Getting Back to Work (and a trip down memory lane)

Other than during our summer hiatus, I can’t remember the last time we had nearly a month off between episodes. I hope my readers don’t mind that I took advantage of the downtime to also take a little break from blogging. We worked and partied pretty hard in the weeks leading up to and just after the 500th episode, so I welcomed having a little time to myself. Now we’re in the home stretch with just five new episodes to broadcast in season 23.

Music spotting for PABF11 “Beware My Cheating Bart” took place on Thursday, March 29, 2012. This episode was written by Ben Joseph and will air on FOX on Sunday, April 15, 2012. We spotted 34 cues totaling just under six minutes of music.

The “A” story is that Bart becomes infatuated with Jimbo’s girlfriend after Jimbo threatens coerces Bart into chaperoning the girlfriend at the movies when she would rather see a chick-flick than the horror movie the bullies want to see.

The “B” story is Homer buys a state-of-the-art treadmill that includes an HDTV screen with Internet capabilities. During his “workouts” he discovers a treasure trove of old TV shows that he can stream to the TV and he becomes addicted to one particular show.

Musically speaking, the “A” story gives us opportunities to be romantic, mischievous, and (remember, she’s Jimbo’s girlfriend) a little bit dangerous. The “B” story lets us poke fun at a recent TV phenomenon that had much of America just as obsessed as Homer.

We also have another very special couch gag that will have animation fans/geeks buzzing. Alf will definitely have his hands full composing the cue for the couch gag. You’ll see.

Thoughts on PABF10 “Them, Robot”

  • Everybody got a good chuckle out of the fact that Mr. Burns keeps a big band in his office for entertainment. Great, original big band cue composed by Alf.
  • As promised, another great orchestral work got slipped into the episode: NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN by Modest Mussorgsky (pronounced mo-DEST moo-SORK-skee) was used for the introduction of the robot workforce by Burns. Just the right amount of ominousness. FANTASIA fans will remember this piece of music as the penultimate sequence in that movie when the mountain becomes the Devil and summons all the creatures of the Underworld.
  • A number of fans on the ‘net questioned how it was possible for Burns to outrun his hounds. All I can say is, I’m glad he can ’cause then Alf gets to write a rousing chase cue that elevates the scene another notch.
  • The End Credits cue was ROBOT PARADE by They Might Be Giants. When Matt Groening heard the song during dubbing he said, “Wow, that’s great! They’ll be very excited. They’re big fans of the show.”

And now for the “trip down memory lane” mentioned in this post’s title. Since the show has been using so much “classical” music this season, I thought I’d share a story from my days at CalArts when I listened to and performed classical music 24/7.

Sidebar: For you non-music-nerds out there, using “classical” as a catch-all descriptor for orchestral/symphonic/chamber/legit music is a misnomer. Classical music actually refers to the music written during the years from 1750-1820. Mozart & Beethoven are the best-known composers of this period. Other musical periods throughout history include Baroque (Bach), Romantic (Tchaikovsky), and 20th Century (Stravinsky, Copland). But, when most people refer to music played by a symphony orchestra in a concert hall, regardless of the year it was written, they call it “classical” music and that’s become the accepted name.

During my second year at CalArts, the “Dean of American Composers” Aaron Copland spent a week in residence giving lectures, coaching instrumentalists, and sitting in on orchestra rehearsals of his works. In a previous post I told you a story about my father getting hooked on the music of Stravinsky that was used as the theme for his favorite radio show when he was a kid. In that same story I told you that he took me to my first ballet performance. The two works on the program that night were “Fall River Legend” with music by Morton Gould and choreography by Agnes DeMille, and “Billy the Kid” with music by Aaron Copland and choreography by Eugene Loring. These performances had the dual effect of hooking me on ballet and “classical” music. Although I liked the music for “Fall River Legend” I was very enamored of Copland’s score for “Billy the Kid”. From that day forward I consumed everything Copland I could get my hands on – “Appalachian Spring”, “Fanfare for the Common Man”, “The Red Pony”, “A Lincoln Portrait”, “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra”, “El Salon Mexico”. I was vibrating with excitement when I learned Copland would be hanging out at my school for a whole week.

It was everything I could have hoped for. I sat three feet away from him when he lectured about a dozen students on the highlights of his career. Since I was a conducting major, I sat only two seats away from him when he sat in on rehearsals of “Appalachian Spring”. But the best, most memorable event occurred one afternoon as I was walking past the music school office. It was late in the day, about 5:00PM, and most everyone had left the building. I was about to do the same when the school secretary saw me and waved me into the office. She asked if had anything to do or if I had a few minutes to spare. I said I was available. She told me Mr. Copland was across the hall rehearsing with one of the vocal students, playing piano for her while she sang “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson”. The secretary asked me to wait for rehearsal to end and then to escort Mr. Copland back to the dormitory where he was staying during his visit. My head nearly exploded at the thought of having one-on-one time walking him back to the dorm. As we walked through the music school and headed for the exit door to make our way to the dorms he stopped me and said, “Is there any place we can get a cup of coffee?” I said I thought that the cafeteria would still be open, so we headed over there, ordered coffee and a slice of pie and sat at a table and shot the breeze for about half an hour. He asked me about wanting to be a conductor, I asked him about composing “Billy the Kid” and about his recent career shift from composing to conducting. It was a pleasant, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to just casually chat with not just one of my musical heroes, but arguably the man who had the greatest influence on contemporary American music.

How I wish I could hop into a DeLorean and take a smartphone with me to record our chat and snap a few pictures of the moment. It all just lives in my head today, but it will occupy a very special part of my memory forever. Just another instance in my life of being in the right place at the right time.


10 thoughts on “Getting Back to Work (and a trip down memory lane)

  1. Copland…. this is a Copland year.

    Simpsons… this is a Simpsons year. Disability in the family, TV a necessity, no money for Cable TV, channel choices meager as hell. One of the few quality options on “over-the-air” are the Simpsons reruns, and I am making up for YEARS of lost time. Thanks for doing such a great job with the music on the show. While trying to chase down the source of “Robot Parade” I discovered your blog. Then I found your story about Aaron Copland.


    Your discovery of the man and his music was as serendiptious as mine. 1969, and it was my custom to listen to the nascent “progressive” Rock-and-Roll FM station; it was my lot to work for a fast-food restaurant. All to Coca-Cola your could drink and unable to sleep, 8-transistor radio pressed to your ear all the way to WHCN sign-off. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, Power to the People, and the music played was NOT the “Star Spangled Banner” but some magnificent short piece loaded with pounding drums and soaring brass. Who IS this? WHAT is this?

    The program director of the station identified it as “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copeland. Well, sure… Common Man… but who is this Copland? No details necessary, he turned my attention from Rock to “Classical” and my choice of radio stations too. The pantheon of great composers became my friends. Everything was astounding and wonderful except where to 20th Century was concerned…

    Standing aside of the noise and clamor was my first “Classical” friend. “Fanfare” led to “Appalachian Spring” and “Lincoln Portrait” and beyond. “Copland Conducts Copland” a treasured LP… that and an all-Copland LP with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic…. a night some years later, car parked atop a high hill, radio tuned in to a distant FM station, wow this is one nice piece… announcer saying “Aaron Copland’s ‘Quiet City’ on the CRI label”… and why am I not surprised?

    At last… for real… for live… at Tanglewood… Copland conducts Copland. So does a thunderstorm (that’s Tanglewood for you). The lawn audience evacuates, save for a few die-hards. I huddle under the edge of the shed, soaked and ecstatic. I marshall the last of the my film to try to capture Aaron and the end of “HoeDown”, focusing through happy tears.

    You got a lot closer to the Great Man and I envy you for that. This year was Tanglewood’s 75th aniversary. There was a grand celebration concert, duly memorialized by PBS.
    I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. The video here brings everything around and closes some sort of circle: ashes, Fanfare and that dress rehearsal for the 9th, eh?

    Keep up the good work. I’ll be listening. And when you conduct an all-Copland concert, let me know, OK?

    • Dear Mark, Thank you so much for this very thoughtful comment. I’m going to keep my reply here brief because you and one other commenter have inspired me to write a blog post about your comments. Stay tuned.

      • Hello again and Happy New Year!

        Very interesting and enjoyable post that, re Les Miserables. It reminds me that there is much more to a successful recording than sticking a mike in front of the singer’s face and hitting the ‘Record’ button. Not since Caruso’s time anyway.

        Thanks for a special moment a few weeks back. One of the re-runs depicts baby Maggie saving Homer from drowning, as the music track plays the main theme from “Victory At Sea” by Richard Rogers. Priceless.

        Keep up the good work!


      • Thanks for stopping by.

        Episode BABF02 “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder” was the name of the episode where we played “Victory at Sea” for the Maggie-rescuing-Homer scene.

  2. Your Copland story is priceless.

    I hope you don’t mind the question in case you need to protect spoilers and the like, but I have to ask. I just found an old news story about a clip of the Ricky Gervais show appearing on the Simpsons during this current season. Namely, that it’d feature Karl Pilkington. Did I miss it? I know there are a few episodes left.

    • Thanks for your “Copland” appreciation.

      As for Karl Pilkington, if you blinked, you missed him. He was in PABF02 “The Ten-Per-Cent Solution” in Act 3 when we did a parody of the HBO promo reel for Krusty’s new network HBOWTIME, and among the quick clips of upcoming shows was a short burst of the animated Ricky Gervais Show.

  3. Chris – what an amazing story, about your time with Aaron Copeland…I thought I was so special, having gotten to see him conduct at Ojai — cannot remember the year, but it had to be long ago when he was still in his formative years ! Maybe early sixties- very late fifties?

    I am waiting for you to step away from the computer screen and onto the podium – and wave that baton!! xx Sally

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