This week we will be singing “God Bless the USA”, an American patriotic song written and recorded by country music artist Lee Greenwood. It is considered to be his signature song. It first appeared in 1984, where it was played at the Republican National Convention with President Ronald Reagan in attendance. The song gained greater importance during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 as a way of boosting morale. The popularity of the song rose after the September 11 attacks and during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "God Bless the USA" is in the music style of "patriotic country classic".
A music video was released for this song in 1984, depicting Greenwood as a farmer who loses the family farm. Greenwood cited that he had always wanted to write a song about America because he believed we needed to be more united. This song is commonly heard during 4th of July celebrations.
Featured Musician of the Week:
U.S.A. 1932 -
Listening Example: Jaws Theme
John Williams is an American composer, conductor and pianist. He is considered to be one of the greatest film composers of all time and is called the "master of movie music". His career has lasted over six decades, and he has composed some of the most popular and recognizable film scores in film history. These include Jaws, Superman, E.T., Star Wars, Home Alone, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and many others.
Today’s music is probably Williams’ most well-known—the Jaws theme. Just two notes represent the shark--two low, ominous sounding notes played by bassoons and double basses. To create this theme, Williams used a German music technique called leitmotif [light-motif].
A leitmotif is a short, constantly recurring musical phrase associated with:
a particular person,
an idea, or
other specific part of a film.
It is used in modern film music as a way to mentally anchor certain parts of a film to the soundtrack.
Leitmotifs must be distinctive enough for a listener to latch onto and identify with. But they must also be flexible enough to undergo variation and development as the music progresses. When you hear the leitmotif, you know what is about to appear or happen.
LISTEN FOR . . . Our listening example is performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by John Williams. It begins with bassoons, a larger contra-bassoon, and double basses.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Click below to take the listening challenge! How many of these famous leitmotifs can you identify?
Listening Example: Theme from Star Wars
John Williams began studying piano at age nine and continued his music studies throughout college. At first he wanted to be a concert pianist. But when he heard some stiff competition from other pianists at Julliard Music School in New York, he decided to be a composer instead.
It might seem that John Williams gave up on his dream, but if he had not changed his mind about being a concert pianist, we might not have all the wonderful music he created for so many films. One of Williams’ quotes says:
“I developed from very early on a habit of writing something every day, good or bad.”
By ‘writing’, John Williams meant composing music.
NEO-ROMANTICISM Williams' musical style can be described as a form of ‘neo-romanticism’. This means it is inspired by the late 19th-century large-scale orchestra music by composers like Tchaikovsky or Wagner [vahg-ner] and their ideas of using leitmotifs to represent persons or characters. The prefix ‘neo’ means new. So Williams combined the older romantic style with the new, modern sounds of 20th-century musical language.
Tchaikovsky's Sugar Plum Fairy Wagner's Valkyries
The newest Star Wars film is now showing at theaters. The original 1977 Star Wars theme has been used in each of the films since then. They’ve all used leitmotifs in the “Force Theme”, “Princess Leia’s Theme”, “Luke Skywalker’s Theme”, or “Yoda’s Theme”.
LISTEN FOR . . . Our listening example today is the main theme, which is among the most widely recognized in film history. In it, the brass provide power and excitement, the strings play a soaring melody, and the woodwinds later add a contrasting, mysterious character to the music before it returns to the main theme.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
"The Imperial March" from Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Listening Example: "Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark"
John Williams has written so much wonderful music for films that it’s difficult to choose a favorite. His most well-known compositions began during the 1970’s, when he began working with film directors Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas. Spielberg quoted:
“I have to say, without question, John Williams has been the single most significant contributor to my success as a filmmaker.”
Steven Spielberg and John Williams
During the ‘70's he composed music for "disaster films" such as The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, Jaws and Towering Inferno.
He wrote big, brassy music scores for films like Raidersof the Lost Ark and Superman.
His film work continued through the '80's and '90's with E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, Home Alone, Jurassic Park and Hook.
In this century, his film music includes the Harry Potter films, The Patriot, War Horse and The Book Thief.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Our video today is a film montage of Williams’ classic theme, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first of the Indiana Jones films starring Harrison Ford.
Listening Example: "Ride in the Sky" from E.T., The Extraterrestrial
So far this week, we have focused mainly on the familiar theme music composed by John Williams for the films and sequels he has worked on with directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Williams has collaborated with other film directors. And not all these films were action-adventure. Many were based on best-selling novels, biographies, true stories, and even the comic book series, Tintin, the first animated film for Williams.
We mostly remember the exciting theme music, or outstanding songs such as "Can You Read My Mind?" sung by Maureen McGovern from Superman. Another memorable song is "Somewhere in My Memory" from Home Alone. Both of these songs are posted on yesterday's culture page.
INCIDENTAL MUSIC But what we often take for granted, or don't even notice, is the background music that occurs almost continuously during films. It is subtle, and usually doesn't even have a distinguishable melody. It occurs in very short segments and constantly changes, and may be heard during conversations. If you heard it out of context, that is, apart from watching the film, you probably would not be able to identify it. We call this "incidental music"--seemingly unimportant by itself. But it serves a very important function by supporting the action taking place and reinforcing mood or atmosphere in the story. This is done by using instrumentation, rhythm, accents, and melody patterns to fit the scene. Incidental music is also used at the end of films when they are "running the credits".
Scene from Harry Potter
Scene from Star Wars
Scene from Schindler's List
LISTEN FOR . . . Our listening example today is “ride in the sky” from E.T. The theme for the flying music is familiar to many, but focus on the music before the bikers go airborne. Try to imagine what films would be like if there were no background music to support the story, if you just watched it in silence.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Listening Example: Theme from Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park - 1993 Jurassic World - 2015
Last summer, when the Jurassic World film was released, John Williams’ Jurassic Park theme from twenty-two years ago was revived and reached the No. 1 spot on classical digital music. Music reviews indicate that many consider this some of the most beautiful music ever written for film.
Unlike Williams’ rousing heroic themes, the “Jurassic Park Theme” begins with a quiet tenderness that slowly and gently builds to a more majestic representation of the dinosaur world. The theme, played by an orchestra, is used as a leitmotif that is altered during the film in different scenes, providing both variety and cohesiveness throughout the story.
While the full orchestra version is very beautiful to listen to with all the instruments, sometimes simplicity is better. The arrangement we will listen to today is performed by The Piano Guys, with just a piano and cello, thus allowing the melody to be the focus of the music.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
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