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Appalachian Spring

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OOH …Here’s One Thing

 

by Jim Johnsen,
Managing Director, Johnsen, Fretty & Company

 

Appalachian Spring

 

Saturday marked the 50th Anniversary of Soul Train.  Not sure about you guys, but I would make sure to tune into this every Saturday morning as a kid.  Not even did I tune in but I would practice their moves while watching.  It wasn’t till much later that someone informed me that my moves looked nothing like the moves on that show.

https://youtu.be/Z0k4Ja3M45g

When I heard about the anniversary of Soul Train the other day I decided to go the Brain (aka google) to learn a bit more about its history.  Turns out it was the first TV show in American history produced, owned and about blacks.  Let me remind you that this is 1971.  Soul Train’s claim that it was the “longest-running first-run, nationally syndicated program in American television history,”  Is very close to being true.  It’s also important to remember that first run syndication (aka independently produced) in the 1970’s was a crap shoot.  Pretty cool and very impressive in my book.

But that’s not what I wanted to blab about today.   A friend of mine, who’s 92 year old mother still competes for the Chopin piano world championship each year, sent me a YouTube on a young group performing Arron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.  Besides bringing me back to 7th grade, walking though my front door and my father asking me (well maybe a little more than “asking”) to sit down and stare at the gigantic piece of furniture called a stereo and listen to what he considered to be one of the finest pieces of music ever produced, I listened and was immediately transported.  Like holy shit is that good.  After all these years I see the light.  My father was not all wrong.   Here is the whole thing.  I know…long…but worth it.

https://youtu.be/Hxfjl_SYn5s

So realizing that I loved the music, but didn’t know anything about the piece or Aaron Copeland, I went back to the Brain.  Turns out Copeland was born within 13 days of my grandfather in 1900.  Also turns out that Copeland, unlike most of the other great musicians ever born, didn’t come from music royalty and wasn’t a prodigy.  Just another kid from Brooklyn whose name was changed from Kaplan to Copeland.  But what he lacked in DNA he made up for with drive and ambition, heading off to Paris to study under some of the greats while his father was saying WTF.  And in Paris he got to hang out with Paul Bowles, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound, as well as artists like Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Amedeo Modigliani.  Heady stuff.  It was also here where he decided he would make classical music that was accessible to the masses (think Hemingway…only in music).  Shortly after returning to the U.S. he was influenced by the great photographers of the 20s and 30s including Alfred Steiglitz and Ansel Adams.  Think incredible pictures of the wild west and the Rocky Mountains.  Long short, everything he did converged or ultimately led to this piece, Appalachian Spring.  What you probably don’t know, or at least I didn’t, was that Martha Graham, one of the world’s most famous ballet companies, commissioned him to compose Appalachian Spring for a ballet of the same name.  Here is a great quote that captures the music and the ballet:

“In this excerpt from a 1959 performance of the complete ballet featuring Martha Graham, you can hear the way the music above evokes the young pioneer bride’s fears as she anticipates the challenges ahead on the American frontier. It’s a brief moment of terror which ultimately fades into reassurance amid Appalachian Spring’s American sense of optimism: the building of a new house on the nineteenth century frontier, the sustenance of the land, and the eternal rejuvenation of spring.”

Nice Johnsen.  Thanks for the far flung music lesson but what’s the point.  Well actually a couple points.  First, could you imagine a “job” where it’s not a job at all but just a potter’s wheel.  Every day is a gift?  Maybe we should all remember to take a little bit of that approach.  Second, maybe we need a little less bitchin’ and a little more fuck ya.  This is a guy that was denigrated for being a “commie” and for being gay (although he kept that on the downlow), and yet he wrote about this great country with incredible pride.  Maybe we all need to celebrate the victory a bit more and call bullshit to the down and out.

And last but not least, Soul Train was first produced in the Metromedia Studios in LA.  So behind every great venture, there is always some outdoor guy pushing it ::)

 

 

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