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WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL – John Paesano

September 21, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

whenthegamestandstallOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’ve never fully understood the American obsession with high school sports. When I was a teenager I played football – soccer, for North Americans – pretty regularly, at school, and for my scout troupe team, and despite the game being by far the most popular one in the UK I never played in front of a crowd of more than, probably, 50 people, most of them being the parents of the players. By contrast, American high school football teams draw crowds in tens of thousands to near-professional standard stadiums, especially in places like Texas. The games are shown on local television, the results are reported and scrutinized in the newspapers, and the best players are treated like celebrity athletes. I’ve always considered the notion of treating teenagers like professional sportsmen somewhat odd and potentially damaging – who has the mentality and personality to handle pressure like that at that age? – but that’s the way things are here; it’s also the basis of the film When the Game Stands Tall, which is set in the world of high school football.

De La Salle High School in Concord, California, is an American football powerhouse. Between 1992 and 2003 the school’s team won 151 games in a row, a national record, under the guidance of their coach, Bob Ladouceur. Director Thomas Carter’s film follows the school during that time, looking at the fortunes of the team on the field, and the personal tragedies and triumphs the coach and his players experience off it. The film stars Jim Caviezel, Laura Dern, Michael Chiklis and Clancy Brown, and has a rousing inspirational-sports-movie score by the young Michigan-born composer John Paesano, who with this effort is introducing himself to the film music world at large. Paesano is not a complete newcomer – he spent time orchestrating for John Williams in the late 1990s on scores like Amistad and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and won an Annie Award for his work on the TV series Dragons: Riders of Berk in 2013 – but When the Game Stands Tall is his first significant theatrical film.

There are many great examples of inspirational sports movie scores, the pinnacle of which is probably Jerry Goldsmith’s Rudy, a triumph of stirring Americana. When the Game Stands Tall does not quite reach those lofty heights, but it still has plenty to offer, especially to those who appreciate music which is unashamedly emotional, as it is steeped in the customs of the genre. The traditionally-minded Paesano combines a large symphony orchestra with various assorted solo instruments, including guitars and more contemporary percussion rhythmic ideas, especially in the scenes involving actual game-footage, and emerges with a solid, if generally ‘safe’ debut effort that promises good things for the future.

The opening cue, “When the Game Stands Tall”, is lovely: a warm orchestral theme for prominent strings and piano; slow, sedate, but gradually unfolding into something sweeping and emotionally resonant, if a little reminiscent of Jurassic Park in some of the countermelodies and chord progressions. The theme that forms the core of this piece returns several times during the meat of the score, before culminating in a powerful performance in the magnificent, celebratory conclusive cue, “Spartans for Life”, that ends the album on a rousing high.

Throughout the score, Paesano calls on all the established musical devices that often feature in films of this nature. Slightly lonely-sounding horns combined with chiming tubular bells feature prominently during the first half of “The Streak”, while more pastoral and slightly downbeat Thomas Newman-esque woodwind textures and percussion ideas occur during the first half of “Team Wins 151st” and in subsequent cues such as “What Did I Do?” and especially “VA Hospital”. “TK’s Funeral” is particularly heartfelt, returning to the soft strings and solo piano ideas from the first part of the opening cue, and even finding time to work in a solo violin performance to really increase the sense of loss and remembrance.

Counterbalancing all this inviting intimacy, cues such as “The Heart Attack” are more urgent, with frantic, racing strings that add a slight touch of panic and trepidation, while both “Bellevue” and “Spartans Prevail” have a sense of anticipation, with their rhythmic cello lines and rising string phrasing. Parts of “The Streak is Over” feature a stark, unaccompanied horn line and, later, ambient string and piano ideas, all of which speak to the shock suffered by the team at losing a game for the first time in 11 years; however, as the cue develops, martial snare drum rhythms underneath resolute, determined string-and-percussion lines begin to emerge, reinforcing the camaraderie and sportsmanship between the players.

The more contemporary rock elements feature in the second half of cues such as the aforementioned “The Streak” and “Team Wins 151st”, as well as the exciting “State Championship”, giving them an urban edge and an aspect of gritty realism. Later, “Ready to Let You Go Again” features an acoustic guitar to lovely effect, while “Poly Game” is a showcase for a time-honored marching band drumline, with all manner of complicated rhythmic ideas for a vast array of intertwined percussion items.

Although the score for When the Game Stands Tall is a little predictable, there is still plenty to recommend to those who enjoy straightforward, uncomplicated Americana scores which reach for the heartstrings. Similarly, although some of the temp-track allusions are a little disappointing, they are also completely understandable for a composer at the beginning of his cinematic career, as John Paesano is. To concentrate solely on the positives, he shows a deft touch with the orchestra, a firm grasp of the dramatic needs of his film, and isn’t slow to capitalize on an emotional moment, and these things are all to be commended. With the score for The Maze Runner also on his dance card for 2014, this promises to be a breakout year for him, and I look forward to see where he goes from here.

Buy the When the Game Stands Tall soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • When the Game Stands Tall (4:19)
  • The Streak (1:52)
  • Team Wins 151st (2:06)
  • What Did I Do? (2:10)
  • Heart Attack (1:52)
  • Brothers for Life (3:11)
  • TKs Funeral (2:43)
  • Ready To Let You Go Again (1:28)
  • Bellevue (1:25)
  • The Streak is Over (4:15)
  • VA Hospital (2:22)
  • Poly Game (1:11)
  • Counting Down (3:16)
  • State Championship (3:08)
  • Spartans Prevail (2:57)
  • Spartans For Life (4:20)

Running Time: 43 minutes 02 seconds

Madison Gate Records (2014)

Music composed and conducted by John Paesano. Orchestrations by Jason Livesay, Nolan Livesay, Steven Mahpar and Daniel Semsen. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs. Album produced by John Paesano.

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