Ep. 133 Transcript

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson. And this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. My guest today is Daniel Goldmark, author of many books, including the Cartoon Music Book and Tunes for Tunes, Music and the Hollywood Cartoon. Daniel is director of the Center for Popular Music Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He also spent several years working in the animation and music industries in Los Angeles, where he produced several collections and anthologies, including a two-CD set of the music of Tom and Jerry composer Scott Bradley. Welcome to Enhance Life with Music, Daniel.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:00:43] Thanks. It’s good to be here.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:45] Well, today’s topic is a fun one. We’re talking about the role of music and classical music, particularly in cartoons, which is super fun. There are generations of kids of a certain age who became first familiar with classical music through cartoons. And not only classical music, but art music like jazz and opera and classic folk songs and film musical songs. So there are a bunch of kids who were exposed to this music and familiarized with it, but it was pretty unconscious for the most part for a lot of these kids. These kids probably had no idea who Mozart or List or Wagner were, but if he started playing one of their songs that recognize that. And Lang Lang is a world famous pianist who’s kind of known for falling in love with classical music from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. And Daniel, you were one of these kids to write. Tell us tell us how you first became aware of and interested in classical music or cartoon music or realized that there was an overlap of the two.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:01:54] The place where I first realized it really didn’t happen. It wasn’t until I was in college, actually, I was originally I was going to be a science. I was a science major. And then I switched to music and I was, I think, fairly into my music history class. And we started a unit on we started the 19th century and my instructor played the beginning of Schubert’s Earl Koenig. And this is very distinctive piano line. And I had this vision in my head of Yosemite Sam, the the Warner Brothers cartoon character. And I thought, what the what the heck is going on here? And then I realized that, oh, I know that music from that cartoon or from there was something there. And so I did a little digging and found that not only had that piece been used in cartoons, but it actually lost that not only a lot of classical pieces have been used in cartoons, which I think I must have known and just hadn’t really put two and two together. But then as I started to dig deeper, it turned out there was an entire tradition of using classical music as the background music for film, going back to the beginning days of film and actually in use for live stage dramas in, well, certainly the 20th century, 19th century and earlier.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:03:16] And so what I was coming to realize is that I had just sort of had this epiphany about a long standing tradition of using pre-existing music with visual drama. There wasn’t really much out there. There were a couple of articles, a few scholarly articles on cartoon music, and around this time there had been released one and then a sequel, CD of soundtrack clips and bits from the music for the Warner Brothers. Cartoons by the composer Carl Stalling was called the Carl Stalling Project and was actually very popular amongst composers and film score enthusiasts and folks in the Know. And one of my undergrad mentors had a copy of this and he lent it to me for what turned out to be quite a long time. And even there there was some historical work, but really, again, not no one had done that much digging on it. And I thought, oh, this is interesting. So that ended up that was the beginning for me of what has since become basically a lifelong project.

Mindy Peterson: [00:04:25] Just kind of satisfying that curiosity about the music from cartoons. Now I read that you had a somewhat short lived experience with piano lessons as a kid, and this had some kind of impetus in listening to cartoon music and hearing a mozart song that really intrigued you. Is that right?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:04:44] Yeah, although I didn’t realize it until after the fact. I wanted to learn. I was five years old and I wanted to learn how to play a particular piece of music that was. We weren’t even sure what it was, but my mother. Went to a piano teacher that we knew and the piano teacher identified the piece and said, You know, you can learn how to play this if you take piano lessons. Okay, great. So I took piano lessons for three years and learned to play the piece, and it was the Mozart C major piano sonata commercial, five for five. And then I stopped playing piano and went on to play clarinet saxophone. I picked up classical guitar and went back to piano lessons on and off. Ever since then, actually, I’ve done it many times. My primary instrument now is ukulele. I have a half a dozen of them. I use them in my classes all the time. I perform with them, still play guitar. That was my my undergrad degree was in voice and classical guitar both. But yeah, that was it all. It was all because of this piece of music. But I didn’t realize that the motivation for it had come because of the cartoons. It wasn’t until I was in that class in college that I put two and two together and then I look back at like, Oh, this goes back much. And then I realized.

Mindy Peterson: [00:06:08] Oh, that’s interesting. I guess I was under the impression that you had made that connection way back when you were five, six, seven, eight. But it wasn’t until you were in college that you kind of put connected the dots in terms of, oh, this is why I’m familiar with these songs.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:06:22] Right. That’s exactly.

Mindy Peterson: [00:06:23] Right. Oh, interesting. Well, tell us some more about cartoon music. It sort of began in the 1920s with the Mickey Mouse cartoon. Is that right?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:06:32] Yeah. Well, the the records we have are are skimpy at best for cartoons prior to synchronized sound. So in the early silent or some people call the mute film days, you know, cartoons didn’t have original scores as far as we know. If there had been music, they would have either they might have put a record on or the band or the pianist or the organist or whoever was there would have played stuff for, you know, general comic business, as they say. Right. They probably wouldn’t have done anything special.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:07] So so the music you heard when you were watching, the visuals would be different depending on where.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:07:12] You were seeing it. Exactly. Exactly. So it would be different from place to place as it would be for any early film you would have seen. Because even if that score existed, say, for a D.W. Griffith film or for some other kind of prestige picture where they’d create original score, every theater would have different musicians, and every theater have a different budget for music. And so the music director at the theater would have to make choices about what they would do. And so even if they used the score provided by the studio, one theater might have five musicians, one theater might have 21 theater, might have 100 if they were at the Roxy in New York or however many they had there. So you never know what you’re going to hear.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:52] So it’s kind of the twenties through the fifties then that these cartoons and cartoon music was really having its boom.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:08:00] Yeah, you could say that it starts really. So when when synchronized sound recorded sound that is for films starts to come in in the mid to late twenties, a few animation studios start experimenting. The Fleischer’s, who created Betty Boop, they start doing some things. The very studio starts experimenting, mostly with sound effects. Nothing really that special. Disney Walt Disney sees some of these cartoons and thinks we can do better and so decides to take three cartoons with his new character, this new character being Mickey Mouse and create new scores for them. Passing from Los Angeles to New York, where he’s going to record the score he stops in his old town of Kansas City, gives the score for two of those cartoons to Carl Stalling, who I mentioned earlier, who was someone he had known for years, goes to New York, records the score, not without some difficulties for Steamboat Willie. That becomes the first really successful animated cartoon with Sound Carl stalling, then does the scores for Gallop and Gaucho and Plane Crazy. And the era of the sound cartoon really starts there. And it’s it really sort of explodes from that point onward into the thirties as the success of Mickey Spurs, other film studios to create characters that they can use because people are watching cartoons before movies in the theater, all the major studios had a cartoon studio either that they would create cartoons for them or would have a studio on their lot that would create cartoons for them to show before their pictures. And everybody wants to get on this bandwagon, especially once Disney sort of becomes the leader in animation. And so you start to hear a lot of things that sound like the Disney cartoons. Different studios have different assets. So Warner Brothers has lots of pop songs that they can make use of. So does MGM. So do the Fleischer’s because they’re working for Paramount.

Mindy Peterson: [00:10:06] And when you say pop songs, these are songs written for some of their musicals.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:10:11] Yes, exactly. Songs written for. So Warner Brothers would be. Warner Brothers was one of the main producers of film musicals in the thirties. And so the Warner Brothers Cartoon Division were able to make use of songs from those films very, very cheaply to license them because it was kind of in house. So a song that would have been a hit from, say, the film 42nd Street, like the title song 42nd Street will show up in a Warner Brothers cartoon or Gold Diggers of 33, which has the song We’re In the Money, the Gold Digger song that shows up repeatedly in the Warner Brothers cartoons because the composer Carl Stalling, really liked to use songs that had some kind of topical reference to what was going on. So often when there was money in the scene in a cartoon, he would use the song We’re in the money as kind of a understood or not so understood joke.

Mindy Peterson: [00:11:10] Beyond these pop songs that were sort of considered in house. Is it fair and accurate to say that the rest of the music used in cartoons during this time period were classical songs, classical.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:11:23] Music, and it was a pretty diverse mix, if you will. Warners and MGM certain studios had access to a lot of these very current popular songs. Anybody had access to songs that were in the public domain, meaning they wouldn’t have to pay extra to use them. And songs that would be in the public domain would be things that were considered folk songs. So stuff that was older, stuff for which there was not a clear lineage, a living author or a state that was going to claim copyright. National anthems typically fall into this realm depending because they’re usually older classical music. Yes, except that even in the early thirties, you have classical classical music is still pretty vibrant in terms of composers that you and I and your listeners can name who are very famous. I mean, Stravinsky, just entering whichever phase of his career he’s entering in the 1930s, he still got a lot of stuff going. You couldn’t just use Stravinsky. So some classical folk tunes, national tunes, older pop songs, which would mean 19th century. So things like Stephen Foster No, I Dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair or Beautiful Dreamer. Also a lot of minstrel tunes, which were some of the most popular songs of the 19th century in the United States. Turkey in the straw songs like that. Jim Malone, Josie.

Mindy Peterson: [00:12:55] And a lot of these songs I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast, but a lot of kids today have no idea what these songs are. You know, as teachers, a lot of times will refer to those tunes when we’re teaching intervals and learning to identify intervals hourly by listening to them. And some of those songs, you know, you talk about for He’s a Jolly Good Fellow or hum a little bit of, Oh, Susanna and a lot of kids just kind of stare at you like, never heard that one before, right?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:13:25] And part of that, I think, has to do with sort of the common palate or the common musical. Well, that people go to that over time shifts. And if you look at music primers from the early 20th century versus those from earlier or later, certain songs come in and out of fashion just as everything else does. And so this is one of the reasons why one of the many reasons why the cartoons of the thirties, forties and fifties, the so called golden age of Hollywood animation, it’s why a lot of that doesn’t work for younger audiences now, not just because there are so many other options, not just because the cartoons aren’t on regular rotation the way they used to be, but also because so much of the humor has no connection to modern. And by modern, I mean current sensibilities. So much of the early animation of so much of the animation of the thirties and forties was based on a vaudeville aesthetic, which even in the thirties and forties was already getting a little old. And now folks look at it and think, What the why would you think this is funny? But the same could be said for looking at a show that’s on a show from the late 1980s or the early 1990s.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:49] Oh, yeah. I mean, we have kids who are now 20 and 17 and my husband and I have gotten certain videos, movies that we thought were just hilarious. In, say, the nineties and like, oh, the kids are old enough, they can watch these now. They’re not inappropriate because they’re they’re age appropriate now. And we’ll watch planes, trains and automobiles, for example. And the kids know we’re just cracking up and the kids are looking at us like, why do you think this is funny? You know?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:15:18] Right. Oh, well, how about something that’s been on for 30 plus years like The Simpsons, where the writers have changed? I mean, there’s a couple of key figures. Matt Groening, of course, being the one who has been there the whole time. And I’m sure and I guess Jim Brooks and there’s probably a few others, but the writers change over time. But the basic premise of the show hasn’t. And so how can you keep something working for so long?

Mindy Peterson: [00:15:44] Well, I want to come back to The Simpsons, because they do have some interesting use of classical music in there. But before we leave that early, those golden years of the thirties and forties and fifties, let’s go back to that a minute. The use of classical music in that era, I mean, somebody like Mozart, unless those are those are in were at the time pretty safely in the public domain. I mean, we’re talking about composers from 1700s. So the use of classical music during cartoons of those goals and years, why was classical music use so much? I mean, was it to avoid copyright issues or was there some desire to intentionally expose young kids to classical music? Why why was it used so much?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:16:29] Well, the easy answer is it’s free. And, you know, as I said earlier, most of the composers for these cartoons came out of either the tradition of being a film accompanists or bandleaders. And classical music had its place in all kinds of different venues at the time, where you would have a sort of like classical version of a famous piece or, you know, there’s famous instances of writers strikes in the forties and fifties where they took classical pieces of music and turn them into pop songs, because that was a way to skirt the ban on songwriting, because it was actually a song that already existed, or so they argued. So there’s all kinds of fun reasons, but there’s also consider the fact that people have associations with these pieces. And so when people hear the Hungarian well, Hungarian Rhapsody is a bad maybe a bad example because there’s so many parts to it. But when they hear the Hungarian Rhapsody or they hear a part of William Tell or they hear any, any classical piece, frankly, that’s in the sort of popular repertoire, folks have an association with it. And the film composers job often is to take advantage of those associations and play it for comedic or dramatic purposes.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:17:44] And so here’s the moment in the cartoon where this happens. What’s going to fit here? Oh, this is the perfect thing. And if it’s a classical piece, why not? As long as it doesn’t interfere with the story that’s being told. And this is where the writers and the director of the cartoon will have a say. Certain of these folks were very well versed in classical music and or really wanted to skewer and deflate classical music. I mean, if Chuck Jones’s cartoons, especially where he was famous, if not infamous, for trying to do the anti Disney, where Disney does Fantasia and does all several cartoons where they just really glorify classical music, Jones wants to take the air out of classical music sales with cartoons like Rabbit of Seville and What’s Up or Doc and plenty of others where it’s like, Why do we have to take this so seriously? Let’s have some fun with it. Which was kind of what Warner Brothers did. The Warner Brothers cartoons did for the most part, all the time.

Mindy Peterson: [00:18:43] Well, in one term that came into existence during that era was Mickey Mousing. Can you explain that real quick? Because I think that’s kind of an interesting little story. Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:18:54] And that’s that has less to do with classical music and more to do with the way that music gets used in film in the early days. So the Mickey Mouse cartoons, as I mentioned, start in 1928 with Steamboat Willie and very quickly, the composers, particularly Carl, stalling early on, realize just how effective it is to have the music and visuals synchronized completely in sync, where if a character walks across the screen, we hear maybe mallets, a xylophone or something echoing each footstep, or someone’s falling. Someone falls off a cliff and you have these fast descending strings. And that very precise synchronization of sound and image became known as Mickey Mousing because it appeared so often in cartoons. It’s not a compliment, however, it usually is seen or was for a very long time, and I think still is seen as a sign of bad composing. And there’s two ways to read that. One is that we’ve seen. Lazy composing on the part of live action composers, that is, you couldn’t come up with anything more interesting. So you just mark musically what’s happening on screen, which breaks the cardinal rule of having the music call attention to itself. You’re actually not you’re not supposed to hear the music. You’re or to listen to it. You’re supposed to have it be there. But what it also does is it denigrates the craft of the composer of classical music. That is that classical that I’m sorry, the composer of cartoon music, that cartoon composers can only write music that marks what’s going on on screen and can’t write anything that’s actually original or imaginative. And so it’s really a it’s bad no matter how you no matter how you slice.

Mindy Peterson: [00:20:46] It, sir, once we get past, say, World War Two, we get into the fifties. Would you say that? Well, actually, let’s say the sixties. Would you say in the sixties we started to see less classical music or art music in general in animated films and cartoons?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:21:04] Well, yes. And the reason is partially because the majority of animation moves to television and the budgets are very different. And while it would still be cheaper to use classical music than it would be to write original music, they go an even cheaper route, which is to write original sets of cues, meaning short musical pieces to be used again and again and again. These are called library cues because you create a library for a show or for a series of shows. Hanna-barbera’s may be the best example of this, where the composer, Hoyt Curtin, among a couple of others, wrote lots and lots and lots of music that gets heard consistently across particular shows. So the later Flintstones shows, I mean, there’s so many shows that Hanna-Barbera did and they all have that. They all have a sort of consistency of sound amongst them. You do occasionally hear classical music still when there’s an episode that revolves around performance of some sort, but you don’t have as much focus on the classical music industry or on pieces themselves as you did in the earlier years. Again, because you also are starting to lose classical music as being such a key part of popular culture as it was in the well, basically in the decades before the 1960s. And that has a lot to do with the rise of rock and roll. It has a lot to do with the rise of radio and stereo and everything that happens post-war in terms of the way that music is being made, not just in the United States but around the world.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:40] Let’s do 1960s to 1990s. Any notable uses of classical music or music in the cartoons of that era that you want to just point out or mention.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:22:52] Sixties, two, nineties? That’s a big swath.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:56] Yeah. I mean, I’m obviously not an expert on this, but I live in Minnesota where Charles Schulz is his it’s his birthplace. And so the peanuts are huge. And I just think of Vince Guaraldi, who composed I don’t know, I would call that art music kind of jazz style music. His music that he composed for the Peanuts animated films.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:23:18] Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting because a lot of people would debate, I think, whether jazz or particularly what Guaraldi created for the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which is, I think the single most famous thing he did in terms of cartoon music. And then it just went from there when the success of that special just to show that that was going to be a big deal. Compare that to something like what Carl Sterling does when he’s at Warner Brothers, where he has access to one of the great film orchestras there is. You know, these are all some of the best professional musicians in the world that are working in those recordings. It’s a great example of how much things shift from the thirties and forties into the sixties and seventies, where the kind of budgets that composers are being given have shrunk so much that the fact that they can do so much with essentially a jazz combo, right? It’s so much smaller. And yet that is, as you point out, really one of the most recognizable pieces of music to come from a cartoon almost ever. And so it’s yeah, it’s just for me, it’s a really interesting sort of touchpoint of how much things shift.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:24:33] You know, one of my favorite bits, it’s not really a full on use, but the the renaissance that happens in animation and starting in the late eighties, who framed Roger Rabbit? The film is kind of a turning point with that, and there’s a really wonderful scene in there where Daffy and Donald rivals from rival studios are on stage simultaneously performing a two. Piano version of the Hungarian. The second Hungarian Rhapsody, which as I’ve written about, is probably the single most performed piece and perform. I mean, like you actually see people perform it in cartoons ever. And one of them is at a grand piano. One is at an upright. One is trying to play it serious. And one is being total goofball about it. And the whole thing descends into chaos. That’s the character Marvyn, Acne says. They never get to finish the act because they can never they can never play it straight. And to me, that’s it was just so happy when that when I saw the film, of all the ways that they look back to the classic era in that film that one of the very few musical performances in the film is of that piece.

Mindy Peterson: [00:25:42] So you mentioned the renaissance of cartoon music in the eighties. Do you feel like that was sort of a defining timeline or moment was the eighties and beyond when it comes to cartoon music?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:25:54] It is because in the seventies and eighties we’ve descended into this nadir, this low point of how little can be done with how little money. The music is just not great. They just don’t have the money or the time to do interesting things or the interest. And then finally, you have this veritable rebirth of the industry. Thanks to interest from Spielberg specifically, but other studios as well, Nickelodeon puts out a call for new animated series and they send a bunch to pilot. And the three that eventually are created are Doug Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy, all of which have very, very different musical profiles. The Simpsons starts as a series and they have a live orchestra for that show, so that look very much is looking backward because nobody was doing that, certainly not for animation. So yeah, it was a major, major turning point in cartoon music and it’s I think only gotten better in some ways just because there’s people really came around to the idea that the music is serving a real purpose and is super influential to the point that now I have students who are just really, really fascinated by and inspired by the music that’s being written, not just for shows, but also for films. A favorite right now of many of my students is the score for the The First of the How to Train Your Dragon Films by John Powell, which is a really incredible score.

Mindy Peterson: [00:27:28] Well, and as we’re talking, I’m realizing there’s sort of a couple themes that are emerging here for me anyways. One is the use of classical music and cartoons, but then secondly is overall what’s been historically and now the quality of music that is used in animated films and cartoons. What kind of originality is there? Is there iconic music that’s coming out of these different eras or not? And it sounds like once we hit, say, the sixties, there was a low point where there wasn’t really much iconic music coming out until we sort of hit the eighties. And there was a bit of a rebirth in the quality and originality of the music. Is that accurate to say?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:28:12] Yeah, I’d say so. I think. I mean, there’s there’s some stuff that happens in the sixties and seventies, but in terms of original music and in terms of the kind of attention you’re seeing it less in Hollywood. There’s all kinds of interesting things coming in from independent filmmakers and overseas, but from Hollywood and from the largely from the television animation industry, there’s not a ton. And then, yes, by the eighties, it really turns around.

Mindy Peterson: [00:28:40] Well, I think in the sixties, seventies is that when Flintstones was developed.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:28:45] This is is early sixties.

Mindy Peterson: [00:28:49] Oh, okay. So we have Flintstones, which I think of is pretty iconic. And then there’s the Pink Panther with Henry Mancini. We talked about Vince Guaraldi, and then we hit the eighties, nineties. We have SpongeBob SquarePants, we have The Simpsons, we have Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Doug, one thing that you mentioned in our conversation that kind of caught my attention was the effect of classical music’s use in cartoons and how often it had sort of this vaudeville comedic type of in effect, that’s how it was used and the Mickey Mouse thing. Have you seen that change in recent times? Like, for example, today’s cartoons or animated films? If classical music is used, you see it being used to different effect now than it was, say, in the forties.

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:29:40] Yes, different. But also composers will often reference that particular sound in a sort of self reflexive way. So I can think of an example where there’s a Simpsons where Bart is dreaming and to signify. I that he’s dreaming. The music is done in the style of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where every one of his actions is Mickey Mouse. Like he he blinks. And there’s, you know, little Mallett hits and things like this, which is not the normal musical soundscape for a Simpsons cartoon. So we know something’s amiss. We know something is different.

Mindy Peterson: [00:30:22] Oh, fascinating. Well, this is so interesting. I will definitely include links in the show notes so that listeners can get your books, the ones that we’ve mentioned. And also we’ll have a list of the other books that you’ve written as well. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Is there a song or story that you can share with us today in closing?

Dr. Daniel Goldmark: [00:30:46] Well, sure. And I referenced it earlier. This is the Mozart Piano Sonata commercial, five for five, I think it’s sometimes called the Facile Sonata. This was the piece that at age five, I asked my mother, I said, I really want to learn how to learn how to play this piece. And so we got my piano lessons or she arranged for me at piano lessons and I played for several years until I could learn, learn how to play it. And then I moved on, although I can still play it. But this was really this was the thing that got me going in, not just in cartoon music, but my interest in studying music and how it gets in our heads. And where do these tunes come from and why this tune and not that tune? And my entire career has really been about chasing after these ideas of why music can mean things to us in certain ways, and trying to unpack those ideas, as well as the idea that no piece of music has some kind of inherent meaning in the notes, that we do put something there based on our own experience with the music as a child or as an adult or whatever it might be. And that my experience of the Mozart is going to be very different from someone else’s.

Transcribed by Sonix.ai