Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Superhero Theme Project Part 6: Hawkman

I knew the Hawkman or Hawkgirl request was coming.  There were several issues that I foresaw, and my superficial knowledge of these characters’ accepted canon provided relatively little background with which to navigate them. With their closely interwoven history, I was wondering if these two characters even deserved separate themes, or one singular “Hawkperson” theme. The majority of the Little One’s exposure to Hawkman and Hawkgirl has been through the Justice League animated series, which, if you are familiar with the series, doesn’t paint either character in the most positive light. As great as it is, however, the show is a little too violent to let her watch without sitting beside her as a moral guide, so we have backed off from watching it regularly. Hawkman does show up in her Super Friends Busy Book, though, so he was her initial request and my template for finding a theme.

I already had something in mind, and it pretty much sounded like Anvil of Crom. This song has clearly settled in as Wonder Woman’s theme, but its martial power certainly seemed appropriate. I briefly considered O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, but this felt too diabolical and gothic.

O Fortuna by Carl Orff on Grooveshark

The Ride of the Valkyries was another suggestion that came up, and in some ways, this piece certainly conveys an aspect of the character. Like all of Wagner’s instrumental pieces, however, unedited, it’s just too long. Even in an edited form, I don’t think that I could listen to it three or four times in a row every day for the foreseeable future. Wagner did not ask for this piece to become the Nazi war theme some seventy years later, but the cultural baggage is still there for me and it renders The Ride of the Valkyries inappropriate.

The Valkyries from Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner on Grooveshark

I came back to the 2nd Movement from Shostakovich’s 10 th Symphony, which was in the running for Flash’s theme. This piece has an unbelievable energy, but it also has a feeling of menace that did not match the sleek drive I wanted for the Scarlet Speedster. For Hawkman, however, it’s aggressive, warlike vigor felt like a good match, and its swirling chromatic lines brought to mind birds of prey circling overhead, waiting for the opportunity to rain down havoc from the sky.

I loaded it onto the playlist and waited, and soon enough, she made the request on the way home. She listened intently to the entire thing, but did not ask for a replay. I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised. It seemed a far cry from the elegant simplicity of her favorites. There is a whole lot going on this piece, and although I was drawn towards its intensity and complexity, I wondered if it might be a bit too much for a 2 year old. Still, there is a ridiculous amount of memorable melodic material to draw from.

I thought that perhaps a bit of reinforcement would help. When getting into a complex piece, becoming familiar with even a small chunk often helps me to gain a foothold on the whole thing, so when we got home, I went straight to the piano. I can’t fake a recognizable version of the Spiderman song (it is, after all, freaking Zappa!), but thanks to the miracle of ear training, I can play short melodic excerpts from the pieces related to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. I gave her a little quiz, and after a few successful rounds, I threw in the opening riff from the Shostakovich. She shot me a confused look, but with a little help, she was able to correctly identify it as "Hawkman." Then our attention started to wander back to Dinosaur Train, juice, and other normal after-school activities.

Then, no mention of Hawkman again for two days. I thought I had found the boundary of what she could absorb, but then one afternoon, with absolutely no prompt, she requested Hawkman. Then again, and again, and again – four times in a row before I called it quits. Every time, she wiggled and grinned and shook her hands with enthusiastic energy.  It was as if the piece had to sift around in her subconscious for a few days before it could take hold, which, due to its complexity, may have actually happened. I can now “drop the needle” nearly anywhere in Symphony 10 Mvt. 4 and have her triumphantly exclaim “Hawkman!”


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