To conductor Ron Spigelman's way of thinking, the people who compose and perform movie soundtracks are, ironically, unsung heroes of cinema.
"Think about it," he says. "If it wasn't for the famed Imperial March in Star Wars, Darth Vader wouldn't be frightening at all. He would just be a respiratorily challenged guy in a Halloween costume."
The music playing in the background adds character and depth to everything happening onscreen, although moviegoers often barely notice its impact.
But Saturday night at Bass Hall, the background music moves to the forefront.
During a special screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the music soundtrack will be stripped away, allowing the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, with Spigelman conducting, to perform the score live with the movie.
"The music in Pirates is great when it's just a movie," says Spigelman. "But when you hear it live, it becomes really exciting."
Experiencing the movie in this way, he says, can create a feeling of sensory overload.
Moviegoers can enjoy the best of the four Johnny Depp-as-Capt. Jack Sparrow adventures the way it was meant to be seen, on a full-size movie screen over the stage, or they can shift their focus to the orchestra onstage, more than 100 musicians and performers in all.
"During the big scenes, like the battle scenes, there's as much action in the orchestra as there is on the screen," Spigelman says. "Watching both together, it's like, 'Wow, they're all in the battle together.'"
Spigelman, who is based in Springfield, Mo., has a long history with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. He was the associate conductor here from 1994 to 2001, before moving to Buffalo, N.Y., and then becoming the music director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra in 2004. Four years ago, he hooked up again with the FWSO as the principal pops conductor.
Last year, Spigelman conducted the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra during a screening of Pirates, the second time it was ever presented that way, and it was a huge success. Early in his career, he led an orchestra accompanying a screening of the original silent version of Ben-Hur. And in 2009, he brought the same concept to Bass Hall, conducting the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra during The Wizard of Oz.
Pirates is the most modern film he has done. But he says the sweeping score by composer Klaus Badelt, one that captures the majesty of big ships on the open seas, cries out to be showcased.
"There's all this hoopla these days about 3-D. You go to a movie, you put these glasses on, and you see these images coming at you," Spigelman says. "But truly, the third dimension in a movie is the music.
"It's the music that actually gives a movie its true depth. For the story to be told and the emotions to come out, you absolutely have to have the music.
"And when you've got the music coming at you live, that's the real 3-D experience."
Sweating the details
There will be no room for error or musical interpretation Saturday night. If the music doesn't sync up to what's showing onscreen, the illusion will be broken. Making matters more challenging, there are a few instances in the film when director Gore Verbinski cut away from big chases or battle scenes for a split-second shot without music. In those instances, the orchestra must stop and restart on a dime.
"It's the musical equivalent of trying to dock the shuttle at the space station," Spigelman says. "You have to do it just right or you've got a disaster on your hands."
To help get it right, Spigelman will have the movie playing on a monitor in front of him.
"Even though I've got about 100 people to direct, I'm also following the screen almost 100 percent of the time," he says. "I almost can never look at the music, so I pretty much have to memorize it."
Spigelman's favorite parts of the movie, both as a film buff and as a music lover?
"I absolutely love the scene where you find out that Jack Sparrow is cursed just like the other pirates," he says. "You don't find that out until later in the movie and it's just this great moment. I really love the big battle near the end. That has some of the most powerful, driving music to it.
"And there's one other scene that I really like, when they go to the pirate bar in Tortuga to get a crew to chase after the Black Pearl. There's this great Celtic-influenced violin-cello fiddling tune, which is really fun."
It has been suggested that the musicians should perform dressed in pirate outfits, but Spigelman says that probably won't happen.
"You've got to remember, we're concentrating so hard the whole time on the music, so dressing up probably isn't a very good idea," he says. "Although, when I did this in Tulsa, the members of the men's choir actually wore the Johnny Depp pirate hats and eye patches. I thought that was amusing.
"Besides, we've got a full-size movie screen that's packed with pirates. They do it right."