A Misappropriation of Music

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - 04:43 PM

A few nights ago I saw a commercial for a video game called "Tom Clancy's Conviction."  The ad depicted a father, automatic rifle in tow, walking through an abandoned town Wild, Wild West-style. Here’s the juicy part: the theme music in the ad was the spiritual “Run on for a Long Time.”

The text to the spiritual has double meaning as many of them do, but in the context of this ad that  musical tradition is denigrated. My concern is that young people will associate the spiritual with the violence depicted in the video instead of with the rich tradition of the American Spiritual and those Americans who sang the music as a means of survival.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and please list other examples of great music being misappropriated.

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Comments [16]

Frank Feldman

My daughter's Barbie movies have now seen fit to use all sorts of classical masterpieces (to avoid copyright and publishing fees, I imagine). I remain ambivalent about it, at best. Though it actually IS nice to hear my daughter whistling the New World Symphony.

May. 13 2010 10:30 PM
Bill D from nj

Terence, a really thoughtful topic, and one that isn't so easy. I would agree with you that using a spiritual, which as you rightly point out was a means for people to survive, to overcome horrors, as backdrop to a violent video game is dead wrong; there I cannot even say "well, it is exposing young people to music they otherwise wouldn't hear", because they probably don't even hear the music.

I have heard people complain that the "Ode to Joy" Section of Beethoven's Ninth was known to many as 'that them from Die Hard' (it was used as background music), yet in that case, I also have met people who were blown away by that, when they found out it was music by Beethoven, actually went and saw the piece performed..and fell in love with classical music.

I have seen other crassness, the 'hooked on classics' comes to mind, but again, maybe, just maybe, it got some people interested. Likewise, poor old Pachelbel's Canon and Gigue has been beaten to a schmaltzy death by use in commecials, but people also react to it....

My mom talked about the fact that many musical purists back in her day, with the music used in the Merrie Melodies, were upset that Carl Stallings (who was a musical genius, there is no doubt of that) was using 'classical music' as backdrop to cartoons, and I hear some Wagner buffs were none too happy about "What's Opera Doc" (why, I don't know, it got me curious to actually go to Wagnerian operas..though Stalling outdid Wagner, big time *lol*). Not only that, but I know a lot of musicians and performers who were inspired to go into music by those.....

I think for myself I would tend to lead towards the idea that there are few places where classical music is truly misused; where I would draw a line is where the music is used as part of something that denigrates us, that fires up the ugly side (thus the Nazis use of Wagner was a misuse, though not entirely out of character for Wagner himself), that is being used to hurt a person or a group. If "The Rite of Spring" was used to fire up a group of people into going into battle to kill people, it would be misuse,but using it to score a toilet paper commercial (not that I have seen this), may be crass, but misuse? I have to give it the benefit of the doubt.

May. 11 2010 09:16 PM
Cindy Legorreta from Union Square

As a teacher of adults, I count among my friends other teachers who work with children. And often, humor and "mis-naming" music pieces can be an excellent, most effective way to make them giggle, then spark discussion, and lastly... interest kids in exploring music further. We have retitled or mangled the names of musical pieces while listening to them, for example a favorite of mine: "Orpheus in His Underwear" (Orpheus in the Underworld), the beloved spiritual "Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear" (Gladly, the Cross I'd Bear..) One of our students likes "Rimsky, but only with his "Corsets Off". And when the laughing subsides, we then listen - and, we learn!

May. 04 2010 06:58 AM
Robert P. Odenweller from New Jersey

Regarding the Lone Ranger and recycled music, I wrote a number of years ago to Lloyd Moss with a list. I will try to give each of the ones I recall below, but may have forgotten one or two.
The William Tell Overture is obvious.
Liszt Les Preludes
Tchaikowsky 1812 Overture
Wagner Rienzi Overture
Mendelssohn Fingal's Cave
and there were four others. I was a devoted listener to the radio program but never saw it on TV. Sorry, but the memory is slipping a bit.
I'll let you know if I can think of the others.
(This is my first blog entry, ever, and may be one of my last...)

Apr. 30 2010 05:23 PM

Haydn's "God save Emperor Francis" being recycled by the Nazi's in the 1920's is a prime example.

Apr. 30 2010 03:53 PM
Al Luna from Bronx, NY

Yes, I agree it's unfortunate that this happens, but this has been happening with other types of spiritual or religious music for some time now. The producers of these games are after "mood music". In their inability to write something original, they of course turn to a particular clip of music they think "sounds good". The culture of copy and paste. I agree with Chase, the WB cartoons were satirical, and histerical.

Apr. 30 2010 10:10 AM
Michael Meltzer

Any discussion of orchestration of piano pieces by Debussy or Ravel, and whether it was appropriate, has to be tempered by the awareness that there was tremendous pressure from their publisher Durand to pump these orchestrations out. It was part of their marketing effort in pre-radio, pre-phonograph times to get them out to the public every way possible. The curious thing that happened was that Ravel, with his enormous talent, turned a "questionable" commercial practice into an art-form.
Perhaps, then, the answer to the question of yes-or-no to orchestration has more to do with the quality of the orchestrating than some abstract priciple, and whether the musical message has been diminished or enhanced.
Personally, I think Ravel's "Pictures" is so slick and seamless that it doesn't sound like Mussorgsky any more, but experience tells me that whether Ravel sounds like Mussorgsky or Stokowski sounds like Bach are questions that will be argued in earnest without conclusion, forever.

Apr. 30 2010 05:41 AM
Constantine Coutroulos from New York

My error. It was Ravel who orchestrated at least one of Debussy's piano pieces (the early "Danse"), not the other way around (as far as I know). This has no bearing on my point, of course.

Apr. 29 2010 06:37 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Misappropriation of music has a long history. In "Soylent Green" the film starring Edward G. Robinson he makes application to a "hospital facility" allowing himself to be killed, on an operating table, and transformed into a food product called soylent green, to the music of the Liebestod of Wagner's "Tristan" and the Beethoven "Pastoral" Syphony # 6. The film deals with the Malthusian concept that overpopulation will exhaust the food supply and the available living space. The serenity of that scene that ends the film, nonetheless packs a wallop! Leopold Stokowski orchestrated Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor from an organ composition into a thrilling orchestral rendering. But was it Bach? Moussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" was originally a piano composition but transcribed for orchestra it has a wider audience and is even more effective. Witness the "Great Gate of Kiev"! As a composer myself I endorse imaginative settings of compositions so long as they have taste and deliver a variation from the original composition that adds a new and interesting dimension. Composers over the ages have incorporated indigenous folk melodies into their more expansive or even epic treatments.

Apr. 29 2010 03:27 PM
Serge Ledan

Terrance! You made my day!! The Schubert was lovely and ... divine

Apr. 28 2010 10:36 PM
Constantine Coutroulos from New York

I entirely dissent from the idea that Chopin's music (or any "pianistic" music) cannot be orchestrated. (I never thought that Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" could be orchestrated, but I was amazed when I heard an extremely effective version.) I don't think the Debussy piece was ill-used. I found the orchestration quite effective. I don't think Debussy would have objected. (He orchestrated some Ravel and Satie pieces, for example.) Such orchestrations do not destroy the originals, in any case.

Apr. 28 2010 09:55 PM
Serge Ledan

Hi Terrance, long time no talk! I have been very busy in computer programming classes. Thanks for the Mahler being played and also for the insight of linking the previous lieber to this actual symphony. I can' t also agree more with Lucy's comments below. Nowadays purists like us are victimized and considered outdated. It's refreshing to find ourselves in good company!!

Apr. 28 2010 08:16 PM
chaase from New York, NY

Although I agree with your concerns, I think that the discerning mind, and ear, will seek the source of the music and be enlightened. One could argue that at least the music gets out there. I have to admit though that I haven't seen the commercial, so I am at a loss to comment fully. But the so many pieces were used in cartoons in totally inappropriate ways, but it brought that music to me as a street kid from Brooklyn and Queens, and made me seek out its source. I don't think the kids today are any different. Those with ears, will find a way. Loving the programming tonight, the Debussy and the Mahler! Love those sleighbells.

Apr. 28 2010 08:10 PM
Lucy Gunther from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

Ah, yes, Helen -- There's appropriation and there's MIS-appropriation. Your exmaple is clearly the former.
Lucy in Paradise

Apr. 28 2010 08:03 PM
Lucy from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

I couldn't agree more - about your example and in general. In fact, I don't even like the orchestra's "appropriation" of the Debussy Sarabande. Party of the beauty of that piece, as originally composed for piano, is it's purety and simplicity. If he had wanted it orchestrated, Debussy was quite capable of doing it himself. (As a pianist, I'm also often offended by orchestrations of Chopin works - and Chopin is particularly "victimized" by poor rearrangements which debase the work to the level of elevator music.)
Oh, and by the way, another of my pet peeves is DJ's talking over the music! (Hmph-hmph!) Here in the Virgin Islands, I have to switch stations when one particular DJ comes on, because he insists on not only talking over, but turning the volumn down on the local music he plays. I enjoy a good jam band piece as much as Debussy or Chopin and don't appreciate it's being chopped up by the DJ's chatter.
Enough ranting -- back to some very nice Mahler! And thanks for an always interesting program.

Apr. 28 2010 08:00 PM
Helen Weaver from Woodstock, New York

Terrance, this was last week's blog theme of recycled music, but I wonder if anyone asked for the Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn. It's so soul-stirring, and I haven't heard it in years.
Love your show!

Apr. 28 2010 07:50 PM

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