Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring

I have a love for the anthropomorphization of mechanical objects and buildings. It mostly has to do with anything larger than your typical human being, and particularly toward objects meant to act as a means of conveyance or habitat. For example: I have a 2001 Ford Taurus. As of yesterday evening it has been driven approximately 220,001 miles, 18,000 miles shy of the average distance between the Earth and its moon. The Ford Taurus in general has a bit of a stigma regarding its drivetrain. Many owners of this vehicle have found themselves replacing their transmissions at one point or another throughout the ownership cycle and thus it has earned itself a bad name for that reason. My Taurus, thankfully, has avoided the need for such a costly repair.

Other costly repairs however...
I also tend to love my house. It was a foreclosure that my wife and I bought as a first home. It had sat vacant for approximately one year and the passage of time had taken its toll on the structure. I've spent the past year and a half fixing, replacing or upgrading various aspects of the house such as repairing the irrigation system, remodeling the master bathroom, fixing many electrical issues related to poor repairs by the previous owner, fixing leaky faucets, improving the upkeep on the lawn, many things related to the image (read: curb appeal) and functionality of the home.

Inside is all chickenwire and duct tape.
I love the theatre where I work. It is a large building, with a capacity of 700, it features counterweight rigging system with 29 linesets, a large pit orchestra lift, a fully complemented workshop, and all the accoutrements that one might find in a well-built and operational performing space. I have been here for about half a year now and have spent a great deal of time establishing a maintenance program and attempting to repair or upgrade the equipment we keep on hand for running theatrical, musical and formal events.

I tend to adopt a view of working with these large structures and my car as a cooperative effort between myself and the object. It is a mutually beneficial and complimentary relationship. Both of us could exist without the other, but life somehow wouldn't be the same. It might not be better or worse, but it would be different. I like to think that within these certain objects is a spirit or a will to continue to exist and be useful. I fully acknowledge that the reality of the situation is that I myself most likely am the only one imparting such a notion upon the objects, and any sense of sentience is purely a manifestation of me projecting emotional capability on steel, wood, and plastic.

But dammit, I like it.

So it goes with Aaron Copland's (1900-1990) "Appalachian Spring". Originally a suite for orchestra, Copland adapted the work for ballet about a year after its premier. The ballet itself is the story of a American pioneers in Pennsylvania during the 19th century. They build a farmhouse, have a wedding and experience all the fullness that life has to offer such bold individuals of the 1800's. Copland originally wrote it without thinking of a title, but came up with Appalachian Spring shortly after Martha Graham (who was the lead dancer in the ballet) shared a poem written by Hart Crane:

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!
 The rest, as they say, is history.  Copland later found it funny that so many people exclaimed how well he captured the spirit and essence of the the Appalachian region in his writing, since he didn't know he was actually writing for it until Martha shared that with him.

The suite is broken down into 8 sections, the 7th of which will be our target for today's example.  It is desrcibed by Copland thusly:

Calm and flowing/Doppio Movimento. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title "The Gift to Be Simple." The melody borrowed and used almost literally is called "Simple Gifts."
"Doppio movimento" means that this movement will move approximately twice as fast as the preceding one. The Shaker theme, "Simple Gifts", was first written by a Shaker elder named Joseph Brackett (1797–1882) in 1848. He lived in Maine his whole life and helped build a farm with his father that became the center of a Shaker community.  The Shakers are an off-shoot of early American Protestantism that promoted communal living and celibacy. They earned their moniker by an observation of the enthusiastic nature of their worship. Often centered around dance, as a community they have written thousands of songs throughout their existence.  

This was the closest I came to a funny picture referencing Shakers.  Sorry.
So, Copland is trying to explore a day in the life of your prototypical American family, which turns out to be anything but simple.  The variations he cycles through range from melodic and soothing to raucous and thrilling.  Concluding with a magnanimous celebration of the original theme with full orchestra at about 1/2 the speed of the original statement.  

At the end of the day, the car is just the sum of its parts.  The house and the theatre are just buildings that will one day be torn down, either intentionally or by the course of nature or human events.  They do not think.  They do not breathe.  They do not live.  However, when I hear Copland's suite, I can feel the nature of the inanimate.  They objects that we amass and surround ourselves with.  I think about what a family in the 19th century might accumulate in order to make life more livable, in order to devote more time to what they might hold more valuable.  I think of them working with their hands to give rise to a home. Standing back, looking over their completed work with awe. How can you not project a sense of life upon such a thing?  When I listen to Copland, every bit of this rock, upon which we ride about through the vast infinity of stars, seems to come to life.

I swear when you hear it, if you listen closely, you can hear the Earth turn.

See you next Friday.