When answering a viewpoint question in the examination, we have to spend enough time to think carefully about the main issue or argument of that question first. The following is the question about film music analysis in the AMusTCL examination. Student's answer seems to show that she does not understand the main issue of the question. As such, I attempt to rework her answer, refocusing on the crux of the argument and expanding its supporting evidences, so as to give a more satisfactory discussion.
AMusTCL Nov 2010 (c):
Film Music Question
Question: Is film music the modern version of nineteenth-century Programme music? Select and discuss TWO films from those listed below and refer to any others that are relevant in your consideration of the question.
Nineteenth-century programme music evokes the listener a specific experience and conveying emotions, which is written base on non-music idea, images or events. It invites audience invoke the imaginative correlation with the music. Similarly, film music is music that accompanies a film, creating narrative space and gives more body and depth to the story and characters. In this essay, some examples will be discussed.
Nineteenth-century program music is famous for its expressivity to narrate a story, or to recall and evoke the relevant experiences and emotions based on the storyline and the extra-musical ideas that embedded in the programmatic description for the listeners. As such, program music claims its communicative legitimacy through the written text, or program, which, despite the musical sound per se, can offer a larger imaginative space for deeper interpretation. Similarly, the plot, the dialogues, and the moving images of a particular scene in the movie is also likened to such referential “program”, which is capable of offering abundant referential meanings to the corresponding music, creating an even broader narrative space to the audience. From this sense, the on-screen visual “program” of a film becomes an indispensable guidance to the understanding of the supporting music. As such, film music, to a certain extent, can be said to be the modern version of nineteenth-century program music. In this essay, I will explore three examples that support my claim stated above.
Firstly, in the scene “Seeking a Lesson” of Crouching Tiger and Hidden Tiger, two narrative spaces are created. On one hand, Master Long is fighting with many swordsmen. The Chinese percussions strikes fast with rhythmic pattern, this highlights the fighting action. It evokes audience the imagination of Chinese “Kung Fu” and intensifies the tension of fighting action. On the other hand, the Chinese piccolo produces a relaxing folk tune music which plays against the fighting scene. The lyrical, slow tempo and dance-like music emits an artistic atmosphere. It synchronizes to the poem reciting and sword waving by Master Long. This elevates a fighting action to the Art of Sword Dance of traditional Chinese art. Thus, the music in this scene tells more than the music itself and gives more body to the story.
Firstly, in the scene “Seeking a Lesson” of Crouching Tiger and Hidden Tiger, the on-screen visual program, the plot, tells audiences about how Jen skillfully plays her artistic “game of sword dancing”, so as to “discipline” a mob of fierce, trouble-making swordmen in the eatery. If we want to understand why the underlying music is displayed in two layers of sound – one is moving rapidly under the support of the Chinese ethnic percussive ensemble, and the other one is singing in comparatively slower tempo by Chinese piccolo – we have to consider the “programmatic” reference on the screen. Indeed, the on-screen moving images and dialogues, such as Jen's sword fighting and reciting poem, seem to cry out in two narrative voices for these two musical layers. On the one hand, the power and strengthen of the sword fighting skill can be experienced from the fast moving Chinese percussion repeated in constant rhythmic pattern intensify the pace and strength of the fight. On the other hand, Jen 's dexterity and elegant gestures are exhibited through the music of the slow-moving Chinese piccolo folk tune. Such musical effect can likely elicit a sense of relax, effortless spirits in audiences, showing Jen’s mastery of the art of sword fighting. Interestingly, this dance-like tune, accompanying with Jen’s recitation of a traditional 8-line poem, seems to creates an imagined dancing stage, on which only Jen the artistic dancer is swinging freely to and fro like a bird hovering in the sky.
In fact, to many who know Chinese traditional culture, reciting poem is an intellectual activity which is usually found in the social gatherings of ancient literati. These people view sword dancing and poem reciting is a welcoming entertainment. As such, using slow-wind but fast-percussion ensemble of the folk musical style of northwestern China in this scene is a wonderful setting to express how skillful Jen is in sword fighting, and therefore, she can easily give a “lesson” to the swordmen and teaches them what is meant by art of sword fighting. Although the audiences may think that the music is expressing a fierce fighting on the surface, however, by referencing the visual program reference, their understandings may be greatly adjusted. If no “program” is provided on-screen for reference, we may misunderstand the underlying ideas of the music, even of the scene. From this view, film music as a modern version of program music is undeniable.
The above reworking version (a part of the original essay) is only a suggestion that may help student to understand how to cope with the main issue and how to organize and present the points in a reasoning manner.
David Leung (theorydavid)