This past Spring, I had the privilege of witnessing Eric Whitacre, famed choral and orchestral composer, conduct the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Mr. Whitacre’s wife, Hila Plitmann, also performed a series of pieces. A native of Jerusalem, she is a distinguished soprano and her performance left me speechless. As I walked to my car, rubbing my hands together in protest of the lingering winter air, I began to think. The concert-goers of the evening all had the appearance of being music students at various universities, professors, or pleasant, older folk who enjoyed the collection of folk songs the choir had performed. Was this the only type of audience that orchestral music could draw these days?
When asked about orchestral music, most people may respond with general apathy, distaste, or even boredom. Classical music is not often well-received as a choice for an evening with friends or road-trips. So it makes sense that not a large variety of people would show up for a string concert. Yet, this music permeates everyday life and entertainment more than one might imagine.
I would bet that the average person enjoys quite a bit of orchestral music in an average month. Ever heard the music in the Pirates of the Caribbean films? It’s fair to say that most people would have no idea who Hans Zimmer is, but would respond with elation at the mere mentioning of Jack Sparrow or the films’ adventurous soundtrack. Hans Zimmer is one of the great film composers of our time. With work on The Dark Knight, Inception, and even The Lion King, not many average individuals would recognize his prominence in the world of orchestral music, but millions have enjoyed his work across generations of films.
People listen to orchestral and classical music almost every day. For example: Mozart in commercials, ringtones, and even film scores.
Piano Sonata No 11 in A major K 331 Third movement in The Truman Show is one of many examples (starts 1m 17s).
Who’s to say it’s all that boring either? Some of today’s orchestral music shows signs of the times in being more edgy and appealing to younger audiences. Eric Whitacre continually pushes the bar by writing numerous parts for choirs, extremely difficult stringed instrument parts, and naming his songs with titles such as “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas.” Admittedly, some of this newer music is inaccurately dubbed “classical”. The term “classical music” seems to be the most detrimental force on the genre. People often write off any music labeled such as boring. Little do they know, one of their favorite songs might just be by an esteemed composer loved by connoisseurs of classical music the world over.
This video has one of Hans Zimmer’s most famous pieces: Time, from the Inception Soundtrack, set to clips from blockbuster films, many of which Hans scored himself. The fit is perfect.
Taking many different shapes and forms, the broad realm of orchestral music overlaps with popular entertainment in many places. Speaking of Pirates of the Caribbean, Eric Whitacre worked with Hans Zimmer in constructing the fourth film’s score: specifically the choral segment of the mermaid theme. It really is fascinating to observe how orchestral music worms its way into popular culture. While some people would normally fall asleep at the mention of a cello concerto, the change in emotion is palpable as I join others on the edge of my seat at the movies, with a string orchestra and choir tiring away in the background.