Monday, February 28, 2011
Old American Songs
Born November 14th, 1900 in Brooklyn, New York
Died December 2nd, 1990 in Tarrytown, New York
Aaron Copland is a favorite among 20th century American composers. His best known works include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, and Rodeo, and his Fanfare for the Common Man. Copland’s pieces often contain melodies of a simple, charming nature that characterizes the American style of composition in the mid-twentieth century. His style represents the core of American values, and could be described as celebratory of America’s past, present, and future.
Copland celebrates America’s diversity through his two sets of Old American Songs, and goes where few composers ventured before by tapping into the American heartland. By the time Copland wrote Old American Songs, he had already achieved great fame as a composer. He originally wrote them in 1950 and 1952 for voice and piano, and then arranged them for baritone and orchestra. Peter Pears (tenor) and Benjamin Britten (piano) played the premiere performance of Old American Songs on June 17th, 1950 at the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, United Kingdom. The first set of Old American Songs was very well received after it was premiered, and was soon performed by many famous tenors and baritones of the time. It was so greatly enjoyed by audiences and performers all around that Copland decided to write another set in 1952. Tonight, the Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas will be singing the baritone solo in unison.
Copland arranged these 10 songs, drawing from completely different sources. In the first set of Old American Songs, “The Boatman’s Dance” is a minstrel show tune written by Daniel Decatur Emmett. The orchestral accompaniment -- particularly the violins -- mimics a minstrel banjo. “The Dodger” is a satirical political song from the 1884 presidential election, in which Grover Cleveland won over James G. Blaine. “Long Time Ago” is a sentimental ballad and an anonymous blackface tune. George Pope adapted the lyrics in 1837 and Charles Edward Horn set the words to music. “Simple Gifts” is the Shaker melody that Copland also used in his best-known ballet, Appalachian Spring. He arranged the Old American Songs version of the tune in a style closer to the original from the ballet. This enchantingly beautiful song has a straightforward melodic line that is passed from chorus to woodwinds and is accompanied by simple, hymn-like harmonies. The last song of the first set, “I Bought Me a Cat”, is a playful children’s nonsense song, and requires the singers to venture outside traditional vowels. Both the chorus and orchestra imitate the sounds of barnyard animals, resembling the well-known children’s song, “Old MacDonald”.
The second set of Old American Songs, like the first set, came from completely diverse sources. “Little Horses”, a children’s lullaby originating in the South, is based on a version of Lomax’s Folk Song U.S.A. “Zion’s Walls” is a revivalist song which Copland later used in his opera, The Tender Land, with lyrics credited to John G. McCurry. “The Golden Willow Tree” is a version of the familiar Anglo-American ballad called “The Golden Vanity” which Copland first heard on a recording for banjo and voice. “At the River” is a tender and beautiful 1865 hymn tune written by Reverend Robert Lowry. “Ching-a-Ring Chaw” is a minstrel song from the Harris Collection at Brown University. It finishes the Old American Songs with a catchy melody that repeats in an optimistic, jig-like fashion.
Copland’s Old American Songs is scored for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, trombone, harp, and strings.
Written by Jonathan Gentry, oboe
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)
Born February 15, 1947 in Worcester, Massachusetts
Currently residing in California
Of the many art forms that have formed over history, opera remains a timeless display of international culture, as well as a flexible vessel for musical expression. As part of his first opera, Nixon in China (1987), John Adams graced the culture of American classical music with his enduring foxtrot, The Chairman Dances. One of Nixon in China’s most frequently performed excerpts, The Chairman Dances catapulted Adams’s career and placed him on the map as one of America’s most prominent modernist composers. Interestingly, this twelve-minute foxtrot was premiered one year before the opera. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Lukas Foss, first performed The Chairman Dances on January 31, 1986.
As a child, Adams was influenced greatly by orchestras that visited his town in New Hampshire. He marveled intensely at the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Robert Shaw Chorale, and any other music group that performed near him. Through this early exposure to music, Adams was deeply inspired. Now, as a famous composer, Adams reflects that “orchestra players probably groaned at the thought of playing at Concord, New Hampshire, but who would have known that in the audience was a ten year old boy ready to have a life-changing experience?” Adams holds this notion dear to him whenever he conducts his works in front of audiences. His concerts are therefore personal and sentimental to his own early inspiration.
Education and Rock’n’Roll
Adams attended Harvard University, where he became exposed to the new wave of rock’n’roll. At Harvard, Adams became a Beatles fan and branched out to jazz, particularly enjoying the tunes of Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. Coming of age during the Golden Age of Rock, Adams immersed himself in the new bands of the 1960s; however, he still kept the works of Beethoven and Sibelius close to him, developing his distinctive minimalist fusion style that has become such an American staple today.
About the piece
The Chairman Dances is a foxtrot for orchestra - a musical composition cast in the form of a swift ballroom dance in 4/4 time. Here, Adams’s modernist style rears its head - the foxtrot was originally danced to ragtime music and later to rock and roll works. Even today, big bands perform lively music to accompany this dance. Adams certainly kept these roots in mind with this piece.
Nixon in China dramatized President Richard Nixon’s February 1972 trip to Beijing, China. Each of the opera’s three acts represents one day of the visit. Act III takes place in the Great Hall of the People, in which a lavish banquet is held. During this banquet, however, interesting events take place. A woman known as The White-Boned Demon crashes the party and starts adorning the hall with paper lanterns. She then changes costumes and dons a cheongsam, a skin-tight traditional Chinese dress for women, and motions for the orchestra in the Hall to start playing a foxtrot as she extemporaneously dances to its rhythm. Inspired by the White-Boned Demon, Chairman Mao quickly joins her in the revel and dances, hence the name The Chairman Dances. The tune and rhythm of the minimalist foxtrot clearly portrays the youthful gaiety and optimism the couple merrily displays. Instrumentation for this piece comprises 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bass clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 B♭ trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, crotales, sandpaper blocks, high and medium wood blocks, crash cymbal, high-hat, suspended cymbal, suspended sizzle cymbal, claves, bell tree, triangle, tambourine, castanets, snare drum, pedal bass drum, timpani, piano, harp, and strings.
Brendan Kim, Violin I
Saturday, February 19, 2011
This is an interview with Andrew Lee, winner of the 2011 GDYO concerto competition. Andrew will be performing with the GDYO on March 6 at the Meyerson. For more information on the concert go to www.gdyo.org
How long have you played clarinet? I have played for exactly 5 years now (as of March 6, 2011)
How long have you been in GDYO? This year would be my fourth year in the program and second in the GDYO.
What other instruments do you play? I used to play some piano.
What is your favorite piece? I don't really have a favorite piece, but I'd have to say that Festive Overture would be one of the top ones.
What made you pick the Weber to play for the concerto competition? I felt like the Weber Concerto let me show both the dramatic and subtle capabilities of the clarinet, with dynamics ranging from the softest fading sections to climax points. Plus, I thought that the recurring melody sounded great.
Can you tell me anything interesting about your school? Jasper High School. Well, I guess there's nothing really too abnormal about it. Different people with different goals, so basically it's just a diverse center of learning.
Can you tell me anything interesting about your band? My band has had some of the more “legendary” players from the PISD area. For instance, Derek Hawkes went through Jasper, James Kendricks, Andres Olivero, etc. Also, one of our band directors composes our marching show each year, Mr. David Herring (A.K.A “The Famous Composer”)
What is like to study with your current clarinet teacher? I feel relaxed and active when I take lessons from Mr. Yi. His attitude about teaching always seems to be positive and overall, its enjoyable and enriching.
Do you have a favorite composer? Not any in particular. I think I just like any great work of music :)
What would you like to do for a profession? Do you plan to pursue a career in music? This question comes up from my friends as well. To be honest, I think it's too early for me to say, but as of now, I'm thinking either minoring in music or possibly double majoring with an undecided other profession.
Anyone you wish to thank? Yes. My father and mother for supporting me with a very nice instrument. I feel very grateful for the opportunity of playing on such a wonderful horn as well as my parents' support and encouragement when I have to compete. Also, thank you Mr. Yi for also being supportive as well as nice, understanding, and eager to help me improve. Thank you to Mrs. Iwasaki for being such a wonderful accompanist this year, and making playing with piano such an easier job. And finally, thank you to the GDYO itself for letting me have such an opportunity to be able to play in the Meyerson as a soloist as well as promoting the concert with tickets for my friends. This will be an unforgettable experience for me.
Do you have any funny Mr. G stories? Unfortunately, because I sit so far back, I can rarely ever hear his stories, but whenever he has one of those “Mr. G moments”, it always adds on to the experience of being in the GDYO.
What is your favorite thing about being in GDYO? My favorite thing(s) about GDYO would have to be the chance to play virtuoso pieces as well as pieces from different eras and composers. To be able to perform new music with a group as mature in music playing as the GDYO is quite a great opportunity. Also, I get to see some of my friends who go to other schools.
Can you tell me what it's like to win the GDYO concerto competition? Are you excited to be performing in the Meyerson as a soloist? I feel very lucky and honored to win the GDYO Competition. I have the mixed feelings including obvious joy, but a bit of surprise because the finalists this year all sounded amazing. As for the performance, I am very excited, but at the same time, very nervous. However, the experience would be more valuable than a perfect performance, so either way I'm looking forward to this.