Tag Archives: scores

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Chinese poet Liao Yiwu‘s most recent memoir, For A Song and a Hundred Songs, takes its title from a particularly fiendish torture imposed on him during a prison stint: caught singing by a guard, Liao was forced to squat against a wall and sing non-stop for about eight hours, until his voice completely conked out. It’s a horrible story, but the wondrous part about it is that it didn’t stop Liao from singing again. Or writing. Or escaping to Germany so that he could share his story with the world.

There’s a power in words and music, a power that makes some people nervous, and others celebrate. History and culture are filled with moments that highlight this power, like this iconic scene from Casablanca:

Or the time Elvis Costello bit the hand that fed him on network television, which you can watch here and learn more about below:

We could write a whole separate blog post about “We Shall Overcome” and other freedom songs:

And, of course, the power of music is a world-wide phenomenon, as can be seen in Algerian rai

…the protest songs of Filipino musicians…

…and countless other examples.

The library is a great place to learn more about the power of music in history and culture. Some representative samples:


33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs From Billie Holiday to Green Day / Dorian Lynskey

Story Behind the Protest Song / Hardeep Phull

Protest Song in East and West Germany Since the 1960s / David Robb, et. al.

Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song / David Margolick

Rockin’ the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements / Reebee Garofolo, ed.

Recorded Music

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Songs of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement / The Cultural Center for Social Change

The Best of Fela Kuti, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Classic Protest Songs, Smithsonian Folkways

Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement / Smithsonian Folkways

Songs of Conscience and Concern / Peter, Paul & Mary


The People Speak / A&E Television

Soundtrack for a Revolution / Docurama Films

A Night of Ferocious Joy / Artists Network of Refuse & Resist


Songs That Changed the World / Wanda Wilson Whitman, ed.

The People United Will Never Be Defeated: 36 Variations / Frederic Rzewski

The Big Red Songbook / Mal Collins, et. al.

Songs of Protest and Civil Rights / Jerry Silverman

As ever, you can get more materials and information by asking a librarian. But right now, it’s your turn: has there been a particular song, or type of song, that raised your awareness of the world around you? Did you live through an era where music played a significant role in political / historical / cultural  events? Tell us about it.

Leigh Anne


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Indelible Notes

If I were to ask you about composers named Bernstein and what their most memorable works are, I’ll forgive you if come back at me with West Side Story, On the Town or Candide – all three truly excellent compositions.  All three composed by the legendary Leonard Bernstein, who pronounced his name burn-stine.  The composer that interests me is the “other” Bernstein – Elmer Bernstein, who as far as I know used the approved New York pronunciation – Burnsteen, like my old next door neighbors.

You may not know the name and maybe none of his works come to mind off the top of your head, but I promise you, you know his work. You probably know more of  Elmer’s works than you do of Leonard’s.  Elmer Bernstein is either the first or second most well-known composer of film scores, jockeying for the ranking with John Williams.  Even a short list of Bernstein scores is a respectable demonstration of some of Hollywood’s best known movies. (The bolded titles are Academy Award nominees.)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955
  • The Ten Commandments, 1956
  • Kings Go Forth, 1958
  • The Magnificent Seven, 1960
  • The Comancheros, 1961
  • Birdman of Alcatraz, 1962
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
  • The Great Escape, 1963
  • Hud, 1963
  • The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965
  • Hawaii, 1966
  • Return of the Seven, 1966
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967
  • I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, 1968
  • True Grit, 1969
  • Slap Shot, 1977
  • Animal House, 1978
  • The Blues Brothers, 1980
  • The Great Santini, 1980
  • Trading Places, 1983
  • Ghostbusters, 1984
  • My Left Foot, 1989
  • The Grifters, 1990
  • Cape Fear, 1991
  • A Rage in Harlem, 1991
  • Mad Dog and Glory, 1992
  • The Age of Innocence, 1993
  • Lost in Yonkers, 1993
  • Frankie Starlight, 1995
  • The Rainmaker, 1997
  • Wild Wild West, 1999
  • Keeping the Faith, 2000
  • Far From Heaven, 2002

From 1955 through 2002, Bernstein earned 14 Academy Award nominations for either Best Original Score or Best Song, winning once for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967. He also won an Emmy and two Golden Globes.  All told Elmer Bernstein wrote 151 film scores, released 265 albums, and wrote for over 150 television productions (series, specials, mini-series, pilots and documentaries,) corporate promotional works and news specials.

I haven’t seen all the pictures he’s scored, and I can’t say that he’s a criteria for my selections of what to watch, but there’s a definite pattern at work. I really enjoy the music and surprise, the credit is “Music by Elmer Bernstein“.  They aren’t just enjoyable or something that adds to the movie, they’re works that stand on their own; I go out and get the MP3s and look for the soundtracks. His work has legs, and some have become cultural testaments.  You can find them in the movies themselves, in specific soundtrack CDs, and even on Freegal. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t pasted or included an MP3 or a YouTube video, there are many available.  His works are copyrighted and I haven’t found anything that wouldn’t be stretching the bounds of responsible librarianship if I posted them here.

As for my favorites, it’s easy, but the order changes moment by moment.

  1. The Great Escape
  2. The Magnificent Seven
  3. The Sons of Katie Elder
  4. True Grit
  5. Stripes.

– Richard


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