“What’s Opera, Doc?”

Chuck Jones, “Bugs at Piano”

Ask someone to hum the tune to “Ride of the Valkyries” and you may get a blank stare. But ask anyone to sing Elmer Fudd’s comic promise to “Kill the wabbit. Kill the wabbit. Kill the waaaaabbit….” and most people will sing along. 

Classical music used to be an integral part of cartoons, exposing entire generations to incredible music, week after glorious week. Tom and Jerry chased each other through opera houses, Daffy Duck played goofy recitals on trumpet or xylophone, and characters from pigs to skeletons entertained us, with background music written by Mozart, Bizet, and Rossini. The story lines were hysterical, but the music made an indelible impression. Watching the cartoons made me want to hear more. So I went looking for it.

Now all grown up with a child of my own, I have to admit that it’s been a long time since my daughter was young enough to watch cartoons regularly. But, even then, her generation’s cartoons didn’t seem to have the same reverence for classic composers. Thankfully, I’d already been hooked long ago; so between her healthy doses of funk, rock, swing and blues I also played classical music for her, often. Today, she often listens to it when she needs to relax or when doing her homework. She even asks for it when we’re driving in the car.

At times it’s uplifting. Often it’s comforting. Always, classical music does something for me that no other type of music can. It gives me the sense that, across generations, the human condition is the same. It also has the power to inspire every emotion I’ve ever had, with greater intensity and, often, no lyrics at all.

I was listening to my local classical music station in the car today. They were conducting their annual fundraising drive, trying to keep the station alive so that classical music will be heard by future generations. The arts, as a whole, rely on us to keep them alive. If we don’t expose younger generations to them, they stand every chance of fading away.  I can’t imagine a world full of people who can’t recognize Hungarian Rhapsody No.2  (You know…  the one where Bugs Bunny scoops up all of the piano keys while playing his big recital?) So folks, if you haven’t exposed the kids in your lives to classical music yet, please do.  Let them hear those glorious sounds that will make their imaginations run wild. Just turn on your local classical music station once in a while. Or take them to an outdoor concert at the park.  If all else fails…  there’s always Bugs Bunny.

4 thoughts on ““What’s Opera, Doc?”

  1. Larry Garcia

    Don’t forget the use of classical music in movie soundtracks…anything from Walt Disney’s Fantasia to Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and the reemergence of orchestral music via John William’s music for Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List, etc.

  2. Jennifer Heintzman

    Wow, you’re bringing back fond memories of childhood and you’re right, it was easier to be exposed to classical music a few decades ago than it is now. My father sang in a large professional choir throughout my childhood, and he and my mother were involved in amateur opera for many years. What this meant for me was that I was awakened to the fantastic vibrations of exceptionally loud classical music and opera every Saturday and Sunday morning throughout the years I lived at home. I can’t say I appreciated it much as a young child, but fear not! My early distaste for the sounds of ‘my parent’s music’ did not prevent me from learning and absorbing everything I was exposed to. In fact, all that exposure translated into a deep organic love for the sounds and the feeling of those instruments and those voices.


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