Pick My Post: Illini Football & Symphonies

Aug 5, 2022

This is how you PMP, people. Hit me right in the "let Robert talk about things he loves". Compare Illini football coaches to operas or symphonies? Yes, please.

I guess I should let you read the entire question that was submitted. And then I'll get to how I'm going to approach it. Here it is:

First off, I don't know enough about operas to assign them to coaches. So I'm going to stay in symphonic music only.

I'll start with Turner because you don't want me to pick one for Tepper. Actually, I'd probably pick an opera for that one. What's a tragic opera where every character dies in the end? That was December of 1996.

Ron Turner - Symphony No. 2, Jean Sibelius

This one might be personal or it might be universal. I'm not sure. Maybe it has something to do with the performance I attended but... I'll just describe it.

Sibelius 2 is this symphony where the 3rd movement just rolls into the fourth movement with no break. If you've attended any symphony before, you probably understand the "counting" that is required. "This symphony has four movements. You don't clap until the end. So count the three breaks, make sure not to applaud at those three breaks, and once the fourth break arrives, that's the end and you can applaud."

Sibelius 2 has a break after the first movement, and a break after the second movement, but then three rolls right into four. So if you don't know the piece, you're going to wonder why everyone is clapping after the third movement because this is just the third break. It's not. it's the end. Three and four sounded like one movement.

That rollover from the third movement to the fourth movement is fantastic. It is 2001 Illini football. It builds and builds and builds and then overflows with this incredibly warm melody. While watching a performance I have this "oh, here we go" feeling. Ol' Jean is gonna bring us home.

And then it.. falls flat? It might not for you, but for me, the fourth movement comes up short. I have this "OK, that section was a little off, but we can come back from that" emotion several times... and then it ends.

The ending, for me, is too methodical. It's a pop song written for a boy band where the main theme is quarter notes going up and down a scale. Even if you don't play piano you could pick it out on a piano in 30 seconds. This symphony is in D-major and the main theme in the final three minutes is this:


Jean, what are you doing, buddy? Just bouncing around a major chord for the ending? I really thought we were going somewhere with about 10 minutes left.

That's the Turner era for me. If it was 45 minutes long, about 30 minutes in I really thought we were going somewhere. And then it just fell flat.

I'm being too harsh, probably (on Sibelius). First 30 minutes are great. Love the first movement. And it's not awful at the end - it just doesn't land where I thought it was going to land.

If you want to hear the buildup to the warmth of the last movement, start this video at 30:15. Right at 30:55 - that's when we won the Big Ten outright and were selected for the Sugar Bowl.

Ron Zook - La damnation de Faust, Hector Berlioz

This is a vocal piece. It's not an opera - it's just a musical work for 4 soloists, a full chorus, a children's choir, and an orchestra. I believe it's around two hours long. Better have a comfortable seat.

Some people love it and defend it, some people dismiss it, but in the end it's just this really bulky piece of music that probably didn't land the way Berlioz wanted it to land. Critics said that it should have been staged as an opera, but Berlioz called it an "Opera de concert." For some music critics it works; for others it just doesn't. The ending, to me, is confusing.

However, there is one thing extracted from it that is extraordinary: the Hungarian March. It's just this one little snippet extracted from this massive work which has grown in stature the last 175 years. Hector Berlioz might be surprised to learn that in 2022, that little extraction from his massive work has gained such international acclaim.

Ron Zook. Seven years that didn't land. Really strange start and a confusing end. However, there is one thing extracted from it that is extraordinary: the march to Pasadena.

Here's the Hungarian March. If you don't have time to listen to the whole thing, just start at 3:15.

Tim Beckman - Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique", Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

There's an easy joke there, I know. "Tim Beckman - Pathetic." But I chose this one for something deeper.

Symphony #6 was Tchaikovsky's final work. He would contract cholera and die only weeks after the premiere. And he would die believing that his final symphony was somewhat of a failure. The general consensus after the premiere was... "huh?"

See, he was known for nailing the finale. And when the sixth symphony premiered, it felt like he nailed the finale... at the end of the third movement. I've attended at least five performances of "Pathetique", and almost every time some audience members will applaud after the third movement. It feels like every other Tchaikovsky final movement. But we're not done.

The fourth movement is probably the strangest thing he wrote. It's slow, and dark, and it doesn't really have an ending. It just... stops. Fades out. It wasn't headed anywhere. It wasn't "let's do this for a while, and then, for contrast, let's end up over here". It just fades off into nothingness.

Audiences were confused. It would be like attending a Pearl Jam concert, and you're expecting them to end with "Yellow Ledbetter", and they end with a solo tone poem composed and performed by Stone Gossard on a keytar. The crowd tries to get into it at first, but after seven minutes they're just confused. Where's the big finale?

That was the ending of Pathetique. An extremely odd and morose fourth movement. And then, weeks later, Tchaikovsky dies, leading to speculation that he wrote his requiem and then killed himself (not true according to nearly all Tchaikovsky biographers). For whatever reason, he felt compelled to try something completely different. And it was his final composition.

I'll admit - I sometimes skip listening to the fourth movement. I'll listen to 1-2-3 and then move on to something else. It's just so odd. Some love it (in the way that some love Garth Brooks' "Chris Gaines" songs). For others, it's just a really weird experience.

That's similar to the three Tim Beckman years, I think. It all felt really odd. We had the same expression on our face as Pearl Jam fans would have if a keytar solo replaced Yellow Ledbetter. The first three movements of Beckman's career made sense. Worked for Jim Tressel. Worked for Mike Gundy. And then had a really promising stop at Toledo where his offensive staff was this:

  • Matt Campbell (OC): current Iowa State head coach
  • Scott Satterfield (QB's): current Louisville head coach
  • Jason Candle (TE's): current Toledo head coach
  • Alex Golesh (RB's): current Tennessee offensive coordinator
  • Tom Manning (offensive GA): current Iowa State offensive coordinator

So he's going to assemble a similar staff at Illinois and do the same thing, right? I mean, Tchaikovsky always ends with a triumphant fourth movement. Beckman is going do the same here, right?

From the start of the fourth movement to the end, it was mostly... "huh?"

If you want to listen to how Tchaikovsky typically finished a symphony, go to 35:45 for the end of the third movement. If you want to hear how Pathetique ends, go to 47:45 and listen to the final minute. It just... ends.

Bill Cubit - Symphony No. 2, Joseph Haydn

Haydn wrote 104 symphonies. His 2nd Symphony was, like, practice? His beta release maybe?

It's eight minutes long. He was all "here's a thing, here's a slower thing, here's a third thing, the end." And it's in C-Major, so yeah, absolutely a beta release.

If you just observe the eight minutes of music, it's fine. Nothing great, nothing awful. But when you look at it in the grand scheme of 104 symphonies, it's just this tiny little insignificant speck.

No word on whether he hired his son to work out the woodwind parts.

Lovie Smith - Symphony No. 9, Gustav Mahler

As everyone knows, I'm a Mahler guy. OK, I already need to stop myself.

Everyone doesn't know that. 80% of my readers have bailed on this article by this point. They get uncomfortable seeing me passionate about something other than Illinois sports and click on something else.

But the 20% who do read the articles where I go off on some classical music tangent probably know that Gustav Mahler is my favorite composer. (One reader in particular. Miss you, IlliniGrad). I often write with classical music coming out of this little bluetooth speaker right here, and the majority of that music was composed by Gustav Mahler. I can't really tell you why. Some people like Diet Coke, some people like Diet Pepsi. I like Gustav Mahler's particular spin on a diet cola.

I remember the first time I really got into Mahler's 9th. It was at the house we lived in from 2006 to 2015, and I was organizing the garage to put a workbench in there (one that we had at our old house which was in storage), so this had to be 2006 or early 2007. I liked a lot of Mahler but I had never really connected with Mahler 9. That's a sin in the classical music community (I think it's universally lauded as his best), but there was something missing for me. On this listen, for whatever reason, after the first five minutes of the first movement, I was all in.

Thinking back now, I think it was because I had developed such an appreciation for Mahler over the years that the 9th finally clicked. It was his final symphony (he started a 10th but died somewhere halfway through the first movement), and it contained parts of all his symphonies. On that listen, that day, while moving things around the garage to make room for a work bench, the first five minutes of the first movement came alive for me. It was like an entire hour-long Mahler symphony condensed into five minutes.

If you have time, listen to the first three minutes of this video. It will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

Because of that experience in the garage that day, I'll never speak poorly of Mahler 9 again. For whatever reason, I connected with it. Specifically those first few minutes.

Depending on who is conducting, Mahler 9 is between 75 minutes and 90 minutes in length. That's an INVESTMENT, man. But it holds this special place in my heart. Can't really tell you why. I don't live for all 80 minutes, but there are little snippets that I absolutely love.

Go back up to the video and drag the slider to 45:05. Listen until just before 47:00 when the music changes. I've listened to that little two-minute section so many times. I know where to drag the slider on the recording I have on my phone: open up the third movement, drag the slider to 6:05, close my eyes, and let the music calm my nerves. I could have a putt to win a major and those two minutes would calm my nerves.

The 9th symphony isn't perfect. The first movement gets a little "OK, wrap this up, Gustav, and move along to something else." The second movement doesn't fully connect with me. But certain spots (first five minutes, that spot in the third, end of the third, a little moment a few minutes into the Adagio) absolutely land on the centerline for me. As a result, I find myself listening to certain moments more than I do the entire symphony.

That's how I experience the Lovie era. Still have fond memories of the first five minutes. The first movement gets a little "OK, wrap this up, Lovie, and move along to something else." Second movement doesn't connect. But I find myself looking back on individual moments. Dre Brown's journey to get to the 2019 Michigan game (one week before Wisconsin). Jeff George Jr. to Sam Mays to beat Michigan State. McCourt's field goal to beat Wisconsin (and Rutgers). The distraught pressbox in Lincoln for Illinois-Nebraska in 2020. The Michigan State win in 2019 (which, I should note, I set to Mahler's 2nd).

I know I'm supposed to feel like the rest of you feel. I just don't. For whatever reason, I still enjoy the little individual moments. Probably always will.

Bret Bielema - Symphony No. 9, 'From The New World', Antonin Dvorak

Before the Beatles came to America in 1964, Antonin Dvorak came to America in 1892. (Stop it - I'm not going to compare Bielema to the Beatles. Stay focused.)

Dvorak arrived in 1892 as the new director of the National Conservatory in New York. And he set about absorbing American culture. A composer who based so much on Czech folk culture wanted to observe American folk culture and compose from that mindset. The result was Symphony No. 9, From The New World.

It is probably one of the ten most popular works of classical music. So much so that it's cool to hate it (much like my 1993 college-aged contrarian "I don't get it" opinion of the Beatles). But whatever you think of it, the New World Symphony was a historic moment in music history. Migos changed rap music in 2013 with "triplet flow"; Dvorak turned the Late Romantic Period on its head with his Ninth Symphony.

(And yes, British music historian who has stumbled on this article searching for something about Sibelius. Mine is an enormously American view of this symphony. I hear your "you Americans always think you change everything", I do, and I have to say, I don't really have a retort. But from my worldview, music shifted in 1893 the same way it shifted in 1964. Another moment Americans overemphasize.)

You can now see why I chose this symphony for Bret Bielema. It is purely out of hope. So far, the symphony and Bielema's tenure have exactly one thing in common: they started well. I can't draw any more comparisons because not much else has happened yet.

By the end, when we look back, I'm hoping that Dvorak's arrival in New York in September of 1892 = Bielema's arrival (from New York) in December of 2020. The moment where everything changed. Illini football... from a new world.

I'll close with this. And I'm sure I've referenced this before. The best part of the New World Symphony, to me, are the seven chords at the beginning of the second movement. You're probably familiar with the second movement - years after the debut of the symphony, that movement was made into a folk song called "Goin' Home." You might have sung it in choir back in high school.

Those seven chords are legendary. They were written to perform a simple function: transition from the dark first movement in E-minor to the warm second movement in D-flat major. So Antonin was simply playing "try to transition from E-minor the D-flat major in seven chords or less." He won.

We don't know what the rest of the Bielema era will look like. We're hoping it changes the course of music history, but we don't know. All we know is that the first movement was pretty darn good.

Now we move on to the second movement. For this last clip, I need to go find a video of just the second movement of the New World Symphony. And... I found one. You don't need to listen to the whole thing. It opens with the seven chords, announcing that everything is about to change.

What do I want the Wyoming game to sound like?


jhwaddell on August 5, 2022 @ 10:34 PM

That’s an awesome, enjoyable read. Thank you for taking the time to write that.

phytynlini on August 5, 2022 @ 10:54 PM

Bravo! ?? ?? ??

phytynlini on August 5, 2022 @ 10:55 PM

This question marks are clapping emojis. Lol

phytynlini on August 5, 2022 @ 10:56 PM

The edit and delete functions aren't working. #old #fatfingers

BamaIllini on August 5, 2022 @ 11:01 PM

Might be one of the most ridiculous posts I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

PS I listened as well. My father loved the Opera and the Symphony. I cant stand the opera, but you cant beat good music.

uilaw71 on August 6, 2022 @ 11:58 AM

Bravissimo, Roberto!

The Olaf Rules on August 6, 2022 @ 03:25 PM

Here’s hoping that the Bielema era ends like Beethoven’s Ninth.

Eagle on August 6, 2022 @ 04:10 PM

Thank you Robert. I enjoy classical music but don't understand it. You fill in more pixels every time you write about it.

ballislife17 on August 6, 2022 @ 04:58 PM

Bret Beatle-muh

ATOillini on August 6, 2022 @ 08:16 PM

Fantastic post. Every once in awhile you throw something out there that just cracks me up. The last two sentences of your brief Tepper detour here…PRICELESS.

Shemp89 on August 8, 2022 @ 03:09 PM

Yes, yes, I want a Tepper. Something about a work that produced less with more, moreso than any other.

BelieveInIllinois on August 6, 2022 @ 10:17 PM

I am working my way through but why no Beethoven. I assume it is because no Illini coach that you covered has reached his level. Maybe Mike White or Bob Zupke?

purcy51 on August 7, 2022 @ 04:33 PM

Tickled that you chose "New World" for Bielema as that is one of my all time favorites. Loved from the first time I heard it in 1989 when Phantom Regiment took it to 2nd place at the DCI finals. (Should've won it all!)

illinisludge on August 8, 2022 @ 12:09 AM

Did not Dvorak compose this symphony in Spillville Iowa? As the Bielema era unfolds, i look forward to the connection you make with Iowa and B1G West.

twilson77@comcast.net on August 8, 2022 @ 01:23 AM

Loved it, Robert, and I appreciated you explanations of why you selected the symphony you chose for each regime and especially enjoyed the trademark Robert "banter"/commentary throughout the article--well done!!

Robert on August 10, 2022 @ 09:05 PM

(Bumping this ahead of all the old posts with spambot comments.)

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