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Friday, August 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A&E >  Music

Spokane Symphony gets adventurous in live performance of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones comes face-to-face with a cobra in a scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” (AP Photo/LucasFilms / LucasFilms)
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones comes face-to-face with a cobra in a scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” (AP Photo/LucasFilms / LucasFilms)

Director Steven Spielberg, writer Lawrence Kasdan and star Harrison Ford no doubt had a huge role in making “Raiders of the Lost Ark” so successful.

The film brought in nearly $390 million at the box office and was nominated for and won multiple awards, including four Academy Awards from nine nominations.

But to see just how integral composer John Williams’ score is to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” try watching a scene or two with the sound muted.

Take, for instance, the scene during which Indy enters the Nazis’ dig site and uses the Staff of Ra to correctly locate the Ark of the Covenant.

You see Ford slowly walk up to a diorama of the city, carefully clear away sand and refer to his notes before placing the staff in the correct position and successfully revealing the location of the Ark. All the while, Sallah, an old friend of Jones and “the best digger in Egypt,” gets pulled away from the dig site by Nazi soldiers.

But without Williams’ music, you don’t feel any of that.

You don’t feel the anticipation as Jones edges closer to the map or the danger knowing that Sallah isn’t there to help Jones get out of the dig site.

You don’t feel Jones’ excitement start to build as he pieces everything together or the triumph he feels after realizing he’s found the location of the Ark.

But with a tentative melody here, a sweeping crescendo there, Williams evokes a plethora of emotions in that short scene.

Taking that experience to a new level, the Spokane Symphony, conducted by Mark Russell Smith, will perform Williams’ score live during a screening of the film at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Saturday.

The film will be shown on the theater’s new 20-by-40-foot screen.

Before the screening, guests can take part in pre-show activities like a photo-op in which they pretend to be tied to a pole like Jones and Marion Ravenwood. Music director Eckart Preu and his daughters will be helping in an area called the Snake Pit in which guests can check out live snakes and insects.

Smith, music director and conductor of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies, is a fan of the “Indiana Jones” series, but even more so, he’s a fan of Williams.

“John Williams is the master,” he said. “He is the gold standard as far as film composers … He has such incredible flexibility in the styles that he’s able to create.”

The scary moments in “Raiders,” Smith said, don’t sound like the scary moments in “Star Wars,” which don’t sound like anything Williams composed for “Harry Potter.”

“The orchestral colors that he creates are unique to the event, unique to what is on the screen,” Smith said. “He doesn’t have a formula. ‘Here’s scary music’ or ‘Here’s heroic music’ or ‘here’s love music.’ It’s not like he pushes a button.”

Smith has conducted bits of Williams’ work here and there in concert settings but said it’s a relatively new thing for orchestras to have the opportunity to perform alongside a full-length feature film.

The score itself is difficult to perform, but the symphony and Smith have the added challenge of staying in sync with the film.

Smith has watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark” multiple times in preparation and he’s sure the musicians have as well. He said nailing the timing comes down to rehearsals, as well as a few tricks of the trade.

“There are all sorts of things in the industry to help film conductors line things up so that has to be practiced and observed and if you’re a skilled conductor, then you’re able to put it together,” he said.

And once the music and film are synced together, the experience of watching the movie changes for the audience.

Consider, as per Smith’s suggestion, the movie “Psycho.” How different would the film be without Bernard Hermann’s iconic music used during the shower scene?

The live element, being in the same room as the orchestra while they perform, also helps to heighten emotions and adds energy to the evening.

“John Williams’ music already enhances the emotions so now it’s taken to a whole different level because it’s live, because of human contact,” Smith said. “For all these spiritual and acoustical reasons, it’s going to be such a richer experience.”

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