Music for the Apocalypse

February 6, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Thanks to current events and to a certain person who has recently come to power, the Doomsday Clock has been set forward thirty seconds. What will you do when the end comes? And more importantly, what tracks do you have on your phone for the occasion?

The idea of the world ending is certainly not new; there are loads of artwork devoted to the idea, from ancient through modern times. We’ve all thought about “what if” at some point in our lives. I hadn’t really connected the end of the world and music until very recently – the inspiration for this post came to me in the middle of a video game: Fallout 4. To oversimplify, it’s a game where you shoot baddies in post-apocalyptic setting.

What happened was this: I had turned on a radio in the game to the “classical music station”, when I was attacked by a horde of zombies. As I exterminated this crowd of undead enemies, I laughed because the radio was playing the dulcet tones of Edward Elgar‘s “Salut d’Amour“. The juxtaposition of murdering horrific humanoid mutations and sweet, lovely music was perfect irony, and completely opposite of the typical battle music of video games.

This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this sort of irony. The most glorious moment in the 1989 film version of Shakespeare’s Henry V comes when Henry (who by this point is barking mad) orders all his soldiers to sing a Te Deum and a Non Nobis in praise of God, who helped them slaughter the French in a bloody battle. The magnificent music plays during a single, four minute long shot of the battlefield, covered with mangled bodies and limbs: Not unto us, Lord, but to thy name be glory.

But let’s be realistic, we can accept the beautiful music coupled with bloody scenes because we’re removed from the situation. To have to face these horrors in real life is very unsettling. A more appropriate response would be the music in the 2011 film, Melancholia. To sum it up: people live screwed up lives, but it doesn’t matter in the end because a giant planet crashes into earth and destroys everything. This sort of despair is perfect for accompaniment by Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde (tragically, edited to fit the footage.)

Why so serious? If the world is going to end in flames, you may as well have fun while doing it, like in Dr. Strangelove! Don’t just drop that atomic bomb, ride it like a cowboy!

Did you know there’s an opera about the atomic bomb? Check it out!

So, nuclear war might end the world. If it did, would humanity descend into tribal warfare, fighting over food, water, and fuel? Brian May‘s killer soundtrack to Mad Max 2 will help you prepare for that.

But it turns out nuclear war is only one of many possible doomsday scenarios that threaten us. Climate change could turn our planet into a Waterworld.

Did you know there is a symphony about climate change? Check it out!

So, what are we to do? Well, on one hand, we could go into a panicked frenzy of despair:

or, we can stand up and do something about it:


Harp of a Thousand Strings

March 13, 2016 at 10:00 am

I haven’t read the book Cold Mountain, nor have I seen the movie, but I do know that its soundtrack has some great Sacred Harp music on it!

In a nutshell, Sacred Harp is the degenerate, revolutionary child of English choral music. It’s raw, it’s rough, and it’s definitely not cultivated. But it’s beautiful in its own way, and the passion in which it’s sung makes it powerful to hear.

Cold Mountain is set in the heyday of Sacred Harp singing, the American Civil War. Some musicians criticized the movie soundtrack because it uses trained singers instead of the “authentic”, untrained amateurs that are associated with this tradition. Authentic or not, the music and text have the strength to really hit home.


March to the Mall?

December 21, 2015 at 10:30 am

If your holiday traditions include Christmas presents, consider this a warning – you’ve only got a few more days to get your shopping done! Don’t delay; the traffic only gets worse and you’re more likely to make a bad decision if you shop at the last minute.

Here’s the March of the Toys to get you moving. It began as part of an operetta by Victor Herbert, which was later adapted into a Disney film. The music has been a staple for the holidays ever since! It might provide the inspiration you need to find those last few presents.

And, if you’re going to have a holiday piece stuck in your head while you shop, it may as well be this one.