As John Williams lifted his hands and the orchestra began to play, the chorus, seven of which were Long Beach State alumni, harmonized to the music of the Oscar-nominated “Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker” soundtrack.
The alumni were members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and recorded at Sony Pictures Studios in October and November 2019. The chorale was handpicked by Williams and is comprised of 100 vocalists.
“Getting to sing on a movie,” said Jack Wilkins, a CSULB 2016 alumnus, “and not just any movie, but to have it be Star Wars, it’s just like it’s a dream come true.”
The seven alumni in the chorale are Luc Kleiner, JJ Lopez, Jennifer Paz, Bethanie Peregrine, Jessie Shulman, Ilana Summers and Wilkins. They studied at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music under the instruction of Jonathan Talberg, director of choral activities.
“Knowing that they had the opportunity to add their voices to John Williams’ last Star Wars project is really exciting,” Talberg said. “I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan, and I teared up seeing their names roll by on the credits.”
Williams has won five Oscars in his career and holds the record for the most Oscar nominations among living people. The alumni had the opportunity to work closely with Williams over the duration of the recording sessions.
The artistry of the alumni has contributed to the film’s Oscar nomination for the best original score at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony.
“It’s always an honor to work with John Williams,” Shulman said. “He’s an icon in the film music industry and beyond.”
Many of the alumni worked together at the BMAC. Two of them, Paz and Wilkins, were paired together as mentor and mentee in the choir when Wilkins was a second-year student and Paz was a first-year.
“When she was a freshman, she was my ‘little,’” Wilkins said, referring to his working relationship with Paz. “We went off to graduate and then we ended up doing Star Wars together. So that was pretty incredible.”
The members sang on five of the tracks: “Anthem of Evil,” “Farewell,” “Approaching the Throne,” “The Force is With You” and “The Final Saber Duel.” They were also featured as the voices of the “Sith crowd” during select scenes of the movie.
During the recording of the chanting voices for the Sith crowd, the chorale received instruction from JJ Abrams, the director of the film.
“It was just this amazing moment,” Wilkins said, “of John [Williams] just sitting there and JJ [Abrams] just kind of conducting us through these chants. Then to see it in the film is just the coolest thing.”
Despite having contributed to a variety of the tracks on the album, the original theme song for the highly acclaimed movie franchise was still the most notable, Shulman said.
“Feeling the magic in the room when the orchestra starts to swell into the opening Star Wars theme with John Williams conducting is always going to be the highlight for me,” Shulman said.
This article previously stated that John Williams “holds the for the most Oscar nominations with 52,” it was corrected Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 4:56 p.m.