Exploring Harry Potter's Influence on Music
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
It’s nearly midnight and I’m standing in a long and winding line that seems to go on forever. I shift from foot to foot and lean on a nearby bookshelf, exhausted. I pass the time by eavesdropping in on the many conversations humming around me: the excited chatter of expectations and premonitions. A clerk’s PA announcement, “only two more minutes,” raises whoops and cheers and my stomach is full of giddy butterflies.
We have been waiting for years for this single event and now the last few minutes seem unbearable. I have not felt this eager for a single event since Christmas as a child.
I gaze tiredly at the several hundred people up and down the line and snicker at our black robes and pointed hats. How silly we adults must look as we anxiously count the seconds until we can get our hands on the final climatic Harry Potter book in the so-called children’s series.
J.K. Rowling had truly created another world and it is truly magical. Her influence in the literary world inspired children to put down their Gameboy and pick up a book. The English vernacular adopted new words like “quiddich,” “muggle” and “Voldemort.” Everything in pop culture from fashion to film has been influenced by the series of seven books.
But beyond the 350,000,000+ copies of the books sold worldwide to date and the extensive marketing of toys, candies, lunchboxes, socks, toothbrushes, lampshades and any other conceivable number of things to be bought is the tremendous impact the Harry Potter story has had on music.
For starters there are the film scores to the movies by John Williams, Patrick Doyle and Nicholas Hooper that have reached multi-platinum levels for sales on the music charts. The popular “Hedwig’s Theme,” written by Williams, has been featured in all the films and is the Harry Potter anthem for dedicated fans. Heck, you can set it as the ring tone for your cellphone!
Beyond merchandising the film scores have received critical acclaim. Two of the movies were nominated for Academy Awards for best dramatic score arranged for full symphony. Amateur musicians have bought millions of sheet music books featuring themes arranged for piano, violin, clarinet and other instruments under the Warner Brothers label.
Pros have taken the themes to new levels, such as the Mark Kramer Jazz Trio who recorded "Hogwarts Forever"” "Nimbus 2000" and "Harry’s Wondrous World" among other titles. Then there are junior songsmiths altering popular songs to take on a Harry Potter flair. Sing along to "Harry in the Sky with Diamonds," "Reach for the Scar" and "Harry Squarepants," but mind the copyright on the melody, please!
A new fad for those digitally inclined is creating music videos set to pop songs using clips from the Harry Potter films. Veritaserum.com, a popular Harry Potter fan site, currently has 149 such music videos posted. The videos feature music by Alanis Morissette, Glen Stefani, Evanescence, Kelly Clarkson and The Black Eyed Peas among many other artists cleverly set to shots from the movies.
Each music video tells a story and some are more professional than others. Love is the most popular theme and the teens go nuts for it. If you think it’s all done by and for kids, think again. Videos with music by Credence Clearwater Revival, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Elton John and Anne Murray lead me to suspect some boomers are getting into the medium as well.
Interestingly these music videos are distributed widely online despite obvious copyright issues with the recording and film industries. But similar restrictions from the book publisher didn’t stop people posting the books online in PDF format and several lawsuits are in the works.
By far the most fascinating facet of Harry Potter in music was the introduction of "wizard rock" in 2002. This new branch of pop music, usually shortened to "wrock" by loyal fans, has over 200 bands based mostly in the US who play music entirely about the Harry Potter books.
The first-ever wrock band was teen brother duo "Harry and the Potters" from Massachusetts who portray themselves as the series’ main character Harry Potter at ages 14 and 17. Many wrock band songs are written from the viewpoint of the character from which the band was named, thus “Harry and the Potters” share musically what life as "the boy who lived" is like.
Unlike many other popular music bands who have written concept songs inspired by literature [cue Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore" based on Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"], wrock bands' only topic or influence is that of the Harry Potter domain. Song topics range from the mundane (life as a teenaged wizard and mushy love songs about the main characters) to the profound (the war of good and evil and prophecy). Some of it is just good, clean magical fun and far more appropriate for school-aged kids than most of the rubbish on the radio.
Below is a sample of lyrics from "The Wrock Show" by Marked as his Equal on the latest CD "My Scars Speak Volumes:"
“When Divination starts to get you down
“So put away your ink and feather quill
“‘Cause when you’ve had enough of Professor Binns
If you think this is just a garage band movement for pre-pubescents, some of these bands are cutting CDs and maintaining busy tour schedules. “Draco and the Malfoys,” “The Whomping Willows,” “The Parselmouths” and “The Remus Lupins” performed at the May 2007 fan convention, Phoenix Rising, to countless ecstatic fans.
Most of the bands prefer to perform in libraries, bookstores and schools to promote reading. Almost all wrock bands perform in costume. An upcoming documentary film, “Wizard Rockumentary: A Movie About Rocking and Rowling,” will explore the wizard rock music movement. Visit wizardrock.org to learn who’s on the top of the wrock charts or tune in to WZRD, an all wizard rock station, on myspace.com.
The clock strikes midnight. Potterphiles push in line as store clerks slash towering stacks of sealed boxes open. Successful buyers clutch their shopping bags close as they exit the bookstore in haste. Some can’t wait to get home and read huddled together on the lit curb outside the store.
A middle-aged woman slaps her daughter's hands, asserting, "Hands off, kid! Get your own copy" I watch with hungry eyes forever: it’s 15 minutes until I am at the front of the line. Finally I cradle a copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and stroke the thick spine lovingly. Mine was one in over 15 million copies (that's with six zeros, folks) sold worldwide in the first 24 hours.
A day or so and many handkerchiefs later I have polished it off and have the post-series blues. It’s all over and there’s no other books to look forward to. No spoilers here, suffice to say I believe it was Rowling's best work yet and worth boycotting television, food or sleep in order to complete the 607-page read in one sitting.
What's next for we fans of this magical series? Well, even if Rowling keeps her word and does not write anything further on her world of magic, she has inspired generations to come with her craft.
Thank you, J.K. and wrock on, muggles!
Rhiannon Nachbaur is a violinist and teacher who operates award-winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio in Kamloops, BC and online at www.fiddleheads.ca. Her then 6-year-old son, Ryan, won the costume contest as Harry Potter at the Barnes and Noble midnight book party they attended in Bellevue, WA.
For those musicians out there who wonder why there isn't more music within the actual books, here are some interesting comments: www.leakylounge.com