The Thousand-Year Ears

A Musical Blog

Film Scores

by Junting Meng

I don’t know about the rest of you guys but I have been silently suffering under Modernism for the past couple of weeks. Ok, maybe the word “suffering” is too strong but I just could not bring myself to enjoy the atonality of modernist music. Since we have officially finished our tour of Modernism, I would like to direct attention away from its theme of atonality and take a look at something quite different: film soundtracks.

Film scores, for the most part, tend to be quite melodic and catchy. These characteristics are necessary for its purpose to create atmosphere and fluidity on the big screen. In my opinion they hold strong similarities to music from the enlightenment and romantic eras. For instance, actions/adventure tracks containing strong brass and string sections are similar to what you would find in Beethoven and Wagner. In addition, dramas and horror could possibly contain music along the lines of Debussy and Schoenberg, respectively.

I have listed some of my favorite soundtrack composers below. These individuals include the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer. I’m confident that you will have heard some of these pieces. I personally enjoy very melodic pieces and music that has a driving force to it. A lot of film scores perfectly matches these tastes of mine and as such many film themes have become personal favorites.

John Williams: “The Patriot” (Main Theme)

Hans Zimmer: “The Dark Knight Rises” (Risen from Darkness)

James Newton Howard: “Blood Diamond” (London)

James Horner: “Titanic” (My Heart Will Go On)

What are your guys’ general opinions on film scores? Do you have any particular favorites? If so, which ones? If not, why not?

A note on recent studies

by copej

Half of this post is a little overdue. I’ll start there

I really enjoyed studying Aaron Copland and not only because we share a last name. One of my favorite movies is the Spike Lee 1998 film He Got Game. Here’s a short plot summary from Wikipedia:

Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), a student at Lincoln High School from Coney Island, BrooklynNew York, is being pursued by the top college programs in the nation. His father, Jake (Denzel Washington), is a convicted felon serving time at Attica Correctional Facility for accidentally killing his wife (Jesus’ mother) by pushing her while arguing with Jesus at the age of 12. The father is temporarily released by the governor, an influential alum of “Big State,” one of the colleges Jesus is considering, so that he might direct his son to sign with the governor’s college in return for an early release.

It’s a really good film, and Spike Lee makes a very unexpected artistic decision by featuring the music of Copland on the soundtrack. Most of the action takes place in the  projects of Coney Island where Shuttlesworth lives. He’s not from a well-to-do area, and rap would seem to fit better with the plot. However, Spike Lee uses Copland to bring out the beauty in basketball. Many shots are in slo-mo and focus on the dexterity and smoothness of Shuttlesworth’s motion (it helps to have a future hall of fame NBA player as the actor). I suggest viewing the movie, and here’s a clip of the intro accompanied by Copland

The other half of my post also relates to the intersection of music and film. I’ll keep it short. At the end of class last Thursday, we briefly listened to Pärt’s “Spiegel Im Spiegel” and discussed it’s simple rhythm and melody using triads. However, the piece itself does elicit an overwhelming emotion when put in the right context. The recent movie Gravity is a 90-minute emtional rollercoaster, and the trailers feature Pärt’s piece; I think it’s very effective.



What do you all listen to?

by Jungreis


I’ve posted too much on this topic this term to go beyond that as my response. What do you all typically like? More importantly (to me), what did you like before this class started? Did you like classical music like Beethoven and Bach? The Beatles and The Stones? Were you more into whatever they have playing on Q102 than anything else? (Q102 is the pop music station in Philly. Someone programmed it as a preset in my car, and I don’t know how to change it — the preset, not the radio station.)

I’m mostly interested in the true level of interest in classical music among my classmates. I’m a musician, so even before the class began, I knew about a lot of the composers we’ve studied. I knew that there were pieces that I liked and pieces that I didn’t like. (I also knew that their music became markedly better when it was played on a guitar; there is a clear cause for such bias.)

I’m listening to music right now, and it’s not classical music. It’s “The Test That Stumped Them All” by Dream Theater, so toss DT on that list up top. (The song is about a difficult psychiatric diagnosis, and it still strikes me as an odd song to listen to around finals time.) There’s music from the term that I’ve liked, yet I suspect that none of it will make it into my standard listening regimen. (That’s kind of sad.)  I think that I’m too into guitar-based music for that to happen unless my girl records versions arranged for a guitar.

What do you all like? Do you think that any of the music from Music 30 will make it to your main rotation?

How Music Saved Alice Herz

by matchequeda

I just watched a very interesting video about how a 40 year old pianist literally and figuratively used music to survive the holocaust. Now, she’s outliving the Nazis, praising her love for music as the reason she is alive.

The account is shocking to me. Reflecting on it, the fact that the Nazis let their Jewish prisoners play music and engage with the arts at all is crazy. What could be more human than music?

This makes me think about the intersection between music and the holocaust in general. I found a wonderful webpage dedicated to the study of this. Some interesting things I learned about were the Hitler Youth’s use of music, and the Nazi Socialist Conservative rejection of jazz or any music that was new or different. This reminded me of what Dr. Dolan discussed in early lectures about the power and purpose of music.

Check it out here:

What purposes do we use music for today? Is music propaganda alive and strong? When is it okay to use art to fuel a political campaign – and when has it crossed the line?

And to see a great example of propaganda music, here is a video of Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration. Start at 3:30 — that way, you’ll see the Clinton family standing around awkwardly while Fleetwood Mac struggles to make it through the song. And Michael Jackson comes out of nowhere!

Using Familiarity, or Getting Over a Need for Familiarity?

by matchequeda

Until this semester, I have never had to listen to music to which I couldn’t relate.

I have had a few different situations in which I “had” to listen to music. When preparing for performances for musicals and singing groups, I’ve had to listen to music to become familiar with pieces or memorize lyrics. But listening to the music wasn’t a big deal – it was pop music, or religious music or choral music I was pretty familiar with and enjoyed, or show tunes. The music was all very easy to relate to because it was in styles that I had known for my entire life. There weren’t many surprises.

In the first weeks of this course, I found myself looking for things I would find familiar in the music. I liked “Amarilli, Mia Bella” because it had a clear melody and reminded me of “Eli, Eli”, a song we sung at synagogue growing up (see:, a version by Israeli retro-pop icon Ofra Haza). In old religious music, I looked for Latin-sounding pieces that were like what I had sung in high school chorus. And when we got to Vivaldi, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, and the rest, I continued this strategy by looking for melodies I could anticipate or sing.

With atonal music, I have finally had to look at music from a different angle. Music can no longer be about what I like about it or recognize or find comfortable/familiar. There are no pneumonic devices or short cuts. Now, the music has to be about the music. But I’ve struggled tirelessly. What is this music about? It seems to me like it might be about some artists trying to be cutting edge or special. And it’s definitely not about casual enjoyment, because trying to find anything pleasant about this music is proven to be a lot of work for our brains (see:

I think I’m getting somewhere. When I listen to Webern, I hear more structure than I did at first. But it still isn’t pleasant and I begin to wonder if the quote that we were shown in class about Beethoven’s 3rd symphony* was a legitimate concern, given that this music was an artistic force.  It’s not a worthless exercise. It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone, testing my patience, and giving me a chance to try something educational that I certainly wouldn’t have sought on my own. But it’s been hard and truly unfamiliar. Sometimes my penchant for familiarity in music in a strength, but with this music it has seemed to hold me back – or at least prevented me from enjoying the music.

Here’s to open mindedness, and trying to move past it!

* – “Music could easily reach a state where everyone who has not been vouchsafed a thorough knowledge of the rules and difficulties of the art will derive absolutely no pleasure from it.”

Is Electronic Music “Real Music”?

by evanhechtman

My roommate is something of a music snob.

He enjoys going to the orchestra and opera.  Beethoven is his jam.  Most of all, he loves The Who and classic rock.

However, his taste isn’t eclectic enough to include electronic music.  In fact, he believes electronic music isn’t really music at all.  To him, music requires an instrument and a player.  The physical act of playing an instrument validates the music, making it legitimate.  Creating something with a synthesizer or computer just doesn’t quite cut it.

Of course, his criticism is mostly leveled at popular songs that proliferate frat parties.  But as we journey into experimental music, with less instruments and more technological wizardry, perhaps it is still worthy of consideration.

Obviously, “Etude aux Chemins de Fer” or the Reich piece “It’s Gonna Rain” sounds quite different from a symphony.  Is this a bad thing?  Is a piece of music somehow less authentic art if the sounds are not being produced by humans playing instruments?  Certainly there is still a creative process involved in its production, but it is not quite the same.  Instead of coordinating a team of players, a single person stacks varied sounds together as desired.  How, if at all, does this make technological and electronic music fundamentally different than what we’ve previously studied?

I believe the core of my roommate’s criticism is that electronic music cannot be performed in the traditional sense.  We can go to the orchestra, and even the Who are still rocking out live in their advanced age.  But the experimental pieces for this week and Calvin Harris aren’t quite the same.  Once an artist has created an electronic piece, you don’t exactly go out and play it in front of an audience in the same way one performs a concerto or rock song.  Instead, you just hit play.  Does this make electronic music less authentic?  Is live performance a crucial aspect of music?

American Opera

by jaeyoungshin

We learned about many European composers. Mozart, Hayden, Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann…the list is endless. Although these European composers are definitely interesting, I always felt American composers are relatively ignored. so when our last class just focused on American composers for the first time, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn more about them. With this post, I want to introduce more American classical pieces, particularly operas because I think the trend is stronger in opera.

The first one is Nixon in China by John Adams. Considering that the opera are often about myths and heroes, the topic of this opera is very unique. As shown by the title, the opera is about the visit of President Nixon to China in 1972. The idea of opera presenting about  American president is indeed a great joy. However, the original topic is only a small part of this opera’s merits. Along with the large saxophone section, percussion, and electronic synthesizer, the opera provides the listeners a large variety of musical style. The Nixon in China has been controversial and some critics dismissed it, predicting that it would soon vanish. However, it has been presented several times. Despite some mixed reviews, there is no doubt that it is one of many significant American opera.

Another work I would like to introduce is Einstein on the Beach by Phillip Glass.  The opera is famous for its incredible and complicated singing. The opera  requires great endurance from the singers since it runs for five hours without the intermission. The singers cannot lose focus since the music is very carefully layered with each singer’s note and verse. It also has  a unique structure, connected by five knee plays that serve as intermezzos.  Another noticeable aspect of this opera is that it does not have a specific plot. The opera does present music, character and scenery, but it lacks a one distinct narrative that the audience can follow. The opera also tends to illustrate a purely symbolic figures. Glass commented that he wanted the audience to build personal interpretation and relationship with the character and the music. Glass did not want to block the audience’s imagination. Overall, although Einstein on the Beach can seem too abstract, the opera is attractive in many aspects. The opera is often described as magical and splendid.

by colekorponay

In addition to his musical pursuits, John Cage also dabbled as a visual artist. It was not until his mid-sixties that he took up visual art seriously, but he still went on to produce over 600 prints and 260 drawings and watercolors.

Here, as in his music, Cage incorporated randomness as a fundamental driving force of his pieces.  He developed procedures to be iterated over and over again which at each stage entered a new element into the work by chance. For example, in his Ryoanji series, he randomly scattered stones across a piece of paper and drew around their outlines – one piece consisted of 3,375 stones.  The position of each stone, as well as the choice of brush used, was determined by a random number sequence generated by a computer.

Even when Cage’s works are displayed on exhibition, a random number generator is often used to determine the layout of the exhibit. For examples, at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, 2010, Cage’s works were positioned randomly at different heights on the wall and in random sequential order, creating a layout no curator would typically arrange.

It is interesting to compare Cage’s conception of his works to Jackson Pallock’s, another artist whose pieces, on the face of things, seem random.  Cage confirms that his works incorporate deliberate randomness: “I use chance operations instead of operating according to my likes and dislikes”. However, the apparent randomness of Pallock’s pieces is not generated by random process: ” “When I am painting I have a general notion of what I am about. I can control the flow of paint, there is no accident just as there is no beginning and no end.”


by katrinam22

In class, we discussed Stravinsky’s deliberate attempts to drain music of romantic/emotional content. We listened to his Octet for Wind Instruments and spoke about what techniques he used to achieve this goal. Was Stravinsky just a heartless robot or did he simply think that “pretty-sounding” music or music that sought to evoke emotion was worth less than strictly mechanical music. Did he think that pretty-sounding music could only be but so complex do to its significant emotional appeal?

Because music is a form of expression, it is closely tied to our emotions. When music is paired with visuals, in the form of music videos, films, ballets, etc… it is repurposed and experienced differently. What would Stravinsky think of the following clips and the iconic songs that accompany them?

The Stravinsky Skirmish

by Ivan Ye

Professor Dolan mentioned last week that Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring caused a huge riot at its premiere. While The Rite of Spring was Stravinsky’s most famous work and greatly influenced artists after him, it initially received very negative criticism. There were many factors that contributed to the negative reaction to his work.

The Rite of Spring premiered on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, which had opened two months prior. The program included Les Sylphides, The Rite of Spring, Weber’s Le Spectre de la Rose, and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. Since the program was a premiere, ticket prices were doubled, amounting to 35,000 francs, a large sum at the time. Thus, the audience mostly consisted of the wealthy and fashionable group, who preferred and expected traditional ballet and beautiful music. While the program advertised the ballet as “real art” and art that would escape the traditional boundaries, the theater quickly sold out. It was a highly anticipated premiere.

The Rite of Spring was the second piece on the program. Now, we watched a remake of Stravinsky’s ballet performance in class. The ballet was weird; everything didn’t seem natural. The choreography included sharp angles instead of the traditional smooth and rounded curves. Stravinsky’s music was also rather dissonant. The audience was uncomfortable with the performance and showed their displeasure by hissing and shouting.

According to eyewitnesses accounts, the audience became rowdy during the introduction, literally as soon as the piece started. When the dancers entered the stage and began their dance, the audience became so loud that it was almost impossible to hear the music, according to an assistant. Soon, the audience was split into two groups: those in favor of Stravinsky’s work and those in opposition. The two groups argued and ended up fighting each other (a full out brawl), all while the dancers and the orchestra continued. During the intermission between Part 1 and Part 2, the police intervened and calmed the audience. However, they proved ineffective when the audience rioted again in Part 2.

After the show, critics were harsh in their reviews, dismissing the music as noise and calling the dance a parody of traditional ballet. Stravinsky himself had fled the theater before the show ended. It was a shocking reaction to a brand new type of music and ballet. The audience at the time was so entrenched in traditional music and ballet that they couldn’t view Stravinsky’s work with an open mind. Have we viewed new and radically different music the same way? Who could have known that this hated work would go on to be so famous and influential? It is an interesting event that shows that maybe we should view music with an open mind.