Written by Christopher Panella
“I have spent my life with this music,” Frank Lehman recalls, sitting in his office on a Friday afternoon. “I think I was first introduced to the music in Star Wars from a tape cassette that I got of film music concert arrangements from various movies, a lot of them stemming from John Williams's scores.” Lehman, now an assistant professor of music at Tufts University, is one of the finest examples of not only a knowledgeable professor, but also a professor dedicated to his area and learning more about his craft.
Lehman has always been interested in learning about music. A self-proclaimed “Wagner-phile,” Lehman studied music theory, music composition, and philosophy at Brown University, graduating in 2006. He later received his Ph.D. in Music Theory from Harvard University in 2012. Throughout the process of studying a variety of music, specifically 19th and early 20th century music, Lehman found himself drawn to film music and the impact it has on filmgoers. “[Wagner] wasn’t exactly virgin territory academically speaking. I mean there was more written about Wagner than probably any other historical figure besides Abraham Lincoln and probably Jesus Christ. Film music was still a new field in scholarship and I had a lot to say, and there's so many different angles to take,” Lehman said while discussing his dissertation. With his dissertation, Lehman became a constant student in the world of film music, exploring new film scores, studying their influences, and cataloguing their structures. For Lehman, studying film music became a growing interest that shaped both his career and his research.
Specifically, the Star Wars franchise holds a special place in both his heart and academic work. He recently updated his “Complete Catalogue of the Motivic Material in Star Wars, Episodes I-VIII” to include Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 2017’s installment into the ongoing franchise. The catalogue is truly a symbol of Lehman as a scholar: meticulous, well-informed and researched, and successful. Lehman has been interviewed and cited by multiple publications, including The Chronicle and The New Yorker. In truth, it should be no surprise that Lehman’s Star Wars research is so popular. He studies the music insistently, looking at motifs and leitmotifs and tracking their development throughout the series, and he is not stopping any time soon. “I haven’t had an equal opportunity to study all of them, some of them have been around longer than others. If I continue at this pace, I’ll have a book written on The Last Jedi soon! I’ve probably looked at the music in the Return of the Jedi the most, if only because my upcoming book has one of the cues as one of the case studies. I really dig into its structure in a way I haven’t done before,” Lehman explains.
Tufts University has an extremely diverse faculty, with differing years of experience and interests. This, obviously, is not different from many other universities across the world. What distinguishes Tufts University’s faculty, however, are teachers like Lehman: teachers who are constantly learning, studying, and expanding their understanding of the field. Lehman would love to eventually teach a course solely studying the scores of the Star Wars universe, but for now, he remains a principle musical researcher of the galaxy far, far away. “It’s just an amazing musical opportunity to stick with this material,” Lehman gleams. “I’m excited for Star Wars to be allowed to make dramatic and creative choices that are appropriate for 2018, and far into the future.”