I was seven years old when I realized that classical music was written by real people. A grade school music teacher had my class sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to a photograph of American composer Aaron Copland on the occasion of his 86th birthday. I was gob smacked. The very idea that I could listen to this dude’s music and then knock on his door and tell him what I thought of it was enough to make me commit his name to memory and listen to everything I could find – you know, in case he needed my opinion someday. (He didn’t.)
This weekend’s Omaha Symphony program begins with one of Copland’s better known works –Appalachian Spring. It’s a ballet that was commissioned by Martha Graham that premiered with a set designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi. If you know me, or if you’ve followed my own creative projects, you know how geeked out I am about collaborations like this – take a composer, a dancer, and a sculptor; bring them together; and have them make something new that is only possible because they joined forces. It’s like the Avengers, but for art and I’m REALLY into it.
I hear you ‘everybody else without a weird Copland obsession.’ You’re worried you won’t know this music and you might get bored because you’re more of a sing along in the car type. While I can’t recommend singing along at the Holland Center, I can tell you that you’ll probably know the “words.” Turns out much of Copland’s music that has since been appropriated to hock everything from shoes to cars to meat. That’s right, friends, if you remember ‘Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.’ then you already have a relationship with Aaron Copland – though piece this isn’t that one. This is the one they used to sell Oldsmobiles ten years later.
As much as any other composer, Copland’s pieces are regarded as a musical embodiment of the old-fashioned American spirit. So much so that you’ll hear Copland from politicians sometimes when they need to evoke “traditional” American values. The irony wouldn’t have been lost on our pal Aaron – an openly gay socialist who McCarthy added to the Hollywood blacklist in 1953.
In the years following Appalachian Spring’s premier, folks loved to tell Copland how wonderfully he’d captured the beauty of the Appalachians. He thought that was hilarious since the ballet wasn’t given its title until much later. Sometimes, because I’m kind of a jerk, too, I like to picture one of America’s greatest composers sneering as he says, “Tell me again which part sounds like mountains to you…”
My advice? Grab some tickets and let’s go find those damn mountains!
IF YOU GO:
Appalachian Spring & West Side Story
When: Friday, January 26 and Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 7:30 PM
Where: Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas Street, Omaha