How Batman: The Animated Series Heightened My Music Education

Lessons from the Dark Knight

I discovered my love for the Caped Crusader when Batman Returns was set to premiere in the early '90s. I was just old enough to recognize the franchise growing around me, as the 1989 Batman had been a considerable success. Beyond the promotion for the second film, kid-friendly merchandise appeared, and suddenly Batman followed me everywhere I went.

Later, when the films began airing on TV, I became enamored with the soundtrack. I loved how the music immersed viewers in the on-screen action. That was the first time I paid attention to music for motion pictures. It was also the introduction to one of my biggest music influences: Danny Elfman, who scored the film.

Even before I knew I would pursue music as an occupation, I was fascinated by how the story Danny told with his music both stood alone and enhanced the movies. My interest paired nicely with my introduction later to ​​Batman: The Animated Series, and its theme composer—you guessed it—Danny Elfman.

The show brought me straight back to the sonic world he created with both Batman flicks. Then I discovered, years later, that much of the music for the series was written by Shirley Walker, and Danny primarily composed the opening sequence. So, I got to add a second major influence to my list.

I would go on to teach music lessons, piano lessons, and I would introduce my students to different instruments using tracks from Batman: The Animated Series. I would have them discuss which instruments stuck out, which melodies repeated, and where they felt the strongest emotional pulls. By introducing a new generation to Shirley and Danny's work, I got an opportunity to educate myself on the mastery of their craft even further.

Listening to Danny and Shirley and absorbing their technique, I learned how to take one singular theme, be it a melody or riff, and expand it in different ways throughout a composition. They could tell an entire story starting with one motif—perhaps opened by the string section—that culminated in an orchestral event.

Being exposed to their music from such a young age also instructed me on the art of engrossing my listeners. For me, this immersion always starts with an image. Working with clients or recording artists on a track, I envision a scene in my head that I follow as I work (even if I make up the scene just for my own use). If that scene doesn't evolve with the writing of the music, I know I'm on the wrong track. It means my music isn't telling its own story, and that I need to experiment with different approaches.

Had I not been indoctrinated by the Dark Knight in my childhood, I'm not sure I would have appreciated music in films and TV the same way, or chosen this career path. But both composers taught me, and countless other viewers and listeners, that music is as powerful a storytelling device as the plot on the screen.

Music by itself can tell a story. A film or program without music loses the soul that brings it to life.

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