“Star Trek” has always been known for its progressive casting on screen. But over seven live-action series and 13 movies dating back more than half a century, the science-fiction franchise has never had a woman composer – until now.
Nami Melumad, who has been scoring the animated “Star Trek: Prodigy,” has stepped up a notch and is scoring weekly episodes of “Strange New Worlds,” the new Paramount Plus series that chronicles the voyages of the pre-Captain Kirk Enterprise.
“It’s been a very busy few months,” says the Israeli-born composer, who has been writing an average of 45 minutes of music per episode of “Strange New Worlds” and is now on her 14th episode of “Prodigy” for Nickelodeon.
Melumad’s “Star Trek” adventures actually began on “Short Treks,” the 10-part series of shorts exploring various aspects of the “Trek” universe. She scored “Q&A,” the 2019 episode that featured Anson Mount as Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One and Ethan Peck as Spock, who now head the cast of “Strange New Worlds.”
That was on the recommendation of composer Michael Giacchino, who scored the three films in the big-screen “Star Trek” reboot and has also written the theme for “Prodigy.” Giacchino and Melumad had collaborated on the 2018 feature “American Pickle” and she considers the Oscar-winning composer a mentor.
“When I heard the first pass of Nami’s score for a ‘Short Trek’ we did, It was clear even in the rawness of the material that she was an extraordinary talent,” says executive producer Alex Kurtzman. “She had the ‘remember what it was like when you were a kid’ musical joy of Michael Giacchino and John Williams, while composing something wholly original that was unique to her own, nimble style.”
“Strange New Worlds,” like the other live-action “Trek” shows (“Discovery,” “Picard”), has a theme by Jeff Russo, but the weekly scores are all Melumad’s work.
“[The producers] have done such a great job in taking the style of the ’60s, with production design, costume design, how the actors look,” she says. “Everything feels old but new, and I wanted the score to match that feel. I went back to a more active style, a more dynamic style, for the music.”
She has an orchestra of 36 or 37 players, approximately the same as the “Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” composers had in the 1980s and ’90s, but actually larger than the 29 musicians composer Alexander Courage conducted for the first appearance of Pike (then played by Jeffrey Hunter) in the original “Star Trek” pilot of 1965.
Melumad has written themes for most of the major characters, including Pike, Spock, Number One, young cadet Uhura and medical officer M’Benga – plus a love theme for Spock and his Vulcan fiancee T’Pring. “As much as I love [the original “Trek”] composers, we’re telling a new story, bringing new characters, that invite new opportunities and new sounds,” she says.
Adds Kurtzman: “She has a storytelling ability that truly great composers understand, which is to say that she knows intuitively when to play the text of a scene and when to do the opposite and let the music say all the things the characters aren’t saying. On ‘Star Trek: Prodigy,’ we asked her to give a children’s animation show a score worthy of a live-action feature, and that’s exactly what she did.”
The composer, who grew up in a suburb of Tel Aviv in the 1990s, “knew what ‘Star Trek’ was, but nobody in my family watched it,” she recalls. Rather, she discovered the music of “Star Trek” before she became a fan of the series: the themes by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner for the first “Trek” movies, the Gerald Fried and Fred Steiner music for the original series, and the music by Dennis McCarthy and others for “Next Generation” and subsequent shows.
“I’m joining a line of amazing, iconic composers,” she says. “I want to do well by them and serve the franchise. We get to explore our humanity through exploring the universe.” She hints that familiar themes from the original series may turn up in new contexts later this season.
Melumad has worked consistently since graduating in 2015 from USC’s film-scoring program, including three seasons of “Absentia” on Amazon Prime, the video game “Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond,” the Disney animated short “Far From the Tree” and the Oscar-winning documentary “Colette” in 2020.
As for her status as “Trek’s” first woman composer, she concedes, “I have to do an amazing job so that people will see that female composers are great, and should be given more opportunities.” But, she adds, “I think it shouldn’t be a matter of gender or race; it should be about talent.”
“It’s really fun,” Melumad says of “Strange New Worlds.” “I get to be on the Enterprise with the crew that I love, work with people I love on a show that I admire, and tell stories that are actually meaningful. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”