Ahead of Sunday’s trektastic concert at the Royal Albert Hall, we were kindly offered the opportunity to talk to Ron Jones who was the composer on Star Trek The Next Generation on seasons 1-4.
Ron will be appearing as a guest conductor at Star Trek The Ultimate Voyage on Sunday 1st November and we understand there are still some tickets left, but be quick!
TGs: You continued the theme of classical music scores in to TNG, do you know how that decision came about?
RJ: There was a lot of discussion between Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman. Paramount and the executive side were worried as TNG was so different with a bald British captain, a Klingon on the bridge, a different cast. They were worried that the TOS fans would see this and be in shock. They told us liberally to use weed out the theme from Jerry Goldsmith and Alexander Courage’s themes from the movies.
As the show progressed, we got our legs in the the middle of the second second and defiantly by the third season. Then the music got its own thing.
TGs: So much like how TNG is believed to have come in to its own by season 2/3, you felt the music had also came into its own by then?
RJ: As characters, when they started, they didn’t really know each other then after a while, they would add a sense of humour, become much more relaxed and figure out what they were all about. The writers too had to figure out what the show was all about. It evolved weekly but it hit critical mass about that time.
TGs: How connected were you to the development of the show?
RJ: I can’t tell the story visually so I have tell the listener and inform them as to the emotional content. I would read the script and before I start writing a note I would ask, ‘what is the show about? What is this character about’. If that character was a melodic device, turn it into a musical thing or that feeling, what would it be? What would the feeling of the situation they are in be? So I do a lot of work, I become totally submerged into the emotional content and tried to decipher as much as I can of those emotional queues, those emotional keys. And so those ideas start to collide. If it starts of they’re in adventure mode, They can be in in a scene that is scientific and exciting and then all of a sudden something crazy happens and it all changes. So I have to bat that all out, which is my own personal way. A lot of composers sit down and look at the show and do the first thing that come to their mind and there’s not any thought about it. for me I do so much work, it’s like building a giant structure and so even now when I look back now I have a portfolio of notes where I wrote down all of the characters and I think when people that really listen to the scores they’ll hear that, they’ll hear that jerry goldsmith style, they’ll hear my style. Some of the composers were sensitive to that and other composers have that all unique approach to it and don’t go to all that trouble.
TGs: I’d never thought about having each character as a musical instrument.
RJ: But the producers just wanted to get the show done, it’s another show on the assembly line. Meanwhile, the actor, director and the composer are the only ones with any residue to think what it’s going to be emotionally to the audience.
Were there guidelines for what you were asked to produce for each episode?
It’s funny because we don’t have free reign but back when we were doing Star Trek nobody did a complete mock up of the scores and present it to the producers for their opinion.
Maybe they’d talk to the associate producer and a live producer who would say ‘I want to get this freakin thing done!’. And they might have have a note here or there but they are specifically barred from talking about the emotional stuff. It’s in their contract to say say ‘we go on Tuesday!’. And then we’re barred (the composer) from talking to the director or the writers. In fact, the writers weren’t allowed on the set otherwise they’d turn up and say ‘that’s not how I want that scene!’ It would get messy.
So it’s totally up to the composers understanding of what they’re supposed to do. And then they go to the viewing session and if they don’t like it, you’ve either got to be there and change it or forever hold their peace because it’s done and then it’s on the air. So it wasn’t a matter of trust, you just couldn’t.
Now, everything gets edited to death for my work and all the other composers out there you have to do 5 or 6 versions and there are a committee of people saying ‘I don’t like this, I don’t like that’. It gets washed down so the original sculpture has almost nothing left it it. There’s a lot of people trying to decide what happens instead of ‘a’ person.
TGs: You are a guest conductor for Star Trek The Ultimate Voyage at the Royal Albert Hall, are you able to say what we can expect to hear?
I know that they are looking for music that they know hasn’t been played to the point where everyone knows and can hum along. It’s music that hasn’t been drummed into everyone’s consciousness. They pulled out a lot of interesting music for this so I think they’ll be quite surprised and excited that’s there’s this whole level from all the Star Trek music that they maybe didn’t know.
TGs: And you’ll be conducting the pieces that you conducted at your time on TNG?
Yeah and it’s all going to be with the scenes. They asked for a bunch of scores and asked if I’d come and I said ‘yeah, that sounds like a great thing to go to.’
I’m really looking forward to it. I think they’re going to be surprised, there’s going to be a whole treasure of pieces.
I think people who come will be sitting there with their eyeballs and ears wide open taking in a new landscape all from Star Trek.
It’s going to be an epic collection of things, they are really going to deep to find things that are going to be exciting. I think it’s going to be amazing.
TGs: What are you most proud off from your time on TNG?
RJ: You know, people keep asking that one. Because I explore the emotion, I enjoy the shows like for instance, there was this one episode where a they go down to a planet and there’s an observation team there. They are told by the Prime Directive not to get involved but one of them was sick and they had to go rescue them. They think they are gods and they have to see someone on the ship die, that was emotional. (Believe Ron is describing Who Watches the Watchers).
And then when Tasha died. A 7 minute eulogy on prime time television show and losing a main character, that was a very, very dramatic show.
Even the orchestra people cried. They came into the booth – and they never came into the booth – and they were very emotional.
So that’s kinda cool where the music marries the emotion so wonderfully that the music, the emotion and the picture become this amazing thing. Lifts it up to four or five levels beyond what you thought was possible. And that’s the magic, I love it when it hits that particular moment. Hopefully there were at least one of those in each show.
TGs: Future ventures?
RJ: I quit family guy end of last season and moved from Los Angeles to Seattle, Washington and I’m building a music production centre that’s got a scoring stage and all that stuff. I’m continuing doing what I’m doing. It feels a little like you’re in a rut, I did family guy for 15 years and I can’t show up everyday like ‘please make this different!’. So now I have a big band and an orchestra and I do projects from LA but I live out in Seattle.
TGs: Did you continue to watch Star Trek?
RJ: Well it was very emotional for me, I stopped watching it as a regular thing. I would watch it because I would get up for it. I usually went to the dubs, most composers write their stuff then want to bake in the sun or something but I would finish it then go to the dub and be part of the show. So when I wasn’t doing it, well it’s like if you had a girlfriend, you love the girlfriend and you broke up, you don’t want to keep hanging around the girlfriends window.
TGs: We can understand that
RJ: I suppose the Trekkie Girls can understand that!!
TGs: Before I spoke to you I researched some of your most recognised pieces from Star Trek. I watched the final scene from Best Of Both Worlds, with and without the music. Without that score it would have been a completely different ending.
RJ: Yeah, well I have to play all the tension. So you’d have 16 seconds of darkness and Rick Berman would stick his head around the door and say ‘you got to save that part!’
TGs: Is there anything else you want to mention?
RJ: You asked about the process of what I do different and I think the people who really love it, like your followers on your blog, will come to the show (Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage) with the idea of looking in on that, they’re going to get a lot out of it. So the people who really love the the show are going to be in 7th Heaven because they do take you deeper.