The other day I was watching the first few episodes of the show "Glee" and heard a theme I recognized. As two characters (who are destined to be together as the season progresses) begin shyly flirting with each other a simple, beautiful piano theme plays in the background. Each time I heard it I racked my brain trying to determine where I heard it from. A quick Google search brought up the song "Looking Back" by Kerry Muzzey: (beginning with the theme used 0:56)
While the mystery of the song title was solved, a new one presented itself: I had never heard of the piece before, so why was it so familiar? How could I hum the upcoming notes to the piece even before I had even heard them the first time?
The answer came when a began listening to my "favorites" playlist with all my top ranked singles. One of my favorite pieces from 1996 suddenly called up emotional Glee scenes in my mind as it played:
Soon after that, my Final Fantasy piano playlist began, and it happened again:
It is amazing how a simple melody pattern can appear so often in my emotional favorites list, and in roughly the same key no less. "Looking Back" and "Eternity" both use the B-flat, A, F to B-Flat, A, E-flat pattern (Eternity pulls the e-flat from the baseline though while the treble still plays the F), and Children does the same pattern but with A-flat as the starting note.
Upon hearing this many people may call it plagiarism, but really it is just a coincidence. In the end, there is a finite number of melodic combinations of the 12 chromatic notes, so the same combination is bound to appear in numerous pieces. Malcom Gladwell addresses this in his essay on "Plagiarism":
In this case, it doesn't matter whether the composers knew they were "copying" each other, the end result is the same: three beautiful, emotional themes. So the next time I hear a new theme that sounds familiar, I should listen to my "favorites" playlist as I may have discovered yet another pattern that emotionally resonates with me.