[Dixielandjazz] The IMPACT of cartoon music - Carl Stalling

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Jan 23 17:31:08 PST 2007

Here is a bit about Carl Stallings and Cartoon music. Interesting take by a
classical music lover. I submit that you can substitute jazz for classical
in the article theme and come away with the same conclusion.

Those who think cartoon music is a derogatory term will want to read on.

Vital points? That music, presented the way Stallings did, sight and sound,
has a vitality that far exceeds what most jazz bands (any genre) have today.

Steve Barbone

NEO CLASSICAL - by Drew McManus

Carl Stalling Was A Genius.  Everything you need to know about classical
music can be learned by watching Bugs Bunny cartoons.

by Drew McManus

I used to believe that while growing up I had no exposure to classical music
or other forms of culture. My schools never had artists or musicians visit,
my family never listened to classical music, opera was only something to be
laughed at, and the first live orchestra I heard was one that I played in.
But luckily for me I grew up 25 years ago as a slightly obsessive compulsive
child who watched an awful lot of television, especially cartoons; and my
favorite cartoons were those made by Warner Brothers. Although I was
completely unaware of it at the time, by watching those cartoons I was being
exposed to wider variety of classical music than could have been obtained by
attending a full subscription series to the New York Philharmonic.
We Owe It All To Carl Stalling
Thanks to the genius of staff composers like Carl Stalling I had a steady
diet of music from all four periods of classical music as well as a
smattering of medieval music (remember the one where Daffy Duck was ³Robin
Hood²?), not to mention  regular doses of standard tunes, jazz favorites,
and experimental music.
Carl worked at Warner Brothers for 21 years and produced the scores for over
600 cartoons, each in about three hours. Carl himself surmised that about 80
to 90 percent of each cartoon was original compositions, but he admitted to
using his favorite popular tunes on a regular basis. ³How Dry I Am² was a
common tune for drunken characters, and Bugs Bunny¹s (fairly regular)
appearances in drag were accompanied by strains of ³The Lady in Red².
At Carl¹s disposal was the Warner Brothers Orchestra, a 50 piece ensemble
composed of studio musicians and led by Milt Franklyn. Carl expanded the
technical range of nearly every instrument in the orchestra and often had to
explain to the individual players what he was after.
Case In Point
Of course, most people are familiar with the powerhouse classical music
cartoons such as Rabbit of Seville, What¹s Opera Doc, and Rhapsody Rabbit.
Those cartoons all contain overt humor, but Carl¹s best work went right by
most people without them ever knowing it.
A few years ago I recorded a Bugs Bunny Marathon and after taping them I sat
down to watch all twelve hours. It was about 2:00am when Water, Water,
Everyhare (you know, the one with ³Rudolph² the big hairy red monster who
wears Converse high tops) came on and I sat in stunned silence as I listened
to the cartoon.
As the cartoon begins it¹s raining and the soundtrack is an orchestrated
version of Chopin¹s Db Major Prelude, titled ³The Raindrop², intermixed with
a series of necessary musical moments to enhance the onscreen action. Over
the next few minuets, Carl works in Brahms¹ Lullaby which moves in and out
of the Chopin Prelude seamlessly (we even get ³How Dry I am² inserted when
Bugs goes for a glass of water).
It just so happens that Chopin¹s Raindrop Prelude is one of my favorite
piano pieces to play so I¹m intimately familiar with it. And the way Carl
uses some of Chopin¹s original transitions to move in and out of his
orchestrated version of the Prelude and his original work are so good you¹ll
never notice it.
As the cartoon continues Bugs ends up getting washed out of his hole and
floats down a river toward the ominous looking castle owned by the Evil
Scientist (Boo). As the cartoon takes this menacing turn the music changes
to the ³thunderstorm² portion from the Raindrop Prelude to help set the
When the scene changes we see the interior of the castle where the Evil
Scientist working on his latest evil creation and the music transforms to an
orchestrated version of Chopin¹s C Minor Prelude. I won¹t spoil the entire
cartoon, but suffice to say you¹ll get a good dose of standard rep performed
in ways never intended by the composeres, including a especially ³ethered
up² version of William Tell (I wonder if the musicians got to ether up
before recording the session?).
Watching that cartoon a few years ago was the first time I¹d seen it since a
child. I was astounded at everything I now recognized from a musician¹s
viewpoint throughout the cartoon and it was at that same time I also
realized just how much exposure to classical music I really had as a kid.
It¹s All In The Delivery
If anyone would have ever made me sit down and listen to ³Chopin¹s Db Major
Prelude² as a kid I would have rolled my eyes and gone off into my own
private world until the music stopped. But stick it in behind a Bugs Bunny
cartoon and I couldn¹t get enough of it.
Those Warner Brothers cartoons delivered a brand of humor that was
simultaneously subtle and overt, and Carl Stallings¹ soundtracks paralleled
that same level of achievement. The real lesson to be learned is that
quality outreach material is clever and appealing on a multitude of levels. 
I don¹t think I¹ve ever met a professional musician that doesn¹t love the
music from those old Warner Brothers Cartoons. As a matter of fact, I don¹t
think I¹ve ever met anyone that doesn¹t love the music from those cartoons,
so why is it so difficult to get people interested in classical music
through contemporary outreach endeavors?
The delivery method has quite a bit to do with it. I doubt anyone at Warner
Brothers was sitting around figuring out how to get people interested in
classical music.  The simply gave Stalling a task and said get it done by
next Thursday; and that was it¹s magic, it wasn¹t contrived.
Carl used contemporary tunes and experimental techniques mixed with
classical standards to deliver a product that made you want more (exactly
like orchestra programming should be doing right now). 
You can also learn quite a bit about the ³great divide² where classical
music began to separate itself from the mainstream cultural consciousness by
watching those Warner Brothers cartoons, but that¹s a topic best suited for
another article. 
Perhaps the next time orchestras consider having another Mozart Festival
they should think about celebrating Carl Stalling instead. I bet they¹d sell
more tickets.

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