I recently rewatched the Rocky series of movies, which star Sylvester Stallone as a down-and-out boxer. Most of them hold up pretty well, but the thing that stood out for me the most was the way in which they demonstrate the relationship between music and sport.
It might be the stirring main theme that plays during Rocky’s training montage—something that became a staple of ‘80s sports movies and whose influence can still be seen today. Or the song ‘Eye of the Tiger’ which has become inseparably identified in people’s minds with the entire series—despite not appearing in the first one. But throughout, the music stirs the blood and makes us want to go out and do something.
We can see this relationship in real-life sport and the way music is used to get spectators fired up and involved at sporting events all around the world. Music is played before and after events, and during breaks, heightening an already emotional atmosphere and providing entertainment during passages of play that are perhaps not all that exciting. And if you don’t think audiences care about what music is played then just have a look at the reactions provoked by a so-so musical performance at something like the AFL Grand Final.
Music is also used to inspire players and get them into the ‘zone’. During the English cricket team’s historic tour of India that saw them triumph for the first time in decades, captain Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff kept the song ‘Rocket Man’ by Elton John on high rotation and credited it with bringing the team together. Boxers and wrestlers are well known for walking out to the ring accompanied by their own personal anthem. And most sporting clubs and organisations have a song that they sing to celebrate a victory.
These songs are also a way of bringing teams and their supporters together. Anyone who has been in a stadium and heard thousands of fans singing along to the same song will know the sense of community and belonging it creates. We may have experienced how music can impact our own gym workouts or sporting activities, motivating and inspiring us.
So, how is that music can have such an effect? Perhaps it lies in the way that music can speak directly to our hearts, going straight from our senses to our emotions without needing to be filtered through the intellect. Whatever it is, it seems clear that music is more than the sum of its parts, more than a collection of sounds and words.
Just as music can inspire so much in the sporting world, perhaps it can inspire us to explore what lies behind its power. Classical great Ludwig van Beethoven, who saw God as the source of this inspiration, once wrote, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”, and as we consider the gift of music may it lead us to the one who gave it to us.