Have you ever watched a popular television commercial or blockbuster movie with a familiar classical music piece in the background? Tried for hours, or sometimes days, to find the music that was linked to your favorite scene?
Well, I haven’t really watched TV or been to a movie theater in quite some time, but I’ve certainly been frustrated by this scenario.
Background tracks were harder to find in the “olden days” before powerful internet search engines came along. For example, you’d have to sit through the whole movie and wait for the credits to roll (imagine that)! Then, you’d see the “Soundtrack” section of the credits roll and pay close attention. Which wouldn’t be hard to do, because the theater would likely be empty.
What inspired me to write about familiar yet hard-to-identify music?
Yes, you read that correctly. I spend entirely too much time on YouTube, and stumbled across an old clip in which Frank Zappa was being interviewed (1990).
He was answering interview questions regarding his musical influences.
I was struck by Zappa’s thoughts on what makes a song or album popular and profitable. At one point he said this:
The average music consumer today has to have 50% of the input through his eyes otherwise the music doesn’t exist.
Which is where my “sad, hidden, but treasures” title idea was formed.
So much amazing “unpopular” music exists in the world. I suppose “unpopular” would be that which doesn’t make it into the Top 40 or doesn’t get much airtime on major radio stations. Including world music, independent, blues, classical… the list goes on.
I certainly love classical music, but by no means am an expert. I studied classical piano when I was younger. One piece that I’d tried sounded so, so familiar and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that I’d heard it in a frequently-played television commercial for the Yellow Pages. I’m guessing it aired in the mid ’90s. Because it had a visual component that aired for millions to see, it became recognizable and sought-after.
I could not find the old commercial, but remembered it was a Beethoven composition: the Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 ‘Pathétique,’ 2nd movement:
I found this relatively “non-visual” version on YouTube, monetized, of course, with Google AdSense.
This piece was likely a “Top 40” in its day (1799), made more recognizable in the 20th century by the medium of television and film. As were many other pieces.
Who determines what kinds of music gets recognized? I am certainly not a music industry professional, so I don’t really know. But if a piece of previously unrecognized music accompanies a popular movie or TV show, it is recognized. My entire music collection is a compilation of songs I’ve heard mostly alongside visual media.
Zappa, in his interview, spoke of his earlier days playing in a band where only popular, not original music was accepted by club owners. If the band played an original tune, people would not get up and dance, and if they weren’t getting up and dancing, they weren’t drinking, and if patrons didn’t drink, the club owners didn’t profit. And the band was fired.
Give the song a music video and radio play, and BAM! You’ll likely have yourself a hit.
Further into the interview, Zappa’s views on politics were discussed. Another of his statements regarding President Eisenhower resonated with me:
My recollection of President Eisenhower is that he played more golf than any one human being that has ever been known in the history of newspapers. Because the coverage of Ike’s golf game was so extensive in the papers that I saw…. you knew every step this man took on the links. The last straw came in this one particular issue where Ike was on the front page playing golf, and way in the back, page 227, down in the corner, was a tiny little article that said “Scientists in Florida Create Life.” It was the first time that people had taken amino acids and introduced an electrical charge into it and produced a living cell. And it was way in the back of the paper. In the front of the paper was our President playing golf.
I haven’t seen the clipping that Zappa was referring to, but to me that small bit on page 227 was a hidden treasure, and sad because likely very few readers “caught it” owing to its placement in the publication.
It makes me sad that pretty much every bit of “leading” media we consume is primarily profit-driven. Information about world events, artists, sports, scientific advances – the kind that could really enrich our lives, teach us, empower us, inspire us, inform us – are buried.
At least we are entertained, right?
Sad and Hidden
I feel like somewhat of a hypocrite, because my YouTube and blog platform contains mostly fried fluff. At the same time, I feel it is important and therapeutic to laugh. And I’m most definitely not popular nor famous. I’m not entirely sure I really want to be.
Would I love to make a living doing this? More than anything. Sadly, I simply do not know how. I am not a business-minded individual. More importantly, if I wasn’t suffering bone-crushing exhaustion every single day, I could do much more.
For now, I am like that obscure but hidden gem of a classical music piece or news clipping. Because a president playing golf is now again at the forefront of human awareness.
Truth be told, chronic fatigue syndrome is, for the most part, an uninteresting bit.
In tiny font on page 227.