The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes

Thomas Beecham


 The Panic Button

Press Fire  


You’ve enjoyed classical music, even if you think you never have.

Think about all those movies you watched.

And heard.

Whenever our hero confronts his final enemy, or kissed his heroine. Whenever somebody dies in somebody else’s arms…that’s usually an orchestra that swells our breasts with emotion.

Music working, as it SO often does, at a gut level without us realising through our instincts.

Take this music you’re listening to right now.

(if you’re not, get speakers/headphones and ready: this is a listening website)

…it’s the sountrack that plays during the famous helicopter-assault scene from the 1979 film Apocalypse Now.


The music itself was supplied over a century earlier by Richard Wagner. It comes from his opera The Valkyrie, which features mounted riders of the sky, the Valkyrie, the flying female warriors of Norse legend.

You can IMMEDITELY hear what attracted director Francis Ford Coppola to this music for the scene. Giant gusts of wind from the brass instruments, and shivers of breeze in the violins.

It’s an expression of aerial power and assault, both in opera and film. You can just picture those Valkyrie, and those helicopters, swooping out of the sky, ready to attack.

Wagner’s music works brilliantly for the scene, well enough to make it one of the most celebrated scenes of movie history. Would the scene have been so famous were it not for Wagner’s music?


So wind, aerial attack, etc


Clever as it is to use Valkyrie music for a helicopter attack, something even more fundemental connects these two pieces of music.

It’s a deeper articstic mission, a common purpose linking both art-works.

Coppola used the Ride of the Valkyrie for EXACTLY the same purpose as Richard Wagner composed the music some 150 years earlier: using the power of an orchestra to transport an audience sat in a darkened auditorium to a drama set in another world.

That’s what music can do. Take us to new worlds.

And how?

By sounds. Not ideas, but by actual sounds


I think it can often  be the idea of classical music that puts some people of it. People who have perfectly good musical taste, some of my own friends included. They just don’t think classical music is for them.

Not the sounds, not the actual sounds of pianos and violins and clarinets and cellos or whatever else. That sounds perfectly nice. It’s just the music…too complicated.


Is it? Is it really? Are you actually listening to the sounds the music makes? Or are you just feeling what you think the music represents.

The piano lessons as a kid? The Crabby music teacher at school? The fellow with the posh voice on the radio? Or whatever the hell it is that goes on at the Last Night of the Proms. Classical music is ‘high-art’, hedged off perfectly with those ‘scared’ quotes. Concert halls are just talking shop for snobs and intellectuals to look clever. Opera houses are for people to show off their jewelry.


When we think like that, we’re doing just that. Thinking. What we’re not doing is simply listening.

Which is exactly why we’re perfectly comfortable with classical music…as long as it’s working as a movie soundtrack. In the background. Supporting the on screen images, a cinema audience most often won’t even register it’s playing. As I said before (and as I will repeat), the music works when we’re NOT thinking about it.

Now take that same cinema audience in that same auditorium,, but remove the cinema screen, put raise the orchestra on the stage, and suddenly we reach for the cultural panic button….

…ARG! Classical music!




A long time ago…

Press Play  

How would you describe this music?

Listen to it…

…don’t scroll down until…

…you recognise it…

music design1

…of course.

It’s the John Williams theme from Star Wars.

Somewhere in a distant carpark...

somewhere in a distant carpark…

Just like the Wagner. Different galaxy, same deal.

Again: orchestral music playing in a darkened auditorium to transport us into a different universe. And classical music (which is to say orchestral instruments,  musicians, and a highly dramtic orchestral scores) is the delivery system.

Star Wars uses the same instruments – literally – as Wagner does.

We just need to listen…



A Quick Quiz…

To round of this chapter, a final quick listening exercise.

Listen to the clip below, and ask yourself: is it film music? Or classical music?

Remember, listen carefully BEFORE clicking the button below…



Click For Answer
If you listened carefully to the music: give yourself a pat on the back.

If you just clicked this immediately: Tut Tut

The technical answer is ‘No’. The music is from Bruckner’s 7th Symphony, and so was penned 1880s, when Hollywood still existed, but as a sparsely inhabited area that went by the rather less glamorous name of Cahuenga Valley.

But the answer isn’t important. LISTENING IS! 

If you don’t actively listen to the music on this course, it won’t work, simple as. 


So, let’s not over-think classical music. We’ll get to that later in the course.

But first, I would like to introduce to…..A MARTIAN!