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Music Around the Edges

Apr 15, 1996
Kimmy Sophia Brown
On a recent morning I was sitting in the kitchen eating my grapenuts. Aaron Copland's Rodeo was playing on the radio. I could imagine Martha Graham and her dance troupe kicking up their heels on the stage. Yahoo!

In walked my eight year old boy, Tymon. He paused and listened for a minute and said, "Beef. It's what's for dinner." He was thinking of the Beef Council television ad narrated by Robert Mitchum. You've probably seen it. It shows a potpourri of dinnertime beef recipes being served all over America while Rodeo plays in the background.

Aaron Copland appears again behind the scenes of another TV commercial. It shows orbiting cars and people sitting on couches, revolving in space. This time it's his arrangement of It's a Gift to be Simple which brings his composition Appalachian Spring to its climax.

This reminded me of a Mad Magazine cartoon I had seen as a child. Leonard Bernstein is conducting the New York Philharmonic. He's saying, "And so boys and girls, as you listen to the William Tell Overture, try very hard not to think of the Lone Ranger."

Then the father walks past with a can of beer and yells, "Hi Ho Silver, Away!"

Musical associations are inevitable and they do inspire. I used to get excited out of my gourd when National Geographic specials aired on TV. What a theme! Da da da DA da, da da da Da, da da, da da da (dum dum) (trumpets and drums) (gorgeous scenery) (Alexander Skourby - the guy with the deep dignified voice who later did voice-overs for Johnson and Johnson Band-Aid commercials.) That music made you feel like you were personally about to crawl around with iguanas on the Galapagos Islands, sail on the Brigantine Yankee and rub chimps' noses with Jane Goodall. (Things that sadly, most of us will never do.)

Then there was the Huntley-Brinkley News Hour from the 1960's. Without Beethoven's Ninth Symphony urging them onward, my family might have watched Walter Cronkite. Huntley-Brinkley news carried authority somehow. What the heck theme music did Walter Cronkite use? Beats me. Remember Quaker Oats and The 1812 Overture? I wonder how many kids ate their oatmeal a few years back because it was shot from guns!

I've been tempted to be critical when great pieces of music have been linked to images that the composer probably never intended. But think of all the great music that has gotten exposure ala the American cartoon. How many mice have we seen chased through kitchens to Khachaturian's Saber Dance? Other themes of Rossini have been used in allergy commercials. What about Walt Disney's Fantasia? Where would Night on Bald Mountain be without Mickey Mouse? When you think about it, most composers of past centuries probably never dreamed that their works would be familiar to so many generations, and in so many odd contexts.

So the next time you sit down to a nice hunk of steak and you dab on the A-1, thank Aaron Copland for inspiring the beef council to support fine music.

Maybe there's another stirring theme we could use to get kids to eat their vegetables. How about a bovine theme by Ralph Vaughan Williams -- music to chew cud by?

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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