Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Simple Gifts

performance by Blast

I needed this today and maybe you do too: a break from news of the economy and of the election. Time for some serious goosebumps and a smile, for recognition that most Americans in the past expressed their lives through simplicity, not excess, and time to remember that the majority of the world's population continues to live that way.

Monday evening we walked the dogs along our regular route that passes the home of a neighbor who moved there with her teenage son at least four years ago. My early attempts at simple hellos were met with a stare and silence enough times that I was properly trained; years have gone by with us passing by without acknowledging or being acknowledged by the woman who lives in the corner house with the landscaping I so admire. This time, however, she walked in front of us and across the street to place mail in the protected multi-box that services that portion of the neighborhood. As she crossed back toward her house she looked up at us and said, "Hi." Mike and I were stunned but happily responded. She went inside and as we continued I remarked to Mike that it seems to me that people are reaching out to one another, enfolding one another in recognition of being in "this" together. Such simple gifts: sharing an evening walk with our dogs and realizing it means everything to them and is good for us, being greeted by and greeting a neighbor, holding my husband's hand.

Of Simple Gifts, Wikipedia says, "It has endured many inaccurate descriptions. Though often classified as an anonymous Shaker hymn or as a work song, it is better classified as a dance song."

Simple Gifts

-1848 Shaker song by Elder Joseph Brackett

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free.
'Tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be.
And when we find ourselves
in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley
of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend
we shall not be ashamed.
To turn, turn
will be our delight,
'Till by turning, turning
we come round right.

Copland: Appalachian Spring

Aaron Copland, 1900-1990. Appalachian Spring (Ballet for Martha). Completed 1944 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, first performance October 30, 1944, in Washington, D.C. Originally scored for 13 instruments, expanded version scored for 2 each flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, and trombones, an extensive percussion battery of tympani, xylophone, snare drum, bass drum, long drum, wood block, claves, glockenspiel, triangle, plus harp, pianoforte, and strings.

Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring is the best-known work by the dean of American composers, and with good reason. Copland's gentle, jazz-influenced style always falls easily on the ear, and his distinctively "American'' sound led to the development of a unique national idiom that has served us well for over half a century, both in the concert hall and in the less obvious venue of the movie theater. Copland's work was very popular in Hollywood; he composed scores for many films, including such well-known ones as Our Town and Of Mice and Men.

In 1943 Copland traveled to Hollywood to write the music for North Star, based on a story by Lillian Hellman. While he was there, he was contacted by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation, which commissioned him to write a ballet. The new work would be performed by Martha Graham and her dance company in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. Copland quickly set to work on the music, which would accompany the story of a wedding in rural Pennsylvania.

The majority of the ballet was composed while Copland was in California and Mexico, with final touches added after he returned to Massachusetts to teach at Harvard University. The melodies are primarily original, but towards the end of the work he chose to quote the Shaker song "Simple Gifts,'' basing a masterful set of variations on the tune.

Graham was pleased by the work, which was scheduled to be performed in the fall of 1944. The only remaining problem was the title, which apparently stumped both composer and dancer. Even the day before the premiere, the work was still referred to as simply "Ballet for Martha,'' but at the last minute the name "Appalachian Spring'' was taken from a poem by Hart Crane. It is one of the minor oddities of history that this phrase had never before been encountered by the composer, for it describes the music so perfectly that one would naturally conclude it had driven the creation of the work instead of being appended only as an afterthought.

© 1998, Geoff Kuenning

1 comment:

a little bird said...

beautiful post, Lydia, really... we ARE all in this together and we can not forget that!



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