Pop! Goes The Orchestra

Pop goes the orchestra.... It's an interesting image. I'm not talking about the look on the tuba player's face when he's playing a sustained FFF note (perhaps with some vibrato)... looking like he is about to 'pop'. I'm talking about pop music - going to the orchestra for some additional emotional intensity in their production. Traditional orchestras have a way of deepening the emotional content of pop, rock, or nearly any other genre. Side note: It's not because the orchestra itself is inherently emotional. It's because that orchestral sound that we all know and love is equated in our minds to emotion. Different instruments don't 'sound' like different emotions. We have been taught, mostly by famous Hollywood film composers, that brass with snare drums sounds heroic. We've learned that a solo violin melody over piano can sound intimate or depressing. It's like how we associated colors with certain meanings in particular contexts... At a stop light, the color red means 'stop.' The color green means 'go'. The amber\yellow color means either a) 'slam on the brakes' or b) 'gun it and pray there's no law enforcement around' (depending on your testicular fortitude). But I digress... As I mentioned, the point of adding an orchestra to a pop or rock song is to add emotional intensity that the traditional rock\pop instruments can't quite provide. I am relatively certain that it's not a random "Oh! Wouldn't that be fun!" kind of decision. One of the first tracks that comes to mind with great use of orchestra is Alanis Morissette's song "Uninvited". <--- click. It will open in a new window, so you can keep reading. From the start, this is a musical roller coaster ride. This is a perfect paring of the edginess of rock with the power of the orchestra. Part of the brilliance of this composition is that the... uncomfortable piano motif is the bridge between the band and the orchestra. The piano can be found in rock\pop songs everywhere.. as well as the orchestra. There's no denying that the moments of featuring the orchestra (at 1:46 and 2:45) add some strong emotional pull above the grit of the rock drums and electric guitars. Another fantastic song demonstrating a great marriage of orchestra and rock is 30 Seconds to Mars' "Kings and Queens". Orchestral use in this example isn't quite as obvious - which makes it accessbile to the general public without making the listener think "Aw man! What's with the orchestra? I'm trying to rock out here, man." The string ostinato (repeated rhythmic phrase) comes in at 2:32 and repeats throughout. This simple idea references what we know to be an 'adventurous' sound - a soundtrack for quest, if you will... It works well in driving the song forward while adding a touch of inspiration. One more demonstration: Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life".. Now, one of Evanescense's trademark sounds is heavy use of orchestra (namely strings). It's who she is. This particular piece is a great blend of rock\metal with rap with the added depth of orchestral strings. The strings here are subtle, but they add an intriguing sense of sophistication and emotion. Needless to say, orchestra is everywhere. It is no longer confined to the pages of classical works. Modern-day composers and orchestrators have been creating new ways to bring the orchestra out of the concert halls and into popular media. Next time you're listening to the radio, see which artists are using the orchestra to sweeten or intensify the song. In all likelihood, a composer\orchestrator like myself was brought in to add some more depth and power to the song.

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