Top Five Links Between Classical Music and Football

Monday, January 30, 2012

Devin Thomas #15 of the New York Giants advances the ball after he recovered on a punt touched by Chris Culliver #29 of the San Francisco 49ers. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images))

Editor's Note: This article originally ran ahead of the Super Bowl in 2012:

This Sunday, local sports fans will be on edge as the New York Giants and New England Patriots play for the Super Bowl for the second time in four years. What does that have to do with classical music, you ask? Plenty.

Though sports and arts fall in separate sections of the newspaper, the pair come into contact frequently. Our favorite things the concert hall has adopted from the gridiron.

1. Opera Singers

Perhaps it’s the stamina or the constant training necessary to be a successful athlete that has turned more than a few former football players into singers. Before he was employed by Baltimore's Lyric Opera, tenor Ta'u Pupu'a played for the hometown Ravens. Metropolitan opera bass Keith Miller was an elite college player, and bass-baritone Lawrence Harris once played for the Houston Oilers. Morris Robinson, also a bass who sings frequently at the Met, was a two-time All-American offensive lineman at the Citadel.

2. Live Telecasts

The Metropolitan Opera’s doing it, the LA Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet are all investing in live telecasts of performances. But before all these arts groups beamed their productions into movie theaters, sports—and especially football—mastered the art of providing live drama through the airwaves. Even the behind-the-stage intermission interviews with singers such as Renee Fleming are reminiscent of the halftime sideline reports.

3. Venues

Last week the Dallas Opera announced that it would present a free simulcast of an April 28  performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The announcement wouldn’t have been newsworthy, except that the simulcast will take place on Cowboys Stadium's gigantic HD video screen (which consists of four screens suspended over the field). Said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’s wife Gene, “Sporting events and great art do something similar—they get people talking."

4. Pricing strategies

This season the LA Opera will use a new dynamic ticket pricing structure to sell seats to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The practice, which bases ticket prices on consumer demand, has been used within sports for several years and recently has come to Broadway.  

5. Inspiration

We’ve yet to see a football-themed opera (at least one featuring the American version of the sport), but the game has inspired a few composers to create notable works. Most famously, Charles Ives condensed the action of Ivy League rivalry game in Yale-Princeton Football Game (spoiler alert: Yale wins).

More recently, Cleveland radio station WCLV has commissioned Case Western music professor Ross Duffin to write a few odes to the local team. In honor of the team competing in the 1986 AFC Championship Game, he penned write "Happy, Happy! We Love Our Cleveland Browns." He also celebrated the new Browns franchise in Cleveland (the team had moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens) in his 1999 song "The Browns, They are from Cleveland."

Weigh in: Do you find similarities in football and classical music? Tell us about them below.


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Comments [28]

Michael Leonard Novia from New Canaan, CT

No, wait! I was in Bible study a few mornings ago and the leader starting talking about the power of numbers. You Bible fans know them: Seven's a biggie, 3's another. So I said, well, if numbers are really meaningful shouldn't there analogies across not only the arts but many other fields as well. I'm not even a big numbers person, but one of the others said, Well, yes in music there are patterns; then I said, Oh, yeah, like the ABACABA of a rondo... hey that's a seven, too! Weird. Now you have me thinking. In football there are certainly numbers, the defense might use a 5-3-3 (that's 5 linemen, three linebackers, and 3 safeties); the offense runs plays through the 1,3,5,7 gaps [called "holes"] between the offense linemen on the left and the 2,4,6,8 on the right)and when everyone plays his part it's orchestral in a way, isn't it? I guess if one thinks of football as too rough a comparison he must admit that many orchestral pieces are built around battles of epic proportion, love and hate, gods and goddesses, etc. It's all there. I played football and the euphoria involved is worth a compostional tribute. I can well imagine, therefore, John Williams composing a piece called: The 2015 Overture: The Patriot and the Hawk. My wife and I will watch the game at the Horseshoe in Southport CT. It's a darling little townie bar where locals hang in tweed sport coats. We go there for the nachos. We'll have nachos and bourbon. Classic! What are you doing?

Feb. 01 2015 12:10 PM
Gev Sweeney from Ocean Grove

@Concetta Nardone: Haha! I'm sick of it, too. I'll be fixing and cleaning the Toilet Bowl. There's definitely more suspense in dealing with THAT bowl than watching the Super Bowl.

Feb. 01 2015 11:56 AM
Jerry Rosen from New York

I was a member of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1959 to 1966. A few blocks away was a residence hotel which was the in-season home of several players for the Cleveland Browns as well (until he bought a house) Associate Conductor and Chorus Leader Robert Shaw. As a result there was developed a friendship between some of us orchestra players and a few of the football men, in particular Paul Wiggin (whose wife was in the chorus)and Gene Hickerson who became a close friend of mine. he taught me how to watch a football game and he picked up a lot about music from me. He was the pulling guard that made a lot of Jim Brown's great rushing gains. Just before he died a few years ago he was voted into the Hall of Fame.

I have often though of an analogy between a football team and an orchestra (a basketball team is more like a chamber music group); each is a collection of specialists that must blend together (and in both cases timing is of the essence), every player depends on every other player doing his/her job in order for the thing to function as a whole, and very often the audience is unaware of what really makes the whole thing possible: the section players in the orchestra and the offensive-defensive lines in football. It's true in much sports as well as music that the real action is taking place where you can't really see it ot hear it.

Feb. 01 2015 10:45 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

So sick of hearing about the stupor bowl and the deflated ball. I plan on watching Puppy Bowl. Find the puppies and kittens charming and funny. Then I will watch Downton Abbey because I have pretentions.
The only thing that interests me about this years stupor bowl is the Seahawk on the arm of the Falconer that brings the raptor on the field.

Feb. 01 2015 07:18 AM
Gev Sweeney from Ocean Grove

The only connection I see between football and classical music is the fumbling that goes on between male and female characters in some off-the-wall, post-modern productions of opera.

Feb. 01 2015 06:47 AM

I don't know, it seems like an interesting story to me.

Feb. 03 2013 06:17 AM
Ed from New York, NY

Please, stop the pandering! We have enough stultifying behavior in this country without degrading the little higher culture we have left. I love WQXR, but the constant and tenuous connections between classical music and mainstream culture are sad and disheartening. Please don't make a bargain with the devil for the sake of "relevancy". And this coming from an ex-football player who sees the platitudinous and highly corrupt farce that it is.

Feb. 05 2012 11:13 AM
Chris from Upstate NY

I share season tickets with my family for the New England Patriots football games. I always laugh when the Pats run out on the field with "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana accompanying them and all the screams of the fans. I wonder how many of the 65,000 people in the stadium know the name of the "song."

PS Wikipedia says that "O Frotuna" is the epic song of popular culture.

Feb. 05 2012 09:10 AM
Cackie Scott from Paterson NJ

Facile similarities between football & music:
yard lines vs measures
time clock vs time signature
key vs league
special teams vs orchestra sections
helmets vs notes
fans vs afficianados
touch down run vs solo
arena vs concert hall
quarterback vs concertmaster
coach vs conductor
team rivalry vs snobbism

Both cause injuries and inspiration.
Both have detractors and cheerleaders.
Both are freely available for us to play, to daydream about or to admire.
What’s not to like?

Feb. 03 2012 03:49 PM

I'm an expat New Yorker, and Giants fan, living in Seattle. After the mid-January divisional win by the Giants over Green Bay, our Seattle classical music station promptly began playing celebratory compositions: Music for the Royal Fireworks, then the 1812 Overture. Likely these were already scheduled, but I can't help but wonder if a kindred sports fan was making a statement. And yes, these classical pieces topped off a fine football day.

Feb. 03 2012 03:44 PM
Michael Meltzer

The only relationship between the two that I've been aware of for the past 50 or 60 years is an inverse budgetary one in the schools, from grade school to college. As the budget for football goes up, the budget for music goes down. Always. Everywhere. Period.

Feb. 03 2012 12:49 AM
peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

Please! Can't somebody else (besides my wife and me) ignore the Stupor, I mean, Super Bowl, and not try to draw silly analogies that will supposedly make "classical" music relevant to the wider commercial pop culture swirl of debris that is already pervasive everywhere else we look?

Feb. 02 2012 05:07 PM
Flute Lady from Manhattan

A link between classical music and football? Hm, I don't know....has anyone ever heard of incidents of high school football players getting teased, picked on, or beaten up by kids in the orchestra?!

Feb. 01 2012 11:47 AM
Susann from new york

both inspire similar passion--indeed, fanaticism...

Feb. 01 2012 11:04 AM

Marie: Thanks for the clarification. It goes to show what us East-Coast folks know about Los Angeles. It's fixed.

Feb. 01 2012 10:10 AM
Marie from NYC

Fact check - that's the LA Opera, not LA Phil who has adopted dynamic pricing at the Chandler. The Phil plays at Disney Concert Hall, across the street. Not sure what their pricing scheme is, but you can get cheap tickets there, too, and they occasionally do something operatic.

Feb. 01 2012 09:57 AM

Yikes, why the grumpy comments? Go WQXR, and Go Giants!

Feb. 01 2012 08:05 AM
Michael Meltzer

The allusion to ivory towers implies a departure from reality. If this "Football & Music" connection can put one dollar back into the music budget of some school system, or deliver one extra new student to the door of some violin or piano teacher, I'd be more than happy to become its promoter.

Feb. 01 2012 02:44 AM

Both musicians and football players often have an obsession for their chosen field (mine is music). They also both engage in competitions. Instrumentalists and football players have to learn how to move their muscles properly in order to achieve their respective goals: to make music or to win a football game. Musicians and athletes will often endure pain (physical and psychological) for their art or sport.

Feb. 01 2012 12:03 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

For those non-Sousafiles (or is it Sousaphones?) would associate Sousa's 1926 march "The Gridiron Club" with the game of football; however, the Washington, DC-based organization was a literary club to which Sousa belonged for 40 years. Many colleges with large marching band programs frequently and effectively infuse classical music into their halftime drills. Sadly, due to the demands of television viewership and the insatiable appetite for updates, scores, and statistics, we never get to see or hear them.

Jan. 31 2012 08:56 PM
Frank from UWS

Mr. Meltzer and Sisko24, I don't see what makes this "anecdotal" and a "stretch." The writer clearly identifies links between football and music, whether ticket pricing or appearing in a large stadium. Many art forms have taken cues from the language and marketing of sport; it's necessary in an age when classical music is increasingly cut off from the mainstream public. We should be encouraging such connections rather than living in an ivory tower where music and the "real world" don't mix.

Jan. 31 2012 03:37 PM
Michael Meltzer

From a British humorous website, there's a graph going around which beautifully links, over a year's period, London's rise in violent crime with London's retail sales of ice cream.
There isn't anything a skilled statistician or journalist can't join in a cause-and-effect relationship, especially when the reporting is strictly anecdotal.

Jan. 31 2012 02:01 PM

This topic seems a big stretch to me. Yes, there are some links, but if we were to look at other fields, you'd fine alot as well, perhaps more. From my college days - which was the last time I had up close and personal contact with athletes and musicians - most of the athletes were supremely uninterested and completely ignorant of classical music and didn't feel in the least obligated or motivated to learn about it. The same held true vice versa as so many music students I knew didn't know and didn't want to know anything about sports.

Let's just acknowledge there are links but that the two worlds are like ships passing in the night but with the occasional salute to each other.

Jan. 31 2012 12:48 PM

Wow - talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel for content.

Jan. 31 2012 12:28 PM
Arthur Weisberg from Larchmont NY

The New York Philharmonic practices and preforms in New York. The football team in question does not. They should be required to identify themselves as the East Rutherford Giants. Maybe the Garden State, or even the New Jersey Giants, but NOT the New York Giants.

Jan. 31 2012 11:33 AM
Jerome P Rosen from Jersey City

One of my best friends when I played in the Cleveland Orchestra (1959-1966) was Gene Hickerson, who played right guard for the Cleveland Browns (and was a member of the last championship team, 1964). He was so interested in what we did that occasionally we (our trumpet section had season's tickets as did Robert Shaw, our choral director) could get Gene into rehearsals ... and we could watch Browns practices. On the day when the Browns played the Colts for the crown, we had scheduled a performance of "Christmas Oratorio"; Shaw, and the trumpet section had tickets for the 1 PM game so he (Shaw) moved the performance back from 3 in the afternoon to 5. For this he got some flak from some orchestra patrons. Too bad.

Gene taught me how to watch a football game, which I have enjoyed ever since (the Patriots are my team now, sorry!) and I think I helped him appreciate the symphony a little better. He died a couple of years ago, but they managed to get him into the Hall of Fame before that happened. Without him leading the blocking Jim Brown would not have broken the records that he did.

Jan. 31 2012 08:38 AM
Bernie from UWS

NFL Films regularly uses orchestral music as underscoring in its highlight reels.

Also, the Super Bowl commercials often use classical music because it's cheaper than commissioning new scores.

Jan. 31 2012 07:51 AM
David from Flushing

Do not forget a famous sports expression from opera, "It aint over till the fat lady sings."

Jan. 31 2012 07:26 AM

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