Writer’s Music: Thomas Newman II

91ufkP71uyL._SY355_Long, long ago, one of my mother’s favorite stories was turned into a film (again): LITTLE WOMEN. She and my father decided to do a family movie outing, where he, my uncle, and my brother would attend one film, and my mother, aunt, and I would attend another.

I never did get to see Highlander III, so I don’t know whether or not I came out ahead. (Yes, I’ve been told I have, many times over.) No matter what I thought of the Little Women story or film, one element stuck with me, hard: the music.

Newman’s theme to Little Women still surprises me with its versatility. The opening sequence shines brightly through the brass and strings. Splendor, light, joy–all this comes through in “Orchard House.”

The theme depicts a strength you can’t help but associate with Jo and her sisters. They’re a source of life for the brooding and sick surrounding them.

But then they grow up, part ways. It takes a death to bring them back together.

Now Newman could have written a special sorrowful theme. He could have devised something simple for the period, with, say, a violin or a flute. Lord knows I was familiar enough with the lone violin playing “Shenandoah’s Theme” every time an important person died in Ken Burns’ documentary THE CIVIL WAR. But Newman didn’t. He used his life-light theme again, but not with an orchestra. This time, the theme comes to us on piano in “Valley of the Shadow.”

A piano still has the feel of the period. It was the beloved instrument of the character who died. The theme comes to us in chords, without fluid arpeggios or connections: the notes move together, as these sisters must now move forward together.

I cannot think of another score where the main theme moves from triumph to mourning with a mere change of instrument.

Stories, at least the good ones, do not follow the easy journeys. They take the mountain trails, pass through all those shadowed valleys. Face the monsters all around.


Only then can a light of triumph shine upon that final page.

Click here for more on Thomas Newman.

Click here for more on LITTLE WOMEN.


18 thoughts on “Writer’s Music: Thomas Newman II

    • He really is quite talented. There are some composers who always have a certain flavor in all their scores–John Williams and his brass, Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman with their choirs of doom/eccentricity. So it’s nice to find composers whose music ties to the story, rather than just back to them. Thanks for reading!

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  1. Well now… I was saving this till today to get a proper lookie . I have a vinyl ..yes …of his father’s film music. Like Father like son. Brilliant composers both. You are an wee gem so ye are for posting this wonderful post xxxxx

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    • I’m glad you liked it! I honestly thought I had written about this music already, so I was excited when I realized I could do this one. That piano arrangement struck me so deeply I learned to play it by ear when I was a kid.
      Oh! And before I forget, I’m still working on those questions you posted for me a while ago. πŸ™‚

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  2. Reading your beautifully written post has TOTALLY inspired me to watch the movie with my older daughter. (I still plan on listening to the links you shared, & I’ll let you know what I think…) I forgot that Trini Alvarado was in “Litttle Women” – and this is scary but I can’t remember if I saw “Little Women” with that cast. I haven’t seen much of Alvarado’s work, but she did a fantastic job in “The Frighteners” with Michael J. Fox, which I Ioved. Knowing she’s in “Little Women” makes me want to see it even more.

    Sorry to be so late with my reply – I loathe that & I know you understand but I still despise taking so long to read/comment. I got sick *again* Friday, but as least it wasn’t walking pneumonia and more of a common cold. :0 Doing better today!

    You would’ve really gotten along well with my Dad! As you know, he was close to Jerry Goldsmith (I think they went to high school together). Dad moonlighted with other composers on film soundtracks & I’m sure he worked with Newman. It would have been fun to be a fly on the wall listening to you & my father chat about film soundtracks and composers. I have a list of all the films he played on that I’ll share sometime with you or maybe on my blog! πŸ˜‰ I still find it hilarious that he played on “Poltergeist” and had to watch the film as they orchestra played along……yuck!

    Hope you’re having a good day and thanks for giving me this space to ramble!

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    • He had to watch AND play at the same time?!? And I can’t handle Poltergeist as an audience member, so I can’t fathom how he had to concentrate on his music with all that gross creepiness going on.
      Oh no! I’m glad you’re on the up and up. Your father sounds like a lot of fun…maybe the next life will allow us all an ice cold lemonade on the veranda while the brass band plays in the background. πŸ™‚
      Come now, you are FINE with your response time. I keep finding other obligations getting in the way of me reading my favorite blogs (ahem) and responding, so I just try to make sure I do it once a week. If I can do that, then I’m okay. Therefore, YOU are okay, too!
      I never saw that movie! I don’t mind this version of Little Women, what with a young Christian Bale and a still-nice-age Gabriel Byrne involved. πŸ˜‰ And one of these days I WILL watch Highlander 3…and probably hate myself, but I MUST… πŸ™‚
      Thanks for reading, friend!!!


  3. Just listened to both tracks – so beautiful. I especially loved “Valley of the Shadow”. I appreciated reading your fascinating analysis of both of these tracks, and how the “Valley of the Shadow” instrumental could’ve been different. (I’m so glad he wrote it featuring the piano.) I found myself getting verklempt listening to it, but in a good way! It really is special.

    Now on to watching the film this summer….

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