Jul 7, 2016

If you close your eyes and allow your mind to wander, what images or stories do you see when you listen to this? The beauty of music and art in general is that if you ask a hundred people this question, you will be offered a hundred answers — and every single one would be valid.

In making classical music, we strive for certain objective goals in performance. There are right notes, right intonations for those notes and the right time to play them. But what it all means to each pair of ears in the audience is wonderfully personal and subjective. In one of the best literary passages ever written about music, James Baldwin describes that phenomenon this way, “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations.”

For newcomers to classical music — who might often fear they need a four-year degree before they are allowed to have an opinion on what they hear — this should be a freeing thought. The emotions you feel or the movie you direct in your head while listening to a piece of music are yours alone and just as legitimate as those of the person in the seat next to you. So again, what do you see when you hear Arcangelo Corelli’s arrangement of La Folia?

Mining those answers and making them come to life in short films is the impetus behind a new project by the New York City-based Filmelodic. Filmelodic a studio that has produced a series of original video narratives conceived to accompany a live performance of classical music. So far, the films include stories that are set to selections from Samuel Barber’s School for ScandalHector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Filmelodic’s new project, La Folia, is described as a “visual anthology of 24 short stories (20-40 seconds each), all inspired by the same 500-year-old melody — La Folia.” The project is currently raising money with a Kickstarter campaign, and at the time of publication was approaching its goal with 5 days remaining.

Dating back to at least the 1600s, La Folia is among the oldest reoccurring melodies is classical music. It has been used by more than 150 composers, showing up everywhere from a brief quotation in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Coca-Cola Super Bowl ads (featuring Handel’s Sarabande.)

Filmelodic Producer and Director Adam Grannick studied violin from the age of 3, and he said the La Folia theme has almost planted itself in his subconscious as he’s listened to dozens of variations of the ancient melody. That openness to reinterpretation is something he wants to capture in the film series.

“The fact that the world's greatest composers, for centuries, had all felt compelled to add their own piece to the historic tapestry that is La Folia, made me realize that any film based on this would have to be a compilation of many people's imaginations,” said Grannick. “I reached out to about a dozen different people, who listened to a specific variation on the Folia theme, found something that resonated with them deeply, and then worked with me to develop it into something that could be a visual story.

"I felt that it would be unfaithful to the nature of the piece to turn it into something that was only one person's vision. La Folia, as a musical theme, is part of musicians' collective heritage. So La Folia, the film, needs to reflect that.”

The visual interpretations Grannick came back with vary widely, ranging from ballet dancers flying through the air, to a spitball fight to a woman daydreaming about flamenco dancing in her office elevator. For a viewer, particularly a viewer who is new to classical music, the collection of many of these personal narratives suggests that there is no wrong way to experience this music.

“I want to send a strong message that this type of music is for everyone. That the same underlying melody can be experienced by different people in (at least!) 24 different ways,” Grannick said. “We are filming stories of people from many different circumstances and walks of life.”

Grannick grew up playing violin, but he fell in love with classical music when he reached high school and got to play pieces like Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 or Stravinksy’s Firebird in an orchestra. He also grew up with an interest in film and animation. Inspired in part by Disney’s Fantasia (which he said he watched weekly as a child and still watches twice a year) Grannick made short movies based on classical works in high school, which led him to film school.

“I kept playing violin but I was also constantly experimenting with how short live-action films could help other people experience what I did [when listening to these pieces],” Grannick said.

Those films included things like a sword fight over disputed fruit based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. Grannick kept developing the concept, figuring out what worked and what didn’t, which led him to Filmelodic where he says he gets to work with talented co-writers, cinematographers, actors and crew to bring that vision to life.

One of the guiding objectives of Filmelodic is to open a door for a largely millennial audience who don’t regularly listen to classical music. Grannick said he believes seeing live actors on screen helps create an empathy and connection, which in turn connects them with the music they are hearing. Combing film with music is tricky, but when done correctly, he said it can help bring people to classical music in a natural way.

“I was blown away the first time we presented Runaway Overture with a live orchestra and people said they cried at the end,” Grannick said. “And seeing the audience crack up during Last Night's Symphonie — I think more concerts should be like this. It's a very visceral way for newcomers to interact with very complex music.”

Click here to view the La Folia project on Kickstarter

Click here to watch videos from Filmelodic