The West Wing
Composed By: W.G. Snuffy Walden
Distributed by: Varese Sarabande Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The West Wing was an American serial political drama that aired on NBC from 1999 to 2006. Set mainly in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and officers of senior presidential staff are located, the series takes place during the fictitious administration of Democratic President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen). The series follows the President and his staff as they go through their days dealing with such things like legislative progress, mass shootings, midterm elections, campaigns, foreign and domestic terrorism, Supreme Court appointments, leaks, illness and more.
On October 6, 2017, as part of their We Hear You campaign, Varese Sarabande Records released a new limited-edition CD release of The West Wing Soundtrack, a two-CD set featuring 44 tracks of music that extends over two hours. The CD set contains a booklet featuring pictures from the show and the thoughts of the man who created the musical score of the series, musician and composer W.G. Snuffy Walden.
In an effort to put himself through college, Walden worked on a late-night radio show and played guitar at a strip club, the humble beginnings of what would become a lucrative career. After dropping out of school in the 1960s and devoting himself to music full-time, he began performing regularly, first with bands and then with other artists like Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan and Eric Burdon. In 1987, Walden created the theme from thirtysomething and the rest was history. Walden has created musical score for such notable television series as Roseanne, Ellen, My So Called Life, Felicity, Early Edition, Sports Night, George Lopez, I'll Fly Away, Once and Again, The Stand, Huff, Friday Night Lights and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Something about The West Wing resonated with the composer: ďAs I turned the pages of that first script, the rich characters and informative stories captivated me. I was convinced: this would be an opportunity that was very rare in network television. As the project got deeper into production, it became obvious that this was exceptional work and I was blessed to be a part of the experience.Ē He still is awed by what he and the rest of the cast of crew of The West Wing created: ďWith our schedule and its breakneck speed, we hardly had time to give a second thought to what we were creating, but I knew it was magical. I wasnít able to appreciate the artistry of the collective achievement in the moment, but I could feel its magnitude in the response from the devotees who watched it religiously every week!... It was magical how people felt proud to be an American when they hear that music [The West Wing theme]. I donít know how else to say it. Iíve just been told over and over and over again through the years by people whoíve been so moved by that.Ē
I have never watched an episode of The West Wing, so I thought that reviewing this soundtrack would be something of a challenge to me. This was a critically acclaimed series with music that was nominated for Emmys. How would I relate what was going on in the music to what went on in the television series if I knew relatively nothing about the series? I decided to just take a listen and do my best. Iím so glad I did. The score is incredibly dramatic as befitting a political drama. Each track on the first CD of the set features an orchestral score led by a different instrument, whether it be the piano, guitar, woodwinds, snare drum, trumpet or strings. The snare drum is often used to accentuate something involving the military or some Presidential event. The guitar solo in Leoís Lament is quite beautiful and, after researching a little about the show, has great meaning as this is a very important character and the moment this score was created for was monumental in the series. Some tracks are quite dramatic while others are softer, perhaps showing us a glimpse into the more private, family-based side of the administration. Quirky tones remind me of a busy day at the office, with everyone scurrying here and there to get things done. The second disc of the set has a more military sound with snares, trumpets, tuba and trombone. The percussion is heavy in some areas, perhaps depicting a military response of some sort. There are some rather beautiful tracks at the end of this CD that speak to the final moments of Bartletís Presidency and the moving on of his administrative staff.
Quite honestly, I am pleasantly surprised that I found myself thoroughly enjoying the soundtrack of a television series I didnít have the least bit of interest in seeing when it was on the air. W.G. Snuffy Walden wrote an awesome dramatic score in keeping with the drama of politics, but also expressing the human side of the Oval Office. I enjoyed this soundtrack despite never having seen an episode of the series and that says a lot. Fans of The West Wing are going to love getting their hands on this re-release of The West Wing Soundtrack, not just for the music, but for the scenes of their beloved series that music will bring to mind.