Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Aaron Copland - America's Music

Now that we're still somewhat in the celebratory spirit and the July 4th festivities are lingering inside us, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Aaron Copland, the father of American music.  Honestly, I fell in love with Copland the first time I heard his music.  I remember quite vividly listening to a piece on the radio when I was a child which I really liked, and as it turned out it was Copland (although I do not remember exactly which one).  The great thing about Copland is he was able to write music which had a uniquely modern style to it, very American with elements of jazz and folk, while simultaneously keeping the sound extremely conservative as there are barely any elements of dissonance or atonality in it.  A lot of his music is fun and jolly (the first time I heard "Billy the Kid" I literally laughed it was so great), and some of his music is more solemn and serious, but everything he wrote had a really special spirit to it.  Here is a clip of one of his pieces, Rodeo, which I'm sure you've heard even if you're not familiar with his music.

It should be pretty clear to you now why Copland is known to be the father of Ameican music.  Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1900 to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania.  When he was an adolescent and young adult he felt that if he tried he would be able to make classical music in America just as popular as jazz was.  In a sense he succeeded.  As a young man he went to France to study music, which was at that time the heart of music, and he met great personalities such as Serge Koussevitzky who encouraged him to write a piece for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to which he obliged and entitled the composition "Symphony for Organ and Orchestra".   Throughout his life Copland wrote many pieces, much of which included scores for the theater and ballet.  He wasn't just limited to American music either.  Copland's dream was to bring classical music to Mexico as well.  In the 1930's he wrote a composition called "El Salon Mexico" which really was able to synthesize classical music with Mexican folk music.  Some of his most famous scores were from the movie "Our Town" and "Of Mice and Men".  He was also very involved in Tanglewood, the Berkshire summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in which he taught for nearly two and half decades.  There was also a stage in his life when he was involved in conducting and he made appearances throughout the world as a guest conductor.  
In my opinion what made Copland really special was his passion to bring classical music to the world and his vision of integrating it with the popular music of the time.  He was a romantic; he was an impressionist; he was a modernist.  He created the future and he continued the past. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

I hope everyone is enjoying their Independence Day weekend, and that everyone is doing something meaningful to celebrate this day.  The video I posted above is Horowitz's transcription of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", believe it or not it is probably Horowitz's most famous composition.  Something nice to add to your Independence Day experience (Perhaps some BBQ background music;)).  It is really a nice time of year, now that school's out and all, to appreciate the wonderful country that we live in, the country that introduced democracy to the world and freedom for everyone.  Let's just pray that America remains the stronghold in international politics, and that even if the East becomes stronger politically, that we should not lose our freedom and way of life in this country.  I would just like to share a quick thought about the day (nothing to do with music).  On Independence Day I think that it would be a good time to reassess our value system as a country, and that by no means is meant to imply that our current system is bad or incorrect, but rather that some of the main foundations of our values have perhaps been misconstrued to some extent.  Independence and democracy are good things and I do not believe that any true American at heart would say otherwise.  When our forefathers founded this land they meant it to be a place where people could live in harmony and there would be no oppression based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything.  There could be freedom of speech, carrying arms, religion, and so many more rights that were denied (and still denied) in many countries.  After America spread the idea of democracy, many more countries have followed a similar system to our credit.  Yet, independence was not intended to be incompetent with ethics.  Why are so many Americans today depressed, unhappy with their marriages, and despise aging?  Why is a ridiculously high percentage of spouses cheating on the other, or men addicted to pornography?  I think the answer to all these questions is because we are so obsessed with independence that the freedom has come to lead people to so much selfishness and unhappiness.  When you sit next to someone on a bus, when was the last time you said hello and introduced yourself?  Even freedom carries with it the burden of obligation.  Obligation to a spouse, child, neighbor, country, and even to the country.  People are happier when they are selfless.  There is really nothing more redeeming than realizing that you are living your life for something or someone greater than yourself.  There is no need to run after wealth or physical beauty unless a person is truly unhappy with who he is.  And the more selfish a person becomes the more unhappy and arrogant he becomes.  The entire country was created on the premise that we are meant to work together and not be completely self-absorbed.  We are meant to share our lives with one another; not create a wall in our brains that says that anything that doesn't have anything to do with me is nonexistent.  Freedom, more often than less, means being able to do things and not doing them because there are greater responsibilities.  Greater things in life.  Unfortunately we see this in times of war and suffering, but not enough in times of peace.  After September 11th, for example, there was so much unity in the country and people actually came out of their bubble for a little bit because the country as a whole was under attack.  And that feeling still has not left.  I think it is truly important on this day to appreciate the real freedom we have and to use that freedom, not to chain our lives, but to make our lives all the more meaningful.  Happy Independence Day!