I'm quite confident that you, your family and your friends all enjoy classical-style music a lot more than any of you realise.
I can prove it too, and since we're motoring enthusiasts, let's start with motorsport.
Since 2018 the Formula 1 broadcast has opened with a theme by movie composer Brian Tyler, and it's an undeniably uplifting way to start the event. The races also conclude with Champagne spraying on the podium while Georges Bizet's Les Toreadors from the 1875 opera Carmen plays loudly.
NBC replaced the Indycar theme tune in 2019 with a special movie-like composition by Aram Mandossian that also has electric guitar-like sounds to feel contemporary.
The music that Hans Zimmer composed for Rush, the 2013 movie centred on the 1976 Formula 1 season, is also an orchestra with some sounds like an electric guitar. The movie trailers used the multi-layered Lost but Won from that soundtrack.
I could name any number of other movies or feature-length shows and most will have a theme you enjoy, and certainly recognise. Whether it's from Star Wars, Rocky, Superman, Indiana Jones, Forrest Gump, Transformers, The Avengers, or anything else with a classically-styled score, you've experienced the mood-setting capabilities of an orchestra.
When it comes to old classics, there are various pieces, even just sections of them, that are so ubiquitous that you instantly know what to feel or what is about to happen. Here are some common examples.
The section with the cannons in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture instantly puts you in mind of military might. Blue Danube, a waltz by Strauss, has you thinking of graceful dancing in a formal setting. Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy gets used for creeping around at night. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Motzart sees the story arrive at a formal event. Minuetto by Luigi Boccherini is regularly used for formal dining scenes.
Beethoven's Ode to Joy is a great inspirational piece to lift the mood or indicate success at overcoming some adversity. Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner might as well be renamed Taking to the Skies since it's pretty much the theme tune to pioneering aviation. The Barber of Seville Overture by Rossini indicates drama and action, or it's Bugs Bunny giving Elmer Fudd a very fruity haircut.
The fourth and final section of the William Tell Overture is a galloping melody now synonymous with horse racing or cavalry.
There are loads more classics that get used to express the full range of moods and settings, and they've been in everything from old Disney and Warner Bros cartoons to movies, documentaries, TV shows, and plenty of advertising.
The point I'm leading to here is that music uses your hearing and your memory to tell you what is happening in the world around you, or in the story you're being presented.
As such, music that is not yet associated with something specific can also help to make a new experience stand out at the time, and as a trigger to remember it later.
After nostalgia became a recognised field of neuroscience, a concept called anticipatory nostalgia emerged. This is simply setting out to have experiences now that will be worth looking back on.
The same field also recognised through studies how certain sounds, especially music that a person associates with a specific event or time in their life, can be a very powerful, and emotional, memory trigger.
This has long been known empirically too. Redgum's song I Was Only 19 referenced the TV helicopter triggering flashbacks to time in the Vietnam War. And why do you suppose TV ads appealing to a 35-55 year old audience use popular music from roughly 20-40 years ago? Along with those old classics some other ads use to instantly set the mood, they're triggering a positive emotion.
So, let me suggest that if you want a road trip or holiday - or any set period of time off however short it may be - to feel different and be remembered separately to the everyday, try changing the soundtrack. Listen to something, anything, that's new to you and different to what you would normally choose.
Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who builds cars in his shed in his spare time.
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