"Whistle While You Work": Syncing beyond the copyright system

Synchronizing music with visual media output, such as films, television shows, advertisements, video games, accompanying websites and movies, is widespread. Indeed, drafting synchronization licenses has helped many a commercial copyright practitioner pay for his/her child's college tuition. But syncing music is part of our much broader daily lives, beyond the copyright system.

No one understood this better than Snow White and her four-legged companions:
Just whistle while you work
And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place
So hum a merry tune
It won't take long when there's a song to help you set the pace

And as you sweep the room
Imagine that the broom is someone that you love
And soon you'll find you're dancing to the tune
When hearts are high the time will fly so whistle while you work
So whistle while you work
(Music by Frank Churchill and lyrics by Larry Morey)

These words kept recurring to this Kat as he found himself increasingly occupied with home-cleaning chores during the pandemic. And with it, this Kat began to ponder: what music would make the best companion for mopping the floor? "Whistling" may have been good enough for Snow White and her friends, but not for this Kat. Active search, and trial and error, of appropriate music, ensued. While still (probably, always) a work in progress, here are this Kat's current two favorites for the perfect music.

1. Boléro - Music set for dance should be the most fertile of all sources since it is all about putting music and movement into sync with each other. And no piece of music does this better than Boléro, composed by Maurice Ravel in 1928 on commission from the Russian ballerina, Ida Rubinstein. Boléro gives full expression to Ravel's preoccupation with the styling of dance movements.

When it is brought to bear on the pail, mop, and broom, what this Kat likes so much is the simple, yet hypnotic (even slightly edgy) melody, progressively performed by the orchestra's various instrumental sections. One finds himself literally brandishing the mop in sync with the melody.

While Boléro is nowadays usually performed solely as an orchestral piece, it can only be fully appreciated when seen with dance accompaniment. Kat readers are urged to track down the choreography for the piece, especially by the choreographer, Maurice Béjart, and its legendary performance by Maya Plisetskaya, an icon of the Bolshoi Ballet. This Kat has viewed it numerous times ("Not again", says Mrs. Kat; this Kat just smiles.).

The result: this Kat imbibes the haunting music together, with the images of Maya Plisetskaya's performance, darting in and out of his mind. It is more than the act of whistling, which so engaged Snow White, something that, while active, is done so internally. It has the effect of (almost) helping this Kat forget what he is doing, or least meant to be doing.

However, a performance of Boléro usually takes between 16 and 18 minutes, depending on the conductor's pace. If the mopping task is greater than 18 minutes, the choices are to listen once again (and again?), or to find some complementary piece, which brings this Kat to his second recommendation.

2. A Chorus Line- One of the most revered of Broadway productions, the 1975 musical,
A Chorus Line, is about the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of dancers hoping to be chosen for a part in the chorus line of an upcoming production. The scenery is sparse, and the main set is, literally, the chorus line, as the candidates are called up one by one to make their case for selection. The dialogue is mostly about the internal, rather than the external, but the artistic experience is about music and dance, ideal for this Kat.

Unlike Boléro, when Chorus Line is concerned, words, in the form of lyrics, matter. This Kat has listened umpteen times to the score of this musical, and he has committed much of the lyrics to memory. He has also viewed several performances of the musical, both in its entirety and in snippets. Taken together, this Kat finds himself alternatively humming the music or singing the words, all against flashes of the accompanying choreography for the particular song. The otherwise-drudgery of the mop and pail doesn't stand a chance.

If the mopping task is longish, this Kat can listen to the entire score and engage himself accordingly. If less time is needed, selection is called for. For this Kat, the order of the songs must begin with the song "One", followed by "The Music and the Mirror", "Nothing" and "At the Ballet", with the full choreography of these songs clearly in his memory. Whatever the choices, the work passes by more quickly.

Is this synchronization in the literal copyright sense? No, but it does point to how the circumstances by which we consume music extends to a broad swathe of our daily life.

As for the mopping of the floor, the mother of a Kat friend used to sing to herself the lieder of Franz Schubert-- to each her/his own. Kat readers are invited to share their own preferences.

Picture on upper right by James Mann and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Picture on lower left is by W.carter and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
"Whistle While You Work": Syncing beyond the copyright system "Whistle While You Work": Syncing beyond  the copyright system Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Thursday, September 02, 2021 Rating: 5

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