introductions and counterpoint - Star Trek, Mahler and the commercialization of classical music

When it comes to science fiction, I seem to notice that many people come down as either pro-Star Wars or pro-Star Trek. You will find some that like neither and some who like both…but very usually I seem to find that people prefer one and not the other. My house growing up was a Star Trek house. I would in no way say my dad is a Trekkie (yes, he did drag me to a Convention in Pasadena once when I was younger, but no, there was no dress up involved) but he did love the series. He used to watch it as a boy when it first came out and having a son, I know he was excited to get me loving it.

By the time I finally took an interest in it, it was during the last years of DS9 and probably the second or third season of Voyager. It isn’t everyone’s favorite series from the Star Trek universe, but its what I grew up watching so I’ve always been rather fond of it. One of the better episodes in the series was “Counterpoint” from season 5 where the crew has to smuggle telepaths through a region of space controlled by a species who believes telepaths can’t be trusted and rounds them up into camps (WWII anybody?). The episode is centered around the psychological “chess game” played between Captain Janeway and the alien inspector, each one struggling to outsmart the other. However, this was the episode that introduced me to two great pieces of music.

I didn’t know what the pieces were at the time and it was many years before I heard them again. It wasn’t until I was at the LA Phil listening to Tchaikovsky’s 4th when the second movement came around and I immediately thought of this episode. then it wasn’t until my Mahler symphony study class senior year that I recognized the Scherzo of the first symphony from this episode as well.

This brings me to something I appreciate but at the same time worry about. Sometimes the appropriation of music in a movie or a TV show can be a wonderful thing. I personally thought the use of Tchaikovsky and Mahler here was relevant to the issues discussed in the episode. Anytime someone hears “Clair de Lune” now, most people associate that with the ending of Ocean’s 11 or Twilight (gag). “Aquarium” from Saint-Saen’s Carnival of the Animals makes one think of the Benjamin Button movie. To a degree, I’m ok with this. Music to capture a mood or a moment in a cinematic experience is something I appreciate.

What I don’t like is playing Copland’s “Rodeo” and all someone thinking is “OMG…IT’S THE BEEF SONG! GIMME STEAK”. Or hearing Mozart’s 40th and thinking “oh…i thought that was just a ringtone”. Or everyone who thinks “Russian Dance” from the Nutcracker is just the Ross commercial around Christmas. Leonard Bernstein said “The joy of music should never be interrupted by a commercial”…though now music seems to BE the commercial. As much as this bothers me, what I find more troublesome is that were it not for introductions to music like this, most people would never encounter classical music in their lives. With the major orchestras consolidating concert series…musical arts programs in elementary schools getting cut due to lack of funding…I wonder how long it will be until commercials provide the only classical music some people ever hear. Which brings me to this quote:

An intellectual snob is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger.

-Dan Rather

While the content is a little dated for the current generation, the implied comment seems to hold true. While the accessibility of great classical recordings is much greater than it was 50 years ago, so is the amount of people who don’t care. Many people I knew in high school asked what kind of music I liked, expecting rap and pop and when I said I listened to classical music, I would get blank stares and the question “why would you want to?” Does loving classical music and its history in today’s society instantly make one a snob? I certainly hope it hasn’t come down to that.