"JUST WHERE IS OUR FUTURE, the things we've done and said! Let's just push the button, we'd be better off dead!" It's 1986, and a punk's boom box is blasting this song through a crowded San Francisco bus. "'Cause I hate you!" the singer yells. "And I berate you!"
Across the aisle, two time-travelers—James T. Kirk and Spock—wince. "The sins of our fathers being dumped on us, the sons!" The music gets louder, angrier. "The only choice we're given is how many megatons!"
"Excuse me?" Kirk interrupts. "Would you mind stopping that damn noise?"
The punk turns it up. He flips off Kirk.
Spock leans forward. Spock administers a Vulcan nerve pinch. The punk's head lands on his boom box. The song stops. Everyone on the bus cheers.
That bit—from 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home—might sum up Trek as well as anything: It's a story about how humanity, having barely survived a third world war, rebounded and expanded by heading to the stars to find new life and new civilizations. In Kirk and Spock's future, people have time for plenty of things—exploration, culture, science, photon torpedoes. What they don't have time for is music about how we'd be better off dead.
But there's another kind of music that defines Star Trek—the soaring crescendos and mournful preludes that have accompanied the show and movies for 50 years. From Alexander Courage's swinging, bouncy theme for the 1966 TV series, to Michael Giacchino's exhilarating scores for the most recent films, music has always been an integral part of Trek. This week, the nationally touring Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage production makes its final stop in Portland—bringing with it conductor Justin Freer, an orchestra, and a big-ass screen that'll hang overhead showing Trek footage. There'll be work from the likes of Courage, Giacchino, Jerry Goldsmith, and James Horner, as well as Next Generation composer Ron Jones, who will conduct his music from the 1997 video game Starfleet Academy. Expect the majestic loneliness of Dennis McCarthy's Deep Space Nine theme, and the ominous stings of Cliff Eidelman's score for The Undiscovered Country. It's a safe bet there'll be other fan favorites, from Goldsmith's rousing title music to the anxious trills of Horner's score for The Wrath of Khan. There will also be significantly more cosplay than a normal night at the symphony.
Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage is the latest in an increasingly common trend in live music events; touring productions of everything from The Lord of the Rings to Star Wars have sold the whole "listen to an orchestra perform nerd music while watching stuff on a screen" thing for years. (This past February, the Oregon Symphony did it with Giacchino's score for Star Trek Into Darkness, following their similar production for J.J. Abrams' first Star Trek.) It'd feel crass if it wasn't for the fact Star Trek's music is great—or, at least, that over 50 years, 725 episodes, and 12 movies, there's been so goddamn much of it that there's great stuff to cherry-pick.
The now-classic scores of Goldsmith and Horner rank high up there, but I'll have my fingers crossed for lots of Giacchino. Perhaps more than any other composer, Giacchino has managed to score the spirit of Trek—its bombast and idealism, its pairing of punches-and-lasers action with the knowledge there's a better future for humanity if only we can get our shit together and make it. Giacchino's punny song titles are a reminder to never take Trek too seriously—"Enterprising Young Men," "Earthbound and Down," "I Gotta Beam Me," "Warp Core Values"—but the music speaks to something higher. Over the past 50 years, Star Trek and its music have transformed generations of insular geeks into optimistic humanists. If concerts like this are any indication, they'll keep doing so for 50 more.