Music

“This is Berk”- A Musical Analysis

This is Berk

        “This is Berk” composed by John Powell on March 23, 2010.

I wanted to do some research and discover why I gravitate towards this particular song out of all John Powell’s scores from the How to Train Your Dragon movies. The rest of his compositions are wonderful but this one is just extremely special to me.

I will be conducting a small musical analysis of the piece, sharing my thoughts on why I like it, what its origin history is, and what some of the musical elements of the piece are.

  Introduction

The first time I heard and fell in love with “This is Berk” is when I was fourteen and bleary eyed from writing on a novel. It was late at night and my Pandora music had just shuffled on a movie track station and “This is Berk” began to play. My soul filled with warmth and I grew incredibly joyful. This song seemed to fit my novel perfectly.

I write fantasy novels and when I write, I will often have music playing in the background to fill the silence with something pleasant. When I hear music, I always make it a point to try and drift off in thought over my novel plots. The music must be right and if I can’t see my characters brimming with purpose against that certain tune, I won’t be inspired.  It’s rare when music fits the scenes in my head but when it does, I am filled with the warmest joy.

Think of the most beautiful thing in the world and then try and imagine a song that fits that thing perfectly. That is what “This is Berk” is to me. That score fits the scenes in my books marvelously and I can see the worlds I’ve designed come alive very vividly.

I am naturally drawn towards the Celtic culture. My family has some Celtic heritage which my siblings and I often fantasize about. I also play the fiddle and the pennywhistle. I love hearing those instruments being played by professionals and it inspires me immensely as violins and whistles just add to the overall charm of any classical composition.

Timbre

Along with Celtic music, I listen to Sibelius which John Powell says he used as inspiration for composing. If you listen well enough, you can hear a twinge of something Sibelius-like in “This is Berk.(Here’s a link to a Sibelius violin concerto played by Hilary Hahn. See if you can spot similarities in this piece vs. This is Berk)

 “For the score, Powell utilized many Celtic influences, employing instruments like the fiddle, bagpipes, dulcimer, penny whistle, and even a harpsichord.” (Wiki 2019)

With the addition of bagpipes, dulcimers, and a harpsichord, this piece has a mysterious yet hopeful sound to it.

The timbre of the different instruments in this track is so perfect. The whiny shrill sound of the bagpipes mixed with the vibrant resonance of the harpsichords combines into something mystical. From the warm tones of the violins to the booming voices of the brass, a sense of adventure drips from it all.

“Throughout the score, there is a distinct Celtic flair…” (sountrack review, 2019)

The origin of this piece is without a doubt Celtic and is written for a film directly so. Listeners should have no problem pinpointing that fact without even reading reviews or watching the film.

Range

Not only is there a full orchestra within this track, but there is a choir as well. The deep chanting bass and tenor voices come in first and they add the effect of Vikings rowing their ships across the sea, which is appropriate, especially with this film. After the theme calms down, the alto and soprano voices come in with a solo violinist. This section of the song makes me feel as if I’m basking in golden sunlight or soaring through the clouds.

The range of the song is what really impresses me. From the deep bass notes of the choir and the sweet high notes of the violins, there is quite a bit of range in this composition. It doesn’t just stay in one spot, it jumps all over.

“John Powell makes a statement from the first track and he doesn’t stop there. This score is an ode to fantasy and joy…” (Manduteanu, 2015)

Without the wide range within this piece, I wouldn’t be nearly so drawn to it. There is something to be said about range and in how it builds upon the other musical elements. If this piece didn’t move around a lot, I wouldn’t feel like I was on an adventure. This piece screams adventure and that’s what really pulls at me.

Dynamics

At the beginning of the composition, the low droning notes of the brass evoke mystery and they aren’t very loud. As the song piece continues, there is a dramatic change in the dynamics. The adventure begins when the flurry of violins and timpani come charging through, sweeping over the brass, seeming to leave them in a tumbled mess behind. Further on in the piece, the delicate sweetness of the violins brings all the rush and forte to a halt, leaving us with a mellow volume. Without the dynamics of this piece, there would be no mystery, no adventure, no surprise.

“This is Berk” starts off slow but builds in intensity as it hits measure six. With the time signature in twelve-eight, by measure eighteen the song is quite exciting, but it is at measure thirty-one when I can see all my novel characters at the peak of their existence, fighting for freedom and glory. The melody grabs a hold of me and proceeds to cast me into the wild salty air of Scotland at measure forty-three.

John Powell certainly deserves recognition for what emotions he was able to achieve with just the well-placed dynamics.

Conclusion

I’ve read a lot of reviews on John Powell’s compositions and most of them highly praise his work. It’s not surprising why so many people adore the movies because the background track is ninety-eight percent of the film, (in my opinion.) I encourage you to listen to “This is Berk” many times if you haven’t already.

In conclusion, I am drawn to “This is Berk” because of how it moves me emotionally. There is a great deal of happiness that ebbs and flows from the melody. It’s like a rollercoaster in the way my mood changes, which makes it relatable. The analysis I conducted took me much deeper into the piece then just a mere listen and showed me exactly why I like it.

References

free encyclopedia, Wikipedia. “How to Train Your Dragon: Music from the Motion Picture.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Sept. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Train_Your_Dragon:_Music_from_the_Motion_Picture.

Manduteanu, Mihnea. “Soundtrack Review: How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell – 2010).” Soundtrack Dreams, 15 Mar. 2015, http://www.soundtrackdreams.com/2015/03/soundtrack-review-how-to-train-your-dragon-john-powell-2010/.

*The Manduteanu reference recently deleted their website or it isn’t available for some odd reason after I wrote my blog post so I can’t provide a hyperlink for this source.

“Soundtrack Review: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ – John Powell.” SOUNDTRACK BEAT, 27 Nov. 2019, soundtrackbeat.com/2017/03/11/how-to-train-your-dragon-john-powell.

2 thoughts on ““This is Berk”- A Musical Analysis

  1. Great analysis. I really enjoyed the way you described listening to music while you write, you painted a picture, which is what writers do! I had never heard “This is Berk” but I definitely agree when you say it makes you feel like you are on an adventure! I loved the intensity and incredible range as well! I read that John Powell got nominated for an Academy Award but did not receive it. He deserved it, “This is Berk” is an amazing piece!

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  2. Hi Callie! I don’t remember hearing this song before, but I really enjoyed listening to it! I completely agree with your analysis. Another aspect that I noticed was the upbeat tempo. While I was listening, an image formed in my mind of people riding galloping horses through the hills and fields of Scotland. I think this is because of the tempo and all of the amazing elements you described. Thank you for writing about this song!

    Like

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