Fanfare for the Common Man

In honor of Labor Day, here is a great performance of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, featuring the New York Philharmonic brass and percussion sections with conductor James Levine. In 1942, as the US entered the Second World War, Cincinnati Symphony music director Eugene Goossens commissioned eighteen composers to write fanfares. The title of Copland’s Fanfare was inspired by a speech, given by Vice President Henry Wallace, called Century of the Common Man. A few years …

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Are We Forgetting How to Listen?

The world is becoming increasingly saturated with information, but arguably less thoughtful. That was the topic of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. In Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain, Daniel J. Levitin writes about the increasing amount of information our brains are trying to process through e mails, tweets, Facebook and other technology. All of this crowds out daydreaming, which he cites as the true source of creativity: Daydreaming leads to …

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Howard Hanson and the Sounds of the Wide Open Prairie

More than any other composer, Aaron Copland is credited with establishing the virtual soundtrack of the American West. Listening to Copland ballet scores such as Rodeo and Billy the Kid, or his music for the film The Red Pony, instantly evokes images of wide open prairie spaces and the rough and tumble adventure of a mythical frontier. These associations have been re-enforced by countless film scores which generously borrowed Copland’s sound (the opening of Elmer Bernstein’s score for The …

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Ballet for Martha

Appalachian Spring is a ballet about freedom and endless possibility…the joy and terror of the blank slate at the heart of the mythical American pioneering spirit. The story centers around a young, newly married couple and the building of a farmhouse on an open plot of land in early 1900s rural Pennsylvania. It’s easy to sense a longing for a mythical America of wide open spaces, which had long vanished by 1944 …

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Appalachian Spring at UMD

A recent University of Maryland School of Music student performance of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring is gaining well deserved attention. The performance was unique because it defied almost all of the conventions of the typical concert experience. There were no chairs or music stands onstage and there was no conductor. Instead, the 25-minute-long work was performed by memory and the musicians not only played, but incorporated elements of dance and motion created by …

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Teaching Bernstein

In addition to composing and conducting, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was one of the greatest music educators of all time. Starting in the late 1950’s, Bernstein educated and inspired a national television audience with his New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. Later, in 1976 came The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard. His message was consistent: classical music isn’t stuffy or hard to understand. It’s fun and it’s something everyone can enjoy. In Teachers and Teaching, Bernstein …

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Lincoln Portrait

In honor of Presidents’ Day, here is Lincoln Portrait by twentieth century American composer Aaron Copland. Listen to the way Copland combines music and Lincoln’s eloquent words to create a monument to the 16th president. Besides the use of popular early American songs like Camptown Races and Springfield Mountain, do you hear anything else in the music that seems distinctly American? Listen to Copland talk about Lincoln Portrait and get some background on the piece here. You …

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