I’ve always been a huge John Williams fan. Like many people my age, I grew up listening to his iconic music in iconic movies – Star Wars, Superman, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones. His music was the soundtrack of my youth. The Star Wars soundtrack was even the first album I ever bought with my own money. (Well, it’s tied for first. I bought Styx’s Kilroy Was Here at the same time. But that’s another story.)
John Williams conducted the Boston Pops orchestra for years, and when I was in high school, I watched the Evening at Pops TV show religiously every week. I was such a huge fan I wrote him a letter – which somehow made it to him even though I had no idea of the address, so sent it to, “John Williams, Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.”
And yes, it did make it to him. I know this because many months later, when I got home from school one day, my brother told me I’d gotten a piece of mail from Los Angeles. Getting mail – any mail – was rare enough, but from Los Angeles? Who on earth was sending me mail from Los Angeles?
John Williams, that’s who. He sent me this:
And yes, that’s an actual signature, not a stamp.
All of this is why, when I was 20, I planned my first ever trip: to go to Boston to see Williams conduct the Pops. It was the days before the internet, so it took a lot of phone calls and appointments with travel agents to secure show tickets and flights and a hotel, plus the purchase of multiple travel books to figure out just what all to do while there.
And I loved every second of it.
My parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of my travelling alone, so my mother kind of invited herself along. Seeing as she was one of my best friends, I was fine that. (And I won’t lie – I was also fine with the way her credit card kept coming out of her wallet when it came time to pay for things.) She didn’t have much interest in planning and was content to leave that end of things up to me. And she was a great travel companion, to boot. Every time I asked a question that started with, “Do you want to … ?” her answer was always, “Sure.”
It was a wonderful trip – lots of walking and sightseeing and laughing, tours to Salem and Plymouth, lunch at The Bull & Finch Pub (aka Cheers.)
And then there was the crown jewel: John Williams and the Boston Pops. The show was a tribute to the music of Leonard Bernstein, and featured Bea Arthur. At the time, the headliner wasn’t a big deal to me, but now I look back and think, “Holy shit, I was in the presence of Bea Arthur! No, at the time, it was all about being in the presence of John Williams. I don’t remember many details about the show itself, but my mother got to see her favourite orchestra member (one of the percussionists whose animation while he played entertained her no end), and I got to see John Williams conduct one of his own compositions (The Mission Theme).
But beyond that, the trip showed me something that would have a profound impact on my life. I’d already known how much I love attending live shows, and after a few simple trips with my mother to visit her side of the family, I had a strong inkling that I loved to travel as well. What 20-year-old me learned in Boston was how much fun combining the two could be.
For various reasons, it was 15+ years before I’d travel again for a show. But when I finally did, it drove home how much a show enhances a trip. Now I don’t even consider going somewhere without throwing live music of some kind into the mix.
Sometimes it’s the show that’s the driving force: “Hmmmm. Where should we go see Rammstein? Germany? Okay!” Sometimes it’s the destination that drives the decision behind the show: “Who’s in Vegas while we’re there? Oooo, look! Elton John!” But no matter what, music plays a part.
It turns out John Williams did a hell of a lot more than provide a soundtrack for my youth. He showed me that my entire life deserves one, and while he may not have written the notes that underscore the soundtrack of my adulthood, it was he that provided the first movement for the symphony of my life.