Background Music

For Music History this year we are discussing the genre of “Background Music”. This is exactly what it says it is – music that is played in the background of a movie or TV show. It is used in various ways. Sometimes it accentuates the action – makes the scary parts seem scarier, fast chases seem faster, and sunrises seem sunnier….  There are other times when the music represents a character as in Darth Vader’s March in Star Wars.

Most times the viewer isn’t even aware that there is music playing. This is where I come in. I am trying to help my students focus on the music. It is a little tricky. I feel like I have to keep saying, “Do you hear that?”, and they almost always say yes, but of course I have no idea if they actually did.

The most effective background music is that which influences you without you realizing your emotions are being manipulated. It is very sneaky. In an effort to expose its existence, I have been trying to isolate the music from the action.

In the Fall I played some Silent Movie excerpts: Music, Action, but No Spoken Words. You can pull up many of these on YouTube. Check out the Charlie Chaplin movies. We watched The Lion’s Cage.

This week I am playing, again from YouTube, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe – Suite 2. That is the orchestral piece which inspired me to write the previous post about “Live Music”.  While these two selections are the same piece, the orchestras play them with a slightly different personality. The second selection uses a Choral Component, which is quite haunting.  Many selections of background music today have a choral component. It sounds otherworldly, supernatural.

I have two reasons for showing these pieces to my students. The first is that this is a piece of Program Music. Program Music tells a story – think Nutcracker Suite, Peter and the Wolf. So this is a way to present the music without the movie. You have to imagine the action and words. I hope this will force them to focus on what they hear. My second reason is this presentation gives the students exposure to the actual instruments and helps the students see which instrument is playing: harp, flute, strings, clarinet. There are a lot of instruments in these performances. The arrangement includes the Piccolo (the highest instrument of the orchestra) and Contrabassoon (one of the lowest instrument of the orchestra). I am hoping that when they hear an instrument, they will begin to associate the sound with the actual instrument. A teacher can dream…

It would be great if 100% of my students continued to play the piano forever, but we all know that is highly unlikely. A more realistic goal is that I will have helped each of them to attain a better understanding and appreciation for what they hear. It would be great if when they are 80-something years old, they watched a movie and thought, “that music sure makes that sunrise seem sunnier”. That is when they would certainly know

… Music Lasts a Lifetime


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