In a burst of yes-aholic optimism, I agreed to teach general music to a class of 4th through 7th graders at my daughter's school this year.
It's a long story. The short version is - when the music teacher quits two weeks before the beginning of the school year, the school has to scramble for a plan. And if you are in a position help said school, you do it. Especially a school as great as this one.
So I found myself not only teaching a class I hadn't planned on, there is no previous curriculum and no class materials to speak of. So I've been designing my own curriculum. Because it is a multi-age class of Montessori kids, I have a lot of freedom.
It also helps that these kids are sharp.
So sharp that, on Monday, they surprised me.
I have been playing a bunch of movie music for them - stuff like "Pirates of The Caribbean", "The Pink Panther", "Batman" - and we've been talking about how much the music adds to the emotion or action you see onscreen and how it can contribute to, or detract from, the mood of the movie. When properly done, movie music makes scary scenes scarier, sad scenes sadder, and so on. We've also explored themes and how a collection of specific notes becomes tied to a certain character. Like the theme for Darth Vader. That theme is so specific and memorable that, as soon as you read the name "Darth Vader" you probably heard his theme music in your head.
And if you didn't before, you do now.
Anyway, this week I thought we'd do something different. I had them listen to a symphonic work that I'm pretty sure they'd never heard before. Then they had to guess what the piece might be about, strictly from the kind of themes and instruments they heard.
I chose Gustav Holst's "The Planets". Mainly because it is one of my favorite orchestra pieces, but it also uses a lot of brass and I wanted to talk about brass instruments that day.
I played the first movement - "Mars" for them and asked if they could guess what it was about.
Remember how I said they were sharp?
I got "A battle", "fighting", "space", "Star Wars", Star Trek", "getting armor on then fighting then the end of a battle".
There were a few more, but that was the gist of it.
Now "The Planets" is actually pretty clearly about planets (space) and the movement "Mars" has the subtitle "Bringer of War".
So, either Gustav Holst is a flippin' genius of a composer and used such good themes and instrumentation that the piece just screams "space" and "war" - or every movie and TV show you can think of about space and war has "borrowed" heavily from both his themes and his style.
The first public performance of the Planets was in 1920 - well before Star Wars. Before any movie soundtracks, for that matter.
You be the judge.