The Thousand-Year Ears

A Musical Blog

Experiences with Classical Music

by qkalantary

As any music 30 student knows, classical music is not the type of stuff that your roommate tells you to turn up. Actually, appreciation of the classical genre seems to be a very strange concept. It is both a niche category of recreational music and yet a vital part of everyday cultural literacy and music that people play. For example, of my old high school friends only one listened to classic music every day for pleasure (as opposed to playing it for band). He spent his listening time in the car because it relaxed him so he could avoid the ever-present Maryland speed traps. Since telling people that I am taking this class, few have asked about specific pieces or inquired about the content of the course—to most, classical music is far out of the mainstream music scene and elitist or obscure; however, once i started playing the music to my family (all pretty much musically illiterate) they all recognized at least a few of the tunes. Identifying Beethoven’s 5th symphony is something that I feel most members of our society would be able to do with ease. Classical music is easily recognizable yet often neglected.

It is clear that some music has become so engrained in our culture that its fame is unmistakable. Classic music is no exception—though it may not be mainstream in terms of recreational listening, many play it for fun (because it is the most technically challenging pieces for that instrument) and most can identify certain pieces that have withstood the test of time. In the Nabucco program, there was an interview with director and set designer Thaddeus Strassberger in which he claims that opera is not elitist in the slightest. In fact, it is less expensive than most sporting events. He goes on to disparage the way that schools focus their attention (and funds) towards sports instead of the arts. It is interesting that my opinion of classical music has changed throughout this course. Just becoming familiar with different pieces I find myself appreciating the music more. It was hard not to hum “La Ci Darem La Mano” to myself as I walked to class after studying Don Giovanni. I think it is not farfetched to say that if people took the time to actually listen closely to classical music they might find 1000 years of “new” music to appreciate.

The Mozart Effect

by bofengc

Most music scholars would agree that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most precocious and influential musical composers of all time. Having been a piano player for seven years, I felt a wave of nostalgia when in class we listened to his Sonata No. 16 in C Major and Alla Turca, two pieces that I played in the past. As the music played, I couldn’t help but allow my muscle memory to guide my fingers to play the original notes on the imaginary keyboard on my desk. But to what extent was Mozart’s influence on the world today? Of course, thousands of pianists today still play the two above-mentioned pieces for fun, but his music in fact goes beyond a simply recreational purpose. As I was browsing Mozart’s music online, I came up across an incredibly interesting phenomenon that I had actually heard about before but never really explored in detail. That phenomenon is “The Mozart Effect.”

The story begins sometime in the 1950s. An ENT doctor named Alfred Tomatis claimed that listening to Mozart’s music could help people with speech or auditory problems. Fast forward to 1990. A psychiatrist named Dr. Gordon Shaw conducted a study at the University of California at Irvine on 36 students who listened to a Mozart sonata (Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos) before taking an IQ test. The students’ average IQ increased by 8 points, and thus, the “Mozart effect” was introduced. However, many people were still skeptical about this discovery. Could simply listening to Mozart’s classical pieces increase IQ?

In 1993, Shaw, along with 2 more scientists (Rauscher and Ky), decided to conduct another experiment to determine whether the Mozart Effect really lived up to its name. However, this time, subjects were given standard tests of abstract spatial reasoning. Spatial reasoning is the ability to visualize spatial patterns and manipulate them. The scientists found that the subjects exhibited a temporary 15-minute enhancement of their spatial reasoning abilities, but no definitive increase in IQ.

Although the 1993 experiment debunked the theory that listening to Mozart increases IQ, the Mozart Effect gained significant popularity. In 1998, Zell Miller, the governor of Georgia, stated that he would propose a budget of over $100,000 to provide every child born in Georgia with a CD of classical music. Some critics, however, blasted Miller and argued that the money should rather go towards music education programs.

Mozart’s music has also been found to have additional health benefits. Patients with epilepsy have been played the same Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, with the effect of having a decrease in epileptic activity in the brain. Studies have also found that some rats perform more efficiently through mazes after exposed to Mozart’s music.

So do you believe in the Mozart effect? Although it may not actually augment IQ, is it worth listening to Mozart’s music for the increase in spatial reasoning ability? Or maybe we should just leave science out of it and listen to Mozart for the sake of listening to beautiful sonatas?

The Beauty and Power of Music in Film

by isamiro

I have always been interested in how music is manipulated in films, through the use of soundtracks, sound effects, film scores, or even the absolute absence of sound. As spectators, we often least notice the music in films we hear the most. I find it astonishing how music is used throughout different film genres no only in framing and developing the personality of a particular personality but also in developing the personality of an entire blockbuster films. Admirable film scores, such as those of composer John Williams, are a timeless embodiment of popular films.

I consider John William’s scores to be impressive not only in the quality of sound and composition, but also in the power of the scores in exerting both a textual and a commercial influence. Williams’ immense success only adds to his portrayal as a composer in Hollywood, success that is reflected in the number of box office sales and profits. Not only has Williams composed some of my all-time favorite film scores. Williams represents a rather important change in the film industry by how he brings back the classical film score to a position of promininence. He not only adopts classical techniques, but also adopts them to the modern recording studio.

It is important to point out that John Williams is in control of the creative development of his work. As a composer, he is fully responsible for providing and enhancing the power of music in any of the many films his scores accompany. In this sense, Williams has become such a successful composer of musical scores both because of the quality of his film scores and the success attained by the various films he has scored over the years.

Williams is most recognized for the films of an adventurous, disaster, science fiction quality that he scored. Just as we have seen of many composers throughout the years, his adoption of a particular type of film to score has managed to shape his compositions. His work has had to adhere to the specific narrative and to the conventions of the film genre the film entails. Even though he has managed to attain a widely respectable status in Hollywood, he is still forced to constrain his creativity to the specific requirements demanded by the film genre and to adhere to certain expectations required by production. Nonetheless, his musical compositions are still rich and true to his style. Restrictions shape his work without taking away from the magic of his compositions.

These are some of my favorite scores by Williams and probably some of his most famous compositions. I have chosen to include mostly the theme song that allow for an easy recognition of the particular film. Enjoy!

Schindler’s List

Jaws Theme

Indiana Jones Theme

Star Wars, “Imperial March”

Music as a Method of Protest

by nehadosh

One of the earliest topics we discussed this semester was the power of music to serve as a “technology for amplifying a message” and a “technology for controlling and unifying groups of people”. Although we cited “We Shall Overcome” as a key protest song used in the American Civil Rights Movement, this is just one of many instances where music has played an integral role in protest movements. Nearly every large social movement has a song or collection of songs that encompass the main mantra of the crusade.

Interestingly enough, the first time I heard “We Shall Overcome” was not in its original English form, but rather in in its 1980s Hindi adaptation, “Hum Honge Kamyab”. The two songs are a literal translation of each other with the same melody. Although the political climates were different, the song served similar purposes in promoting equality for the underserved, underrepresented population. As much as it became iconic of the Civil Rights Movement, the song became equally resonant within the Indian population as well.

There has been debate as to who originally penned “We Shall Overcome”. It was originally accredited to Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, as the lyrics bear significant resemblance to his 1901 song, “I’ll Overcome Someday”. However, recent rulings from Sept. 11, 2013 give the rights to Louise Shropshire’s “If My Jesus Wills” noting the more striking similarities in its song structure and lyrics.

However, does it matter where it comes from? Of course, credit should be given where credit is due, but has the musician’s purpose been effectively served once their music outlives their own legacy? When the scope of its reach has transcended political, racial, and social boundaries and has helped fostered a movement, is it less important that Bob sang it first, and not Bill?

In light of music’s greater position in political movements, is music just a more appropriate way of giving speeches? The logic behind this is that when you have a tune stuck in your head, you inevitably have the lyrics stuck in your head too. Conversely, is it the technology of music in its core of wavelengths, pitches and the composition of the individual notes that evoke an emotional response from us? I argue that it’s a bit of both; you can’t derive meaning and identify with a song if the lyrics don’t resonate with you somehow, and the means of transmitting that information must elicit an appropriate emotional reaction for our feelings to align with the message of the song.