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I Am Big Bird (Joshua Johnson)

July 26, 2015

Cover_IAmBigBirdI AM BIG BIRD

Joshua Johnson, 2015, Varese Sarabande
16 tracks, 44:36

Left field – that’s where this score came out of. I’d never heard of the composer; and a picture of a bloke with big orange feet didn’t do much to peak my interest. And then I pressed play… only to discover a wonderful, lush and exquisite orchestral score!

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

This heartwarming documentary chronicles the life of Caroll Spinney, the man who has been Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969.  For over 4 decades, Caroll’s characters have been cherished by generations of children. At 81 years old, the tenacious and enthusiastic performer has no intention of slowing down.

Joshua Johnson most recently scored “We Must Go”, a feature documentary chronicling the journey of the Egyptian Nation Soccer team and coach Bob Bradley as they fight to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Johnson’s additional music contributions can be heard on productions such as “The Maze Runner“, Marvel’s “Daredevil” and”Dragons: Riders of Berk”.

What does it sound like?

In the film, Frank Oz mentions that Caroll gives Big Bird’s character a ‘child-like innocence,’” Johnson explains. “This was particularly apparent to me throughout the scoring process, and I was careful to infuse that sense of wonderment, emotion, and sentimentality into the music of the film.

And so, the score opens with a lovely piano-led melody that captures said wonderment, emotion and sentimentality. Strings and basses add a sense of scope to the cue. “Mother and Father” and “Wanderlust” are two wonderful, understated cues for piano and strings. The pace briefly picks up in “The Bozo Years” with brass even adding an almost-epic touch (though for the most part this is calm, moderately paced score). The passage for woodwinds that follows, reminds of James Horner – as do many other parts of the score. Equally, it’s reminiscent of Marc Shaiman’s sweet, melodic scores from the 90s. Certainly from a listeners point-of-view, there’s a strong sense of ‘nostalgia’ about this score, which I absolutely adore.

There was a big emphasis put on making themes for both Caroll and Big Bird, and I remember trying a handful before we settled into the two main themes of the score: Caroll’s theme (“Prelude/Main Titles”) and Big Bird’s theme (“Rise To Fame”, “Big Bird Peaks”),” explains Johnson. “There are aspects of the themes that are interchangeable, and that is intentional; Caroll and Big Bird are, essentially, the same.

“Rise to Fame” (the second half of track six) offers a lovely melody for strings, very much in the vain of Horner in his earlier years. “Jim Friendship” is another gem of a cue, recalling the late Horner’s style through twinkly piano, light strings and woodwinds. It’s never too literal, but there are similarities in the use of piano, strings, woodwinds and horn, certain harmonies and counterpoint, certain build-ups and resolutions. Just listen to (and enjoy) the interaction between strings and horn in “Big Bird Peaks”.

Cello plays a pivotal role in “Family Matters”, whilst various mallets add a touch of wonder to “Transitioning”. The album closes with the lush “Why He Still Does It”, a magnificent feel-good cue.

Is it any good?

Joshua Johnson’s “I Am Big Bird” is such a lovely, warm-hearted, feel-good ‘little’ score. I’m often reminded of James Horner and Marc Shaiman, through the lush melodies and colourful orchestrations. At no point do those similarities become too literal, so the score always maintains a unique voice of its own. I wasn’t expecting such an exquisite work for a documentary about Big Bird, I’ll be honest, but it’s found its way to my media player many, many times over the past few weeks. It’s a score that pleases easily, yet offers enough depth for further exploration. Look past those big orange feet, and you’ll find one of the most heart-warming, nostalgic scores of the year.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

01. Prelude (Main Title) (2.09)
02. Mother And Father (2.35)
03. Wanderlust (1.39)
04. The Bozo Years (2.01)
05. First Day (2.26)
06. Carroll Quits / Rise To Fame (5.16)
07. Divorce (2.16)
08. Jim Friendship (2.00)
09. China (5.21)
10. ROTC (1.38)
11. Mr. Hooper (2.23)
12. Big Bird Peaks (2.19)
13. Family Matters (2.15)
14. Transitioning (4.03)
15. Big Bird’s Decline (3.26)
16. Why He Still Does It (2.49)

Availability

Digitally from June 30th. On CD from July 31st 2015.

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