Twelve Days of Christmas Music – Day 12!

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Merry Christmas to all! It has been a wonderful and relaxing day here with my family, laughter, games, and entirely too much food. I hope that your day has been full of the things you love as well.

On Day 1 of this venture I explained that the countdown was in no particular ranked order with the exception of today’s posting. It is far and away the best Christmas song, and I’d happily and politely debate anyone that disagrees (you’ll lose). My favorite Christmas song is…

WHITE CHRISTMAS – Bing Crosby

Quiz time – The first time that most of the world heard this song was in the film…

…if you are thinking White Christmas, you are sadly wrong. The song was featured in a film with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire 12 years prior (1942) called Holiday Inn. The clip above is actually from the film and features Martha Mears joining Crosby. I’m sure many of you are genius experts on 1940s film and are thinking, “but that’s Idaho’s own Marjorie Reynolds in the clip!” You’re not wrong, but her voice was dubbed with that of Mears for the recording.

I LOVE the film Holiday Inn. Sadly, it has one horrendous act done in blackface, which at some point will be an incredible teaching moment with my future children about the United State’s history of racism and the horrible inappropriateness of blackface. I hear AMC isn’t even showing that portion of the film anymore – understandably.

The rest of the film is brilliant. It has Bing doing what he does best – singing and being charming. Fred doing what he does best – dancing like no one else before or after him. There is one scene in particular in which he is insanely drunk and does a “dance” that is perfection.

And then they get to the scene above. And he sings, and she sings, and he whistles, and he hits bells with his pipe (because they are of course right there on the tree and the perfect notes) and I melt. It’s a beautiful moment to introduce the world to a beautiful song.

The song, by the way, was written by Irving Berlin – who was a genius. I once saw a documentary about him and his catalog is staggering. Everything from “God Bless America” to “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. Just glance at his list of songs – you’ll be surprised by how many you know. Get ready to scroll though, the list is incredibly long.

Also, “White Christmas” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1943. And the good people over at Guinness have verified Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” as the best selling single of all time. [Bonus records – Crosby also holds the record for the most Oscar award winning songs sung by the same person and longest running fan club – solo artist.]

Enough of me gushing about the film and the amazing Irving Berlin. Even without me having had the Holiday Inn experience, this would still be my favorite song. To me it is the perfect mix of melancholy and  longing for the past, while seeing the beauty in now and hope for the future. And I can’t think of any better way to capture all the emotions that the holiday season brings than that.

Thank you to everyone that has been following along. I hope you enjoyed the Twelve Days of Christmas Music. I would love to hear what your favorite is.

Enjoy the holidays!

Music in Film – Part II

I hope you didn’t think I abandoned the Music in Film series.  I promised you multiple parts, and I’m determined to not let all that research go to waste.

When I was on this kick following the Academy Awards, I asked many people what their favorite scores were.  And while a couple of unique suggestions popped up, I mostly got a list of the usual suspects.

I’ve decided to dedicate this entry to those individuals.  My initial impulse was to skip over them completely (sometimes I have hipster tendencies – “I only want to write about the people you haven’t heard of!”), and then I realized that it was completely ludicrous to skip them entirely.  Seemed wrong to not acknowledge the impact they have had on score composition.

Let’s start with John Williams.  If you know one and only one film composer’s name, there’s a good chance it’s his.  And who could blame you?  His scores have become completely ingrained in our culture – from the two note warning that Jaws is approaching to the fact that high school bands love playing his tunes at halftime.  Best known for the themes from Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park – the man has 21 Golden Globe nominations, 59 Grammy nominations and 45 Academy Award nominations to his name.  He has more Academy Award Nominations than any other living person – and overall is tied with fellow composer Alfred Newman. The only person to have more nominations is Walt Disney himself.

BUT – did you know that John Williams also composed the Olympic Fanfare and theme?  I didn’t.  I love that theme.  Makes me want to challenge someone to a foot race.

Hans Zimmer – he’s scored over a 100 films, and of those 50 have received award nominations.  That’s kind of a ridiculous success rate.  You probably know him from the Lion King soundtrack.  Or perhaps Gladiator.  In a undergraduate class entitled “Intro to Fine Arts” we were charged with bringing in a song and doing a presentation about the emotional elements of the song.  I strangely brought in “The Battle” from the Gladiator soundtrack.  It now seems like a very weird choice to me, but I think it was probably my rebellion against all the crap pop my fellow classmates were making us listen to.  I probably also wanted to make them sit through a 10 minute song.  What a meanie. In honor of this memory…

The third “usual suspect” is James Horner.  Mr. Horner has the distinct honor of having the best selling orchestral film soundtrack of all time.  That film – Titanic.  I apologize if you now have Celine Dion in your head.  He also did one of my favorite soundtracks during my teenage “soundtracks are the greatest” phase – Braveheart.  I loved that film when it came out, and a large part of that was the music.  Of course my love of bagpipes, men in kilts, and pre-crazy Mel Gibson also helped.  More recently, he reunited with James Cameron for Avatar.

So, there you have it.  An introduction, or reintroduction, to some of the bigger names in modern film scores.  Music in Film – Part III will have some of my favorites.  Please leave a comment sharing some of yours.

Music in Film

Maybe it’s just the music snob in me, but I thought the music categories were particularly disappointing at the Academy Awards Sunday night.  Not even my adoration for Zachary Levi could save it.  The original songs in particular seemed incredibly weak and why were there only 4?  Suspect.

Throughout the show they did segments on Oscar history, which meant that this was all done to a backdrop that featured some of the most recognizable scores in movie history.  The juxtaposition seemed especially harsh.

Admittedly, I’ve never much cared for Gone with the Wind.  I don’t hate it, but I do think the character of Scarlett is insufferable.  Why people carry purses around with her face on them, I’ll never know.  Despite this, as they entered the segment about the film I knew from the first note that it was Gone with the Wind.

And from that note forward I spent the entire ceremony thinking of the relationship between film and music.  An amazing score can elevate a mediocre movie into a good one and make a great movie an epic one.  A good score becomes intrinsically tied to all the emotions you felt when viewing the film and with a single note does have the power to transport us back to that experience.  The art of creating something that has the ability to evoke such strong emotions and reactions seems like one of the most powerful things an artist can create.

In my opinion, composers are often the unsung heroes of the film industry – especially given their importance to the final product.  Sure, we are familiar with the names Hans Zimmer and John Williams, but what about everyone else?

During the awards telecast I learned that John Barry had passed away during the In Memoriam segment.  John Barry is by no means an unknown in the film world, with 5 Academy Awards to his name – but I think often forgotten.  If remembered it is often for creating the score to Dances with Wolves.  But I have greater emotional ties to one of his other scores – Out of Africa.

Our typical family soundtrack changed when we would travel to Colorado for our annual vacations.  According to Mom, the mountains were made for two albums – John Denver’s Greatest Hits and Out of Africa.  For those unfamiliar with the film or soundtrack, the score was inspired by the second movement of Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto” which is also featured in the film.

I honestly love every single thing about this score.  It reminds me of the best times in my life, in the most beautiful place in the world, surrounded by all the people I love.  And to this day I love driving through the mountains listening to it.  Who would have guessed that a soundtrack based on Africa would be so perfect for Colorado?  But I suppose an argument could be made for the correlation between soaring strings and the majesty of the mountains.

Originally this entry was just meant to be my reaction to the ceremony and the sharing of some of my favorite scores – but in researching information, composers, etc. for the entry I became too engrossed in the process.  I’ve honestly been listening to film scores for 3 days and have far too much information to share.

I have A LOT more to say on the subject, but thought I would start from a very real, personal place.  I look forward to sharing other favorites the next couple of days.

Until then, please enjoy…

Update – Sorry that particular video won’t play in my blog.  It’s my favorite though, so please follow the link to YouTube.  Gracias!