Those of you who have been listening to the main Trek Mate podcast lately will know that Ron Jones is my favourite composer who worked on The Next Generation. I’ll tell you about some of my favourite Ron Jones episode scores in this article, however first a little background info.
Ron Jones sent a demo tape in to Paramount while working on Disney’s Duck Tales’ show, and after a meeting with Bob Justman (at the time the producer of TNG) Jones was hired along with Dennis McCarthy and veteran Star Trek composer Fred Steiner (the composer of many TOS episodes such as ‘The Corbomite Manoeuvre’ and ‘Mirror, Mirror’). Steiner however only composed one episode – ‘Code of Honor’ – before he was informed his services were no longer required, as the score he wrote was felt to be the wrong direction for the series being too similar to the music in TOS.
Jones was the first composer to record music for TNG, as McCarthy was running behind composing the score for ‘Encounter at Farpoint’. In fact, during that first recording session Jones had executives from Paramount and Gulf & Western present in the control booth for the momentous occasion! During those early episodes Jones and McCarthy would often reference the Star Trek fanfare (by Alexander Courage) and the main TNG theme (by Jerry Goldsmith) at the encouragement of the producers to reinforce to the viewer that this was in fact ‘Star Trek’, but as the series progressed they started to move away from that and develop their own themes giving the show its own musical style. An orchestra of between 35-48 players was often used except for episodes where the budget caused issues, but Jones often used synthesisers to compliment the live musicians and you can hear this used to great effect in the season one episode ‘We’ll always have Paris’.
As the series went on Jones and McCarthy took it in turn scoring alternate episodes, with the occasional guest composer doing a single show. In 1990, during season three, Jones had to miss two episodes due to speaking at a seminar in the then Soviet-Union. This caused friction with the producers as although he had informed them well in advanced they needed him due to a schedule change and were alarmed to find him unavailable! This caused the studio to hire composer Jay Chattaway to score the episode ‘Tin Man’ and he would later go on to be hired as a full time composer for season four.
It’s well known that the style of music Jones was composing did not sit well with Rick Berman, who preferred the music to be subtle and non-thematic (What is referred to often online as ‘Sonic Wallpaper’!). From the early episodes Jones sensed that he was being guided to write music in a certain way, and often felt the need to write alternative cues to various scenes in an effort to give the producers more control (or at least a sense of it). There were even tensions not related to the musical style, for example for the episode ‘Brothers’ Jones replaced the string section with a $500,000 synthesiser which had a MIDI connection crash on the scoring stage with only half the score completed. Jones rewrote the score and paid out of his own pocket to get it recoded, but the damage was done.
Jones’ last score for TNG came with the season four episode ‘The Drumhead’. Jones told Film Score Monthly:
“Just before I scored ‘Drumhead,’ they turned down all the lights in the production office and Peter Lauritson pulled me in and said, ‘Well, we’ve decided to go with someone else. I know you’re going to be upset, but finish this one and you’ll be done.’ I was told goodbye and I had to write knowing this was my last one. It was a show about being falsely accused, and I named every cue after what was going on at the time. I thought, ‘Man, if they’re going to fire me and I did nothing wrong, this is the perfect show to go out on.’”
It would be impossible in this article for me to go over every score by Jones, however here are some of my favourites.
Where No One Has Gone Before
An early season one episode, the first big ‘Wow’ I always get from this episode is during the initial warp test. The TNG theme has been rearranged here, as is often done in these early episodes, to great effect and it perfectly accompanies the action on-screen. The other main theme in the episode is when the Enterprise is travelling to unknown places, and the synthesisers in use invoke a strong sense of hurtling towards the unknown.
Hated by some, I actually quite like ‘The Royale’, but I love the score. It’s very much in the ‘Big Band’ style which I do enjoy (My grandparents introduced me to the music of Glenn Miller many years ago) and it accompanies the on-screen images to perfection, from the shoot-out with Mickey D to the finale with Riker, Worf and Data shooting Craps in the casino. This always brings a smile to my face.
The Best of Both Worlds
The best score ever written in TNG? I would say yes, for the score to ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ is full of action and emotion just like the episode. The use of a synthesised choir for the Borg threat really does enhance the sense of impending doom, and the track ‘Intervention’ from Part 2 when the crew rescue Picard from the Borg Cube has to be one of my favourite pieces of TNG music of all time. The emotion comes in Part 1, where the crew realise Picard has been assimilated and they struggle with the decision to attempt another rescue or use their new weapon to destroy the ship.
I will of course be featuring more music by Ron Jones in the new ‘Music of Star Trek’ section in the main Trek Mate podcast, however if you’d like to hear more you can purchase the music of The Best of Both Worlds on CD, or get the entire collection of episode scores (with the exception of the ones on the Best of Both Worlds CD) on ‘The Ron Jones Project’ by Film Score Monthly – a fabulous 14 disc set that not only includes alternate takes that weren’t used in the episodes but also the music for the games Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Command.
‘The Ron Jones Project’ -http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/notes/box05_intro.html
The Music of Star Trek (1999), Jeff Bond