There are some TV theme tunes which have truly stood the test of time. Think of The Sunday Game, The Late Late Show or Glenroe, the latter giving a whole generation of Irsh people the Sunday night/Monday morning heebie-jebbies. But what are the elements which turn a good TV theme tune into a great one? David Hayes is an arranger and lecturer in popular music at MTU Cork School of Music and he recently joined the Today With Claire Byrne show on RTÉ Radio 1 to talk about this. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation that have been edited for length and clarity)

"Music works in a whole variety of ways and underpinning all of that is its ability to make a connection into our emotions, whether subliminally or overtly. It makes deep, deep connections with us and that's the basis of when we use it in television and we put music to pictures. Music can direct us, direct our thoughts, it can support what's being said in the stories of the images and it can also direct our thoughts positively towards those things. If you remember Live Aid, that iconic moment of the footage with the "who's going to take you home tonight?". That was absolutely incredible moment for me as a young person and kind of evoked the power of this combination of music and picture.

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"If you go right back to the early days of silent movies, you had a piano player in the corner with their book, and he or she had a book with number one, a page of music, number one fight scene, page of music number two, the sad scene, page of number three, the love story, page of number four, the chase scene. And they had instructions, at this scene, play number one, number three, number four. Of course, if you got that horribly wrong, can you imagine? So, music and pictures can certainly work."

Many TV theme tunes remain in place for years. "Things stay in place for a long time", says Hayes. "If you look at even The Late Late Show, which is probably one of the most iconic of all on RTE, it stays with us for a while and then eventually, you're nearly moving a generation at that point, by the time those sorts of themes change.

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"But the tune is still the tune. The core tune is still the tune. That happened with Glenroe. It happens with any programme. You're a victim of your own success. If the programme is running long enough, it needs a revamp at some point because things have moved on. The sounds have moved on, modern radio sounds have moved on, popular music has moved on and, if you want to be relevant, you decide to move on with the times."

Hayes talked about one of his favourite TV theme tunes, the Broma Musical (from Musikalischer Spass, K. 522: IV. Presto) which the BBC use for their showjumping coverage. "I love the fact that they've managed to find a piece of music that captures the gallop. It's almost like the horse is running up to the fence and over the fence as excitement built into little moments and then down. And then it continues onto the next fence. So, that was very clever in that it was quite descriptive.

"Sometimes a theme can be quite descriptive of the programme or the piece or the images that are being shown. Other times, the theme itself can take on a life of its own. Because we love the programme so much, we begin to see that the piece of music stands up as a piece of music even without the images."

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Hayes is currently involved in a competition to compose a new signature tune for The Today Show on RTÉ One so what's he after? "If you're sitting down as a musician and you're looking to compose a theme tune, you're looking for a brief and you need adjectives and you need adjectives either in the right direction or in the wrong direction. In other words, it's helpful for someone to tell you what they don't want as much as what they do want.

"Now, we've been given four adjectives for this competition and they are bright, upbeat, contemporary and Irish. If you're a musician, you need to understand how to translate those four adjectives into a final piece of music. One of the problems might be the weighting of each of those adjectives. If you look at bright, upbeat, and contemporary, they're probably all relatively inclusive and the one piece of music might tick those three boxes.

"But when you add in Irish, you need to hang a bit of a left. So how do you do that? And how Irish do you want this to be? Is it like Carolan or a trad band or Celtic rock or Iarla Ó Lionáird or someone current like Moxie and whoever else? How Irish and how contemporary Irish is going to be a key factor in this."

Hear the discussion in full below

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