Music is an important part of the pop culture breakfast. Theme songs, especially, spark a rush of nostalgia and emotional connection to favorite scenes or characters. But of all the pop culture franchises that have had their themes turned into ringtones, rendered in a capella fashion, or covered by popular artists, only one has 50 years of sonic influence over television, movies, and more: Star Trek. Though its position in the pop culture pantheon has been challenged by other properties currently going through billion-dollar awakenings and taking over large chunks of the fake-pointy-ear market, the 50th anniversary of Trek looks to revitalize the franchise in a big way.
Milwaukee finds itself as one of the first stops on this 50th-year mission when “Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage” beams into the Riverside Theater Sunday, March 13 for a mix of live orchestral music, clips from the hugely successful films and television shows, and, quite likely, at least one away team’s worth of fans rocking some awesome cosplay. Ahead of the show, Milwaukee Record spoke with Justin Freer, a producer who is also the conductor leading the orchestra on Sunday, and Dennis McCarthy, the award-winning composer of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, and, yes, V: The Final Battle.
Milwaukee Record: Let’s start with the question nerds have been wanting to know for fifty years: How do you get a gig working on Star Trek?
Justin Freer: We conceived a concert experience and approached CBS about it two years ago. They thought it was a great idea to do a fifty-year concert experience with a full orchestra, clips from all the films and movies, and a forty-foot screen. We’ve been working on it for two years and have been on the road for about two months, so it’s great to finally show people what we’ve been working on for so long.
Dennis McCarthy: I was playing piano for Glen Campbell for nine years back when he was huge. One day he asked all the guys in the band, “Any of you guys know how to arrange for orchestras?” I was the only one in the band that could read music.
MR: Not even Glen?
DM: Not even Glen! [laughs] Because I did that arrangement, I got a job at Warner Bros. to do a spinoff of The Dukes Of Hazzard. They wanted country styling mixed in with a more traditional score. That project led me to work on V: The Final Battle. I had nine days to write sixty percent of a score. That opened the door to more sci-fi series work like the new Twilight Zone. I sent in a tape with big orchestral ideas. They told me they wanted someone to marry the themes of Alexander Courage and Jerry Goldsmith, and they must have liked my ideas. I worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation for the next eight years.
MR: What are the differences between writing music for film and writing music for TV?
DM: TV series never use a temp track. The temp track is the music they use in place of the stuff you’re going to write for the scene to help convey the mood. They never temp tracked a thing in the eighteen years I worked for the different series. They temp track every film, which means that you can’t use the temp track or be too influenced by it. Also, Trek gives you a lot of time to write. We’d get a week or so to work on a piece, but other shows it’s a couple of days.
MR: What can you tell us about the structure of “The Ultimate Voyage”?
JF: We arrange it around themes like “Enterprise,” “Captains,” and “Klingons,” and then show clips from over fifty years of Star Trek on the forty-foot screen. We also show thirteen or fourteen scenes where we play the original score in the background.
MR: Like the shows where an orchestra plays the full score of a movie?
JF: Our company, CineConcerts, does a lot of those shows. We just announced plans for a Harry Potter series where we’ll play the score live for each one of the films over the next few years.
MR: I bet those scenes get a great reaction.
JF: You get a very emotional reaction from all the music in the concert. People are laughing, crying, yelling for their favorite characters. Star Trek is not just a swashbuckler—it’s a high-level science fiction story Gene Roddenberry used to discuss the issues of the day.
MR: Is there a particular music cue fans should look for in the show?
JF: The Enterprise docking sequence from Star Trek: The Motion Picture is one of the best things written in the genre.
DM: For the theme to Deep Space Nine, Rick Berman and I talked about departure. It was nothing big and heroic—nobody was coming to save the day. I was inspired by how “Taps” is played at funerals. I will also remember working on the pilot episode for Enterprise. That took place over September 10 and September 11, 2001. We were the only ones on the lot and we kept taking breaks to try and get in contact with all the friends and family we had in New York.
MR: Did Star Trek impact you most before, during, or after working on it?
DM: During. It gave me steady work for eighteen years. I figure my job is week to week, and if I write one bad cue I’m putting car parts back together. [laughs]
JF: I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation and the movies. As I got older I found an appreciation for the original series. I even studied with Jerry Goldsmith before he got sick. It gave me a newfound respect for all the music we play.
“Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage” comes to Riverside Theater Sunday, March 13. Door open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Reserved seating tickets are $39.59, $49.50, and $75.