Deconstructing the Music

If you’re like me, you pay a lot of attention to the soundtrack when you’re watching a movie. Or, in some cases, you might count down the days until the release of a soundtrack as well as the movie it’s from. Not that I’ve done that before. Ahem. Anyway, instead of doing an animation or editing an interview, my focus was the soundtrack. It was a much bigger challenge than I had anticipated, but it turned out really well.

For the script portion of the film, we decided on pulling music that was popular during the time that was being covered. Difficulty A: I didn’t want to use certain overly used pieces. No “Ashokan Farewell” for the Civil War section, no “The Stars and Stripes Forever” during the 1890s or anywhere else. Difficulty B: try to stay with copyright free music. Hmmmm…

Let’s take a quick look at popular music in the US from 1860 to the present and how that impacted the soundtrack. Music has always been influenced by historical events. This was no exception during the Civil War, when a lot of popular tunes such as “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” were sung by marching soldiers. I ended up choosing a Beethoven piece that had nothing to do with war, but had a pensive feeling that fit well with the content. This piece was performed by the Flatirons Community Orchestra. (Thanks guys! Great job!)

When the 1890s and the Spanish-American War rolled around, ragtime was incredibly popular. Scott Joplin and John Philip Sousa were two well-known composers of the time. I turned to local composer Paul Swanson (thank you!) for a piece that sounded somewhat like Joplin’s style and he came up with a great little tune that wasn’t overly happy, considering we’re talking about war. Little side note: Paul also composed our Wonder Woman theme.

Around the time that World War I was raging in Europe, a new musical style was gaining popularity: jazz, or jass, as it was originally written. The Original Dixieland Jass (later Jazz) Band burst onto the music scene in 1917 (the same year the US entered WWI) and remained the most popular band through the early 1920s. I dug around and came across one of their early recordings, which had to be added to the soundtrack.

After the US entered World War II, Aaron Copland penned “Fanfare for the Common Man” in 1942 for those serving in the war. It is one of the most widely-recognized pieces written by an American composer. Copland revisited the theme in his third symphony, which is played by the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra. (Thank you, conductor Victor Yampolsky, for letting me use your recording!)

As we moved towards the more modern era, there was a break in the popular music with FRCC instructor Kevin Garry’s guitar performance, a piano piece performed by Brandon’s sister, Brenna Berman, and some Dvorak performed by the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. (Thank you all!) These pieces just seemed to fit well. We move back on the musical history track with an original protest piece by Seth Goldhammer for the Vietnam section as well as an original composition for the 1990s section by our fellow classmate Ethan (yeah!). This one has a more electronic sound to it, as that style started to grow in popularity around then.

The remainder of the music was gathered from mainly modern sources, with the exception of Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” and Gustav Holst’s “Military Band Suite No. 1,” played by the Flatirons Community Orchestra wind ensemble. It was a lot of fun getting so much local talent involved with the soundtrack. I’m really happy that these individuals and groups are part of something that will be preserved in the Library of Congress.