics, of course, including some Christian ones who basically dislike any positive image of sorcery.  Their dressed-up complaint is that Harry doesn’t struggle through any kind of moral journey.  Well!  It may not be a moral journey that suits their liking, but he does have one, and in the end has to choose to die in order to save everyone else.  I’d say that’s a pretty big moral decision:  greater love no man hath than to lay down his life for his friends (straight from the Gospels, right?).  Except Harry was also including many who weren’t his friends or even acquaintances.  And all of his decisions through seven books led up to that.  Yeah, I’d call it a moral journey, all right.

Well, enough about that.  The point is:  here’s something that is suitable for the kiddies on Halloween.  Enjoy!

 
Your own spooky mixmistress,
DJ SweetMarie

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