Monday, November 10, 2014

Classical music and the art of the Dogfight.



In a spirit of full disclosure, I am not a musician, nor have I played one on TV.  I’ve never been in a band, either marching or Rock.  I've never played an instrument, (chopsticks on the Piano notwithstanding).  So, I am not a musician.  That having been established, I do like most forms of music, some more than others. I do not consider that noise performed by street thugs and emanating at high volume from every car stereo driven by a teen, to be music so it shall not be discussed further.  Like a lot of the readers of this blog, I cut my teeth on the Rock Bands of the ‘70s and being from Texas, I do listen to a bit of Country.  My daughter thinks my whole musical repertoire consists of Jimmy Buffett, and truth be told, I do like his songs.  (In further spirit of full disclosure, I do not own, nor have ever worn, a coconut bra or grass skirt.)

All of the above genres, with the exception of that which shall not be called music, are listened to by me when I’m in a specific mood.  Meaning, there are times, Daughter, when your Dad does not listen to Jimmy Buffett.  There is one genre, however, that I will listen to anytime, anywhere, or in any mood, because I know where I will be when it’s done.  That genre is classical, and not just any classical music, but typically classical music of a martial nature.

During the summer growing up, the meeting place for kids at Webb AFB was the swimming pool which didn't open until noon.  Mom would only allow us to watch TV starting at 10 AM and we had to be out of bed by 8.  (Never did figure out whether there was method to what appeared to be madness.) This schedule left a hole in trying to figure out something to do.  The family had a Hi Fi Record Cabinet and the folks had a decent selection of albums from the Era, Sinatra, Martin, Como etc.  They also had one that I always played.  Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, but this version had Cannons!  I played that every day and, again I am no musician and certainly not an orchestral conductor, but I would wave my hands and conduct that music like a mad man. On the flip side of the album was Beethoven’s “Wellington’s Victory” which not only had cannons, it had muskets.   It nearly broke my heart when I dropped the needle on the album one morning and scratched it, ruining it.

Fast Forward 30 some odd years, I’m at the final stage of my Air Force career and am serving time at the Northern Virginia Penitentiary for wayward Fighter Pilots (AKA the Pentagon), and it’s July 4th.  We've decided to go watch the fireworks, but we’re going to watch them from the bluffs on the Pentagon side of the river.  One of the local FM stations is broadcasting the musical program being conducted by a Marine Orchestra.  They will be performing the 1812 Overture, and they brought 105mm Cannons to add to the show.  It was phenomenal!  Fireworks going off, Cannon’s being fired and the Overture being played. 

One doesn't have to know much about the Napoleon’s Russian Invasion to get a good sense of what happened just by listening to the music.  Very dark and foreboding at the beginning, obviously things are not going well for the Russians.  Increasing tempo and volume towards the middle, something climactic is occurring as the battle has been joined.  Cannon’s firing and the music actually sounds like people running, followed by the jubilant bells signifying victory.  This piece, no matter what my mood, always gets me pumped up.  And, yes, I still wave my arms like a madman, even after my Daughter, who did play in a marching band, says my tempo is off and the direction is not understandable.  Who Cares?

Borepatch yesterday blogged about Leonard Bernstein and Ode to Joy as it was played when the Berlin wall fell.  Ode to Joy was sung at our wedding, so it also has a special place.  I listened to it and then thought I’d like to hear the 1812 again.  Went to YouTube and Lo and behold, with cannons.


A week or so ago, Sarge had a posting where the comments shifted from whatever Sarge was talking about to Winter TDY accomodations.  I had offered up a Quonset hut at Chitose AB Hokkaido Japan, with a single coal stove with no coal as our quarters during a deployment there during winter.  The purpose of the deployment was to determine if the JASDF (Japanese Air Self Defense  Force) could support a deployment of USAF F-15s.  The actual deployment will be the subject of a future story.  This subset will involve classical music.  Suffice it to say, it was cold, at least the first few days until we could convey the fact there was no coal.  Much molar cooling by my counterpart (think hissing, which we interpret as a mean gesture, they intend it as a cover for embarrassment).  There was coal that evening, but not much sleeping had been done.  I had a Sony Walkman with me and  I’d also brought some portable speakers.  So I decided, since we all had the same briefing time, I’d roust the lads with a rousing version of William Tell Overture, keyed to play at the first appearance of the Lone Ranger.  Well, the overall morale impact wasn't quite what I was hoping for, but it woke them up anyhow.



Couldn't leave a post without some gratuitous flying photos and a war story.  (Buck was hoping I’d leave out my usual salutation, but….) So…There I was*, leading a 12 ship of Eagles in a pre-strike sweep for a 16 ship of F-16s.
Source US Air Force

The 26AS had their entire fleet of F-5s sitting alert on Clark waiting for the word to scramble and defend Crow Valley from the Yankee Air Pirates.  We've all hit our tankers and are full on gas.  It’s push time and I move the flight out to line abreast and start a climb.  Contrail level is in the mid 40’s, so shouldn't be a problem for what we’re going to do.  As we start the push, I switch the Eagles over to a different frequency on our #2 radio and, just as we hit the contrail level, switch on my Walkman which I've got jacked into my mike cord.  Hit play and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie blasts out.  Here we are, pulling 12 cons from a 24 mile wide formation of supersonic fighters, playing Wagner over the Aggressor squadron common frequency.  Life is sweet!  Racing towards the merge, the F-5s are airborne, I kill the music and switch the formation to our tactical frequencies.  Sort and lock on, we've got all the F-5s targeted (it is an incredibly useful although completely unrealistic advantage to take off from the same field as your adversary) and they’re all coming up to meet us Eagles and show us some love.    As we get to firing range, still in the cons, I radio out the code word.  12 Eagles drop Chaff and execute a split S down to the 20s.  The F-16s who were in trail with us, just below the cons and in the jamming vector from the EA-6B, had a field day with the F-5s.

Can't listen to Ride of the Valkyrie without thinking of that ride.  The painting at 9:30 sums up how I felt.

What's your favorite classical martial music?


*It's a war story!

28 comments:

  1. Nice selection of music Juvat.

    Ride of the Valkyries has to be one of my favorites. Though the 1812 Overture with muzzle loading smooth bore cannon firing in the background is a big favorite. I recall a Russian version with that effect back in the day. Word was that some of the cannon Napoleon left behind were used.

    (Modern cannon are a suitable sub but don't have the gravitas of the old black powder guns. Or the smoke for that matter.)

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  2. Thanks Sarge. Yeah, I toyed with a version of the 1812 being played by a JGSDF band and 105s, but it didn't have the musical range the version I used did. It was entertaining to watch the mechanics of loading and firing the guns in time to the music though.

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  3. What's your favorite classical martial music?

    "Ride of the Valkyries," without a doubt. You have your dogfight image when you hear it, I see the scene from Apocalypse Now.

    *It's a war story!

    Heh.

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    1. I think that was wear I got the idea from. It did throw a monkey wrench in the plan of the Aggressors though.

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  4. Orchestral rather than classical, but this is mine. I'm biased of course because I was there.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m2NzNuC_9o

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    1. I enjoyed that movie. I was in Korea when it came out. Since there wasn't much to do on the ROK and it was flying related, most of the guys in both squadrons went to see it. Loved the fight scene between the Tomcat and the "Zeros", especially when the F-14 driver almost lost it. There was a lot of Hootin' and Hollerin' at that point.
      Didn't remember the music but it's got a nice beat to it. May have to see if I can find that movie and rewatch it.

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    2. PA, you were on Nimitz when they filmed The Final Countdown?

      Wicked awesome!

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    3. Juvat -- Never heard the music until I saw the movie. The music became the ship's breakaway song, played throughout the boat at the conclusion of every underway replenishment evolution. Another tradition was the final countdown marathon -- the movie played continuously on ships television the final 24 hours before returning to home port after a major deployment. That little bit of noise stirs a lot of powerful primal emotions.

      Sarge -- I was a brand new first cruise airwinger. They shot the film during our workups for the deployment. That deployment included Evening Light. Kind of a goofy juxtaposition.

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    4. FWIW, The Final Countdown is one of my favorites.

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  5. Yup... the Ride of the Valkyries with the Rossini piece in a photo finish.
    It's probably because I was raised listening to radio.

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    1. There was a youtube with the music overlayed on the title sequence of the Lone Ranger and I almost use it also, but again it didn't have the range and depth I liked. That video brought back some memories though.

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  6. "I do not consider that noise performed by street thugs and emanating at high volume from every car stereo driven by a teen, to be music" - I agree 100% !!!

    My crappy Monday has been greatly improved by an most excellent blog! Thanks juvat!

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    1. I have become my Dad! I think he said the same thing about the Beatles. But I'm pretty sure their lyrics didn't use the same language as that which shall not be called music.

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  7. Of course when you mention Wagner i am thinking of the scene from Apocalypse Now with the Hueys coming in. Recently got the DvD of Amadeus and one piece in particular from Mozart I loaded onto my mp3 player (Me being somewhat focused on such things had to then order the CD soundtrack).

    So I have my fancy earphones in, taking the dog to the dog park and picking up dog poop while listing to Mozart's Piano Concerto in E Flat, K. 482 3rd Movement (at least that's what it says on the CD case).

    Nice little tune and whilst picking up the crap reminds me of the ying and yang of life.

    F16s and 15s against F5s?

    Seems hardly fair.

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    1. Here it is if you are curious

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmCiBNXGiRI

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    2. "F16s and 15s against F5s? "
      Well, they were Aggressors, so they were pretty good at what they did. Which is why getting them off their game plan was a large part of the sweetness of this ride.
      Now, F-15s against Harriers, that's unfair! I may have to tell that tale sometime.

      Nice tune! I could listen to that a lot.

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    3. "may have to tell that tale"?

      He asked, arms crossed and tapping one foot.

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    4. And yes Bill, an absolutely lovely concerto.

      Mozart was brilliant.

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  8. Excellent choices. Our playlists are probably very similar. Love B's 5th, R-K's Scheherazade, and the entire sound track to Fantasia. Little Feat, Bonny Raite, Carolina Beach music, Dr Hook, Meatloaf, CSN&Y, Fogelberg...The list is long.

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    1. Beethoven's 5th AKA Let's Invade France! (Say it to the primary Riff in the music, it'll make more sense then). CCR, Grand Funk, The Who, The Guess Who, and, of course, Led Zeppelin.

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  9. We had a rather different sort of guy join the squadron who liked classical music. He was a Cal-Tech grad, smarter than most of us put together. He would play big classical music pieces like these in the ready-room on his duty day. It didn't go over too well, but a lot of it was great music, however mainstream it wasn't. I'm sure it planed the earworm in some of those guys' and gals' heads though and I wonder if they'd be more appreciative today.

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    1. Yeah, ya had to kinda spring it on them at the right moment for it to be appreciated. I had a lot more "Way Cools" from the air to air music than I did at 0500 in a cold quonset hut. I probably did not improve the guys appreciation for classical music.

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  10. Sometimes when I paint with other artists, they seem to think listening to classical music makes you a classical painter. Ride of the Valkyrie may be great for flying into battle, but not so great for painting, which someone decided to have playing while we were painting. Nearly killed me to keep up with the music. But it was better than the flute music that my art friends often listen to - as if they are summoning up Indian spirits. So, most of the time, I listen to oldies rock-n-roll. Classless, I guess.

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    1. Old time rock n roll? Classless? I think not! " ...that noise performed by street thugs and emanating at high volume from every car stereo driven by a teen" now THAT's classless. Painting is one of the many things I wish I could do, but can not. Unless you're talking about walls, that I can do. Creativity for me involves turning good lumber into sawdust and hopefully something cool.

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    2. juvat/

      Try "Lunatic Fringe" by the Canadian band Red Ryder..

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    3. Not bad. I could add that to my playlist, no problem.

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  11. Every now and again, I have been known to toggle the iPad and play Highway to the Danger Zone as I taxi my Cessna out to the active runway. God help me.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)