Copland Baggage

Aaron Copland seems to be one of those composers that inspires composers to start composing. A bunch of my friends who write music have cited Copland's music as a main driving force towards their own realization to start writing music. My own Copland baggage is basically inline with what I just described. I watched an episode of the sadly short lived PBS program Keeping Score which was, in essence, Michael Tilson Thomas's Young (14 and up) People’s Concert. Where Leonard Bernstein was suave, handsome, and an everyman who just happens to be the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) was a tad awkward and jittery about the musical concepts he was presenting. This is not to say that it was a bad show. I for one liked that Keeping Score went much more in-depth about a single piece of music for the hour rather than the three or four pieces in the Young People’s Concerts which were, by definition, for young people. 

There was an episode of Keeping Score which dealt with the music of Aaron Copland. Since the death of Bernstein, MTT along with Leonard Slatkin have taken up the reins on being THE interpreters of Copland’s music. To completely contradict my last paragraph, this was the one (1) episode that covered several pieces over Copland’s career. In a way, one has to cover the entirety of his career because, like Stravinsky, Copland’s music changed dramatically several times but always kept something that could be described as Coplandesque (compare/look at the Orchestral Variations to Quiet City to Connotations for Orchestra). I watched this episode when I was 14 (+/- a year) and instantly became obsessed with Copland. I ran out to Barnes and Noble and bought the Bernstein w/ NY Phil Copland Album because that’s where one had to go to purchase a physical CD (re: my post from June about being a pain in the ass about digital downloads). 

The problem with first loves (in terms of music, books, movies, etc.) is that we toss them aside as passé once we find something more complex or more mature or more generally interesting. When I was middle school aged, I saw Forest Gump on T.V. and it instantly became my favorite film. It was long, it won some Oscars, it had some deep subject matter, it had historical elements I recognized. In short, I felt as though I had found my mature intellectualism by watching and enjoying a lengthy, emotional film. As I got older, I found that there were a bunch of other movies that do the same thing and they did it better. Forest Gump is no longer interesting. This same situation happened with Copland. His music is sooo easy to grasp and it’s even played at Summer Pops concerts (the bain of the classical universe). People like Elliott Carter are composing at the same time as Copland and Carter’s music is something I can learn from. Copland is no longer interesting. 

Jump to the day after the recording of 1491, a piece I wrote for the Atlantic Music Festival. I got a call from a friend who had just listened to the piece who started the conversation off with “I can really hear your Copland influence in the opening section”. Stream of consciousness: 

    What? Aaron Copland? I’m trying to be the musical equivalent of Joyce or David Foster Wallace and you say See Spot Run? Is my music is open 5th with some melodic material thrown in?! Wait. I liked Copland. That’s actually some good music. Is my Copland influence so deep that I just have it with out consciously thinking about it? 

                (Total thought time: 2 secs.) 

Right then and there, I realized how important Copland was important to me. 

Last night, I sat down and listened to Appalachian Spring. I just recently bought a new turntable and stereo and thoroughly enjoyed listening to some populist Copland. Even though Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Quiet City, the symphonies, and Appalachian Spring may not be as harmonically and rhythmically complex as the music of Carter, it is brilliantly structured and orchestrated as well as some great contrapuntal examples thrown in as well.  To make this rambling a little more universal and coherent, I think people need to become aware of early influences and embrace them. I grew up on the American Songbook and Broadway musicals and even though my music does not naturally function in those mediums, that music undoubtedly laid the ground work for every influence that came after. Like it or not, the early obsessions in our lives pave the way towards our current and future interests, careers, and hobbies. The specifics of which early influences in particular guide our interests are not so clear, but they are ever present subconsciously. This wrap-up seems a little too Danny Tanner sitting on the bed giving life advice to his daughters. So be it. Let’s grab some burgers and a milkshake, kids. What do ya say?