Like last month, I didn’t really listen to many instrumental pieces, so I wasn’t sure what I’d select for this post. But then I realised that this month’s Symphonic Selections happened to fall on Memorial Day this year, and I racked my brain for a song to share that would commemorate all the men and women who have died and served for the United States. A very fitting and perfect song hit me later. This month’s selection is a film soundtrack piece composed by one of my favourite film composers, and it’s an orchestral piece with a choral accompaniment.
“Hymn to the Fallen” is composed by John Williams for the film Saving Private Ryan. When I first saw this film, I actually couldn’t recall any of its soundtrack because I think the realistic and graphic war scenes overwhelmed my senses. It wasn’t until a few years later that my band teacher bought an arrangement of this song for her ensemble that I heard and fell in love with it.
When I stop and think about it, the melody of this piece is actually simple and easy to play. It’s not a complicated song compared to something by Rachmaninoff or Beethoven. It’s deceptively simple, but when it’s layered up with an orchestra, with the distinctive horn and the drum parts, and with a choir . . . the entire composition comes together beautifully. Everything starts off slow and steady, giving off a very solemn feel. But then it builds up to what I call the climax of the song at 3:55, when everything transforms into something beautiful and majestic. That part always send shivers down my spine and bring tears to my eyes. It’s a truly powerful section.
If you’ve never heard this song or seen Saving Private Ryan, please give this piece a try. While Memorial Day is strictly a US holiday, no matter the country, please always remember the sacrifices men and women have made for your countries in past and present times, in war and peace.