I went to see the New Jersey Devils play the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, and I have a piece of advice to offer you. If you are a musician or a music-lover who values your hearing or your sanity, you should never attend a professional hockey game.  The volume of sound is cranium-cracking. The hair-curdling music and organ-playing and midi files pause only momentarily while the game of hockey – remember that was why you attended? – is actually taking place.  When play is not happening, there is not one second when fans are not being manipulated or motivated or marketed to with a combination of videos and noise.
So now you have been warned. Don’t go.
Carl Orff, Hockey Composer
Now let me get on to the topic of today’s post, which is the playing at the game of the first few minutes of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. (“O fortuna!” etc.) Over the last few decades, this section of that work has come to be used as kind of musical shorthand that trumpets the notion that something really, really horribe is about to happen. Thinly disguised adaptations of it are used in movies before vast battles unfold between Romans, Trojans, Spartans, wizards, injection-molded aliens, who cares? Whatever grim hobbit-strewn plain you find yourself upon, Carmina Burana lets you know that some really bad shit is about to come down. The music has also been used in car commercials and for a variety of sporting events.  To date, it has not found its way into pharmaceutical advertising. That’s probably because drug companies want to convey the sense that something good, not harrowing, will result from using their products.
In the 30 minutes leading up to the Devils game,
everyone in the arena was subjected to a never-ending barrage of marketing messages delivered at high volume. But about a minute before the game itself was about to start, the speakers were suddenly silenced and the lights in the place were dimmed. Then a solitary skater holding an illuminated devil’s trident (you can get them at Wal-Mart) appeared suddenly at one corner of the ice and skated to the center. He/she/it was wearing a devil’s head! He/she/it held the trident above his/her/its head portentously! He/she/it then touched its pointy end to the ice, and then the surface all turned blood red and Carmina Burana’s opening strains erupted at warp volume. I believe that this tacky ballet is repeated before  every game. 
If you think I am making this up, here’s a video that proves it . . .

More Troubling Still
Okay, that moment was bad. But for me, something even worse occurred during the third period of the game. Up to that point the arena’s organist had been playing the usual mind-numbing rota of five-second selections that have become the lingua franca at sporting events. Stuff like “The Mexican Hat Dance,” “La Cucaracha” and the arpeggio that gets everyone to yell “Charge!”  But then I heard it – a five-second organ snippet of the opening of Carmina Burana – played on the organ.  Yup, there it was.
It all got me thinking. Should I object if people associate Carmina Burana with a hockey game? Should I care if one of its themes has become devalued to the point where it stands nipple-to-nipple with “The Mexican Hat Dance”? And then maybe there is the fact that Carmina Burana actually works pretty well at a hockey game. It’s one of the most popular and successful pieces of classical music ever composed, so who am I to whimper? One thing for sure is that I’m not dumb enough to think kids will get interested in classical music if they hear a snippet of Carmina Buranaat a hockey game.
It also got me thinking about the fact that when skating and classical music meet, things usually get tacky. If you watch figure skating routines at the Olympics and listen to the musical selections that the skaters have chosen, you’ll see what I mean. A sequined skater opens her routine to “The Dance of the Comedians” from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, then dances up a middle section to the adagio from Khachaturian’s Spartacus, and then winds up with the inevitable final bars of Stravinsky’s Firebird. If you actually know what the music is, you get whiplash. But maybe that is okay.

At least nobody played the final chorus of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion at the Devils’ game. I heard that used in a commercial for canned soup about a year ago. That was a true sacrilege.  Carmina Burana at a hockey game? I’m trying strenuously to object, I really am. But maybe I just don’t care.