Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Seminary Music

Recently, I watched the entirety of The Newsroom on Amazon Prime.  I'm a big fan of The West Wing, so I figured I'd give this show a shot since it was created by—and principally written by—the same dude.  Aaron Sorkin:  ingenious writer of snappy, witty, dialogue and die-hard owner of some complex if overbearingly idealistic political opinions.

It wasn't as good as The West Wing, of course, but what I disliked about The Newsroom the most was, unexpectedly, the opening theme music.  It brought back some post-traumatic-stress-esque flashbacks of seminary.

Obviously, I'm exaggerating.  Seminary was not nearly bad enough to have given me any kind of legitimate PTSD.  But watch this opening sequence and tell me if the score, especially the first half of it, doesn't conjure up images in your head of some attractive young actor of wholesome appearance poring over a copy of the Book of Mormon with a righteously goofy grin on his face:

It's stupid, but as a television fan, I love a good opening theme.  From the triumphant orchestral swells of The West Wing to the ominous jauntiness of Dexter to the upbeat madness of 30 Rock or Futurama, a great opening theme excites a viewer familiar with the music and gets him pumped about the episode to follow.  But with The Newsroom, I can't shake the association with cheesy seminary videos.  And so I begin each episode with mixed feelings—I can tell that the music is beautifully written and laudably performed, but it still conjures up memories of "...and my soul hungered...."

This is not the first time I've come across this phenomenon.  It's difficult to describe exactly what properties qualify a piece of music as "seminary-video-like," but apparently I know it when I hear it.

The first time I can remember discovering my distaste for this kind of thing was when I was exploring modern progressive rock and I stumbled across a band named Spock's Beard.  Something about the singer Neal Morse's voice, or maybe his vocal melodies, felt very seminary-like.  And when I listened to Transatlantic, a side project of Morse's, the song "Bridge Across Forever" made me realize what I was associating him with—the song is the most seminary-like non-seminary song I've ever heard in my life:
I later learned that Neal Morse had abandoned Spock's Beard following his conversion to Christianity, and for a while I thought maybe Christian music and seminary music sounded similar to me.  Except that "Bridge Across Forever" was recorded a couple of years before Morse became Christian.

It's a mystery, I suppose, but one that I find interesting.  As best as I can tell, the music that gives me seminary flashbacks tends to be down-tempo, with emotionally-charged (or emotionally manipulative) melodies and lyrics, with orchestral instrumentation (as opposed to rock instrumentation), and with a general bittersweet vibe.  There are definitely a lot of unidentifiable, unquantifiable attributes at play, though.

But apparently this kind of mental association with the agonizing brainwashing session before school every day is strong enough to taint my enjoyment of The Newsroom.  Luckily the episodes are almost a full hour long, so I've mostly forgotten about any early morning seminary associations by the time the dramatic climax rolls around.

Brains are weird.  They have all kinds of tricksy things to tease their owners with.


  1. Wow! You're right. It's just so cheesy. It's like the Seminary music and Mormon pop music in general got stuck in the style of the 70's ballad. It's like they have to sing like they're praying with a soft, breathy sound that oozes fake humility.

    One of the things that is so brilliant about the Book of Mormon Musical is how they nailed some of the musical styles Mormons have used like Saturdays Warrior. This song I Believe is awesome, especially the chorus, in that it sounds so Mormon. If this song had been written and performed by a Mormon, with humility and seriousness, there really would be nothing wrong with it. It is doctrinally sound. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xlbDHejQFV4

    1. Haha, yeah, that song is great. I still need to see the actual show sometime. I've only seen a few youtube clips and such, but it looks pretty fantastic.

      Although, it's no longer entirely doctrinally sound. The getting-your-own-planet thing...I don't know that we teach that!

      Saturday's Warrior had some hilariously awful stuff in it. I still occasionally get some of those songs stuck in my head for no apparent reason.

    2. Actually, my wife and I were both taught all our lives that we will get our own planets (worlds). I'm surprised you weren't.

      This is from the church's own site: https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-fundamentals/chapter-36-eternal-life?lang=eng

      This is taken from the Celestial Kingdom section:

      "They will receive everything our Father in Heaven has and will become like Him. They will even be able to have spirit children and make new worlds for them to live on, and do all the things our Father in Heaven has done. "

      The part that is a little off is saying God lives on Kolob rather than a planet near Kolob, but even Mormons make that minor error.

    3. I was taught that, but I don't remember how "officially" it was taught. And it didn't come up very often. I definitely believed it, though, because I'd occasionally think about what cool things I'd do with my planet, like it would be the biggest game of Sim City ever.

      I was thinking of this when I said we don't teach that: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-101#C13

      Interesting how we both have links to official church sites to support opposing concepts...

    4. So the Gospel Fundamentals manual published by the church is wrong or else World doesn't equal planet. Just goes to show that even Mormon leadership at the highest levels don't know what the hell the church teachings are and that they're willing to spin almost everything and take both sides of issues in order to keep up appearances. It's these types of inconsistencies that kinda piss me off and led me to distrust the leadership.

      And, since they really don know what the teachings are, I'd have to say I think the song is right when it says "Mormons just believe."

    5. Honestly, I'm betting that it's a PR semantics thing. I'm sure the church still teaches that we'll get our own planets, but it's a "when you say it like that it sounds crazy" thing. So on Mormon Newsroom, they refute specifically the planet thing and hope people don't realize that the "worlds" thing is legit and associate Mormons with Scientology-esque scifi theology.

    6. I think you're right. They can spin however they want and the general authorities can stay clear of it all. I was reading other stuff from your link and was amazed at how close to the line of deception they get. For example:

      Can man become gods. They basically say no. But a prophet once said: "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." Seems pretty clear to me.

      Where was the Garden of Eden? Their explanation: It doesn't matter. The atonement matters.

      Do we believe in polygamy? They say no, but actually many members firmly believe it'll come back. However, even though nobody lives it now, many men are sealed to additional wives if their wife dies, and they fully intend to be married to all of them in the next life. Examples: Nelson and Oaks.

      I could go on...

    7. Those are some excellent examples!