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Soundtrack review: The west wing (W.G. Snuffy Walden – 1999)

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Soundtrack review: The west wing (W.G. Snuffy Walden – 1999)

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“The West Wing” is an American serial political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1999, to May 14, 2006. The series is set primarily in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and offices of presidential senior staff are located, during the fictitious Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen). The music was written by W.G. Snuffy Walden. He is a composer with an unbelievably rich TV curriculum and yet there have been so few releases, it’s a very strange situation.

I remember “The west wing” primarily because of Aron Sorkin’s unique pace; there isn’t anybody else who can write dialogue as well as he does with fast, snappy and clever replies. I didn’t always watch the show but when I stumbled upon it I just couldn’t get away from the web of dialogue and I usually ended up watching the entire episode. It’s still fresh to this day and I remember I wanted to watch it again when “The social network” came out because I was reacquainted with Sorkin’s mesmerising style. I also remember the music in context and it was mostly joyous as if to keep the pace with the dialogue.

Usually I say that it’s hard for composers to nail the really long cues and managed 8 or 9 minute long pieces that stay strong; I never thought how to rank composers who can put meaning into an 11 second long cue but William Garrett Walden (incidentally this would make a great name for a president) makes the opening cue “We begin” count with just a short marching motif. I don’t think the music is presented in any chronological order as right from the get go I get two mournful themes that set a very sombre and elegant tone for this score. The cello and piano combination in “Leo has to go” reminds me of the moments of intense drama this show sometimes had. I am a happy film music fan when the music I listen to outside of context and without having a real connection with the show is so meaningful. I am surprised to discover, at least on the first CD, such a serious sounding score where all the instruments that play be they violin, piano or guitar are heavy with melancholy and, quite often, sadness. There’s an elegance in the music fitting for the White House but where is the sound I was expecting, the quick witted pace, the one I remembered from the show. I think “Ways and means” is the first time when I start to recognise it.

Enjoying this two CD release is more than in the case of other scores a matter of taste. The music of “The west wing” is soft lyrical; it’s beautiful to hear, elegant and melodic, and with emotional peaks like “The 14th amendment” or “The aftermath”, both heroic and inspirational. There’s a playful little gem like “Walking the West Wing” which is nothing but pure childish joy. But a score like this outside the context of the movie can lose it’s appeal if a listener is not patient enough with its soft and quiet touches. Luckily for me, I am easily charmed by a score like this and I enjoyed it from start to finish. Every cue was a velvety caress and the occasional military percussion inserts that reminded me this was a political show were more than welcomed. The heroic moments were subtle and believable while the emotional ones were touching without being overly dramatic. It’s a score that comes from another time and one that I am happy got a proper release.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 37 / 108

Album excellence: 34%

Highlights:
We Begin
The Aftermath
Leo Has To Go
Leo’s Lament
Debate Camp
The 14th Amendment
Mr. Willis of Ohio
Halls of The White House
Walking The West Wing
The First Commandment
Recovery
Proportional Response
Charlie in The Oval Office
Questions
Jefferson Lives
Three Presidents
The Nomination

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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