A version of this story about Daniel Pemberton and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
At first, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” was supposed to end with “Here Comes the Sun.” That was the initial plan by writer-director Aaron Sorkin, who figured the gentle, optimistic Beatles song would be a good way to conclude his film about the stormy protest movements of the late 1960s.
“He wanted a note of positivity, a moment of light and hope at the end,” composer Daniel Pemberton said. “‘Here Comes the Sun’ is a beautiful song, but everyone’s got their own history with that song — and I just did (the Beatles-themed movie) ‘Yesterday’ the year before, so I was not in a massive rush to do ‘Here Comes the Sun’ again. That song is nice shorthand for positivity through a ’60s lens, but we wanted to see that moment for the first time and experience something new.”
In place of the Beatles song, Pemberton wrote a new song, “Hear My Voice,” with British singer Celeste. Their goal was to take the themes of the film and distill them into a simple but powerful statement.
“Protest all comes down to wanting your voice heard,” he said. “And the weirdest thing about the song is that after we finished it, the world around us was changing every week. It was only a few weeks later that the Black Lives Matter movement erupted. It felt like a big cultural shift, and this song we’d written was suddenly as relevant to today’s generation as it would be to 1968 and ’69.”
The song not only ended the movie, it changed the score that Pemberton had written. Initially, that score had been built around four key moments that Sorkin had identified to Pemberton in their first meeting: the opening, the two main riot scenes and the ending. “He was like, ‘These are the four musical pillars of the film — everything is relying on these moments for the film to work as a whole.’ It’s not like underscore, or what I call ‘man walk into a door’ scenes, where a guy’s got an envelope and he’s got to get to the bank, nothing’s happening and you have 45 seconds to fill it up and make it seem exciting. No, these are key moments, and they’ve got to feel big and bold and strongly cinematic.”
But once he had “Hear My Voice,” Pemberton said, the score subtly changed. “For me, the song is really key to the whole success of the score,” he said. “Everything moves toward that song – the whole score is constructed to end on that song. When I first wrote it, the melody got reversed-engineered into the whole score. So that by the time it comes at the end, you’ve had it hinted at a number of different places in the score, and that’s the moment it all comes together.”
Celeste’s voice, he added, is crucial to the impact. “She opens the film and she ends the film. You get a wordless version of the song at the beginning and it ends with a full version, and she is like the voice of hope in the film. She brings it to the generation now, because she’s a contemporary artist, but I love the fact that she’s representing both the people in the film from ’68, ’69 and also the current generation who are going through similar things.”
And while the new song doesn’t really sound anything like George Harrison’s gentle Beatles composition “Here Comes the Sun,” its thick opening chords, deliberate pace and air of prayerful calm are subtly reminiscent of some of the songs on Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album. That album came out shortly after he left the Beatles and a year after “Here Comes the Sun” was released, and was among the most healing rock ‘n’ roll music made in that turbulent time.
“That is one of the best compliments I can get,” Pemberton said when the “All Things Must Pass” comparison was made. “That was one of my favorites. Put that in the piece!”