Resounding Gongs, Clanging Symbols and Pixar’s "One Man Band"

In case you haven’t noticed, we at Mockingbird happen to be big fans of Pixar. […]

Todd Brewer / 12.1.10

In case you haven’t noticed, we at Mockingbird happen to be big fans of Pixar. Since most of our posts on the studio have focused on its feature-length output, we figured it was time to highlight one of their brilliant vignettes, “One Man Band” (video below). For further reading, see our book The Gospel According to Pixar.


The plot of “One Man Band” is fairly straightforward. A street performer, “Bass,” tries to persuade a young girl to give him her only coin. His light-hearted tune is interrupted by a new performer named Treble. With his fancy strings Treble wins the young girl away from Bass. The simple struggle over a single coin quickly escalates into a war. Without realizing it, each performer has turned away from the girl and only look at each other. They no longer try to charm the young girl with pleasant music, but each tries to outshine the other.

What we find in this short animated film is a simple, but powerful parable about the destructive nature of competition. The struggle between Bass and Treble frightens the girl, losing the coin (and a violin) in the process. The desire to win consumes each so that they can no longer recognize themselves or their surroundings. Instead of musicians holding instruments, they become brutes wielding weapons. Instead of playing a sweet sonata or a hearty march, their combined melody sounds like “Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath.” What’s true of the short is true of life in general: any relationship containing competition will eventually end in defeat. The desire to be right or the need to assert your identity will ultimately kill any relationship (or church, for that matter!). Your rival can’t simultaneously be your spouse, parent, or child.

The parable hopes for an end to competition as the genesis of beautiful music. Musically-speaking, treble and bass represent the opposite high and low ends of audio pitch. The two are meant to be heard cooperatively in unison. The same can be said of our two street performers. Had they given up their desire to win and played together, they could have performed remarkable music. Instead of losing the coin altogether, they could even have been the beneficiaries of that large sack of coins.

True and loving relationships are founded upon the giving up all claims or demands for credit and recognition. In short, competition kills, self-giving love brings life.

In many ways this is an aural and visual demonstration of what Paul means in I Cor. 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Did I mention that The Gospel According to Pixar makes a great Easter gift?

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4 responses to “Resounding Gongs, Clanging Symbols and Pixar’s "One Man Band"”

  1. Michael Cooper says:

    The old notion of "good sportsmanship" is based on the premise that "competition" can be a good thing that makes all competitors better for the experience, and that ideally one should be gracious in both victory and defeat, knowing that we all will, sooner or later, experience both. That ideal, however, has failed to keep me from hating Auburn 🙂
    As for music, both of my kids began with the violin at age 6, then went on to viola and French horn. Many, many highly competitive auditions are a huge part of classical music at every level. Every orchestra performance you will ever experience is the result of years and years of blood-thirsty competition for places, and every cd you will ever listen to that is not "self-published" is the result of the same. It may be "bad" and "destructive" but it sure makes for good music.

  2. Todd says:

    MC – I tried to keep my discussion about competition within the limits of relationship, but you bring up a good, though somewhat different, point. It's true that within musical settings there is a great deal of competition for who gets what chair, or solo (Glee?). This has the benefit of getting the best musicians together, but this competition must be set aside when it comes time to perform, or else the brass would always drown out the flutes. Musical performance demands that soloists acquiesce to the guidance of the conductor and the score.

    That said, the best Beethoven symphonies cycle in recent years was performed by Deutsche Kammer-Philharmonie Bremen and conductor Paavo Järvi. This group is uniquely a group-led cooperative orchestra.

  3. Michael Cooper says:

    Todd–I see your point regarding competition within relationships, because any competition involves some form of seeking to control an outcome. That usually spells doom for a relationship of any kind! Of course, "cooperation" in this world usually is for the same shared controlling purpose within the "cooperating" group, whether it be an orchestra or an army. My sad point is that in this fallen world sin spoils it all.

  4. Todd says:

    MC, it's true and for that reason in the post I've tried to avoid talking directly about cooperation in favor of the personal aspect of letting go, etc.

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