Friday, December 04, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica Piano Version of All Along the Watchtower (aka the Cylon Activation Song)

WARNING: Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 Spoiler Alert! Do not read this posting unless you are okay with knowing important information pertaining to the final season of BSG.

Earlier this evening, I taught a student how to play Bear McCreary's piano arrangement of the Cylon Activation Song (based on the Bob Dylan song All Along the Watchtower). The piano version of the song can be found in the Someone To Watch Over Me episode from Season 4.5, where Kara Thrace (Starbuck) becomes obsessed with remembering a song that her father had taught her on the piano years previously on Caprica. Someone To Watch Over Me is fascinating in that, only a few hours from the end of the entire series, piano music permeates the soundtrack of the episode whose principal plot line is essentially about piano playing. The segment below shows the moment of discovery when Starbuck realizes that the dots on the sheet of paper given to her by Hera earlier in the episode (the girl who is kidnapped during the segment) when superimposed over staff paper, become the activation song that was previously heard by the Cylon Final Five in the nebula (Crossroads Part II).

I teach a lot of adult pianists who had played extensively in their younger years, but who left musical life for careers, family, and the other things that come with adult life. What I find fascinating about this episode, (in addition to the sense of despair that permeates much of BSG 4.5 and the setting in motion of events that will lead the entire series to its conclusion), is just how much in common Starbuck's experience returning to the piano has with other adults who return after many years. There is the weight of remembered emotional baggage, parental control and conflict, the need to please, the pressure, and discovery that come back all at once. And only once all those issues have been understood and honored can adults returning to the piano truly move forward in their musical development.

Note: I haven't found the sheet music to this arrangement yet so I teach it by ear, which is not too difficult given the repetitive nature of the song.

Update: More commentary on All Along the Watchtower's BSG significance from The AnthroLOLogist can be found here.


  1. thanks for this post. I linked to it, and used it as a starting point to write about what I liked most and least about the show:

    Piano is my favorite instrument, and so this episode was a highlight for me too. Thanks for the insight.