Detroit’s Classical Music and Aaron Copland
Locally, there is a vibrant classical music scene.
This is largely due to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the many community orchestras and ensembles that play in the Metro Detroit area.
One of the most common composers performed by these groups is Aaron Copland.
Copland wrote many influential works such as Appalachian Spring, Hoedown and Fanfare for the Common Man. Last week, I had the opportunity to perform Copland’s El Salon Mexico with the Oakland Youth Orchestra. To me, this was a very significant experience because Aaron Copland is one of the few Jewish composers whose music I have played.
Aaron Copland was born in 1900. He grew up in New York City with Jewish parents, recent immigrants from Eastern Europe. He learned to play the piano and was recognized as an exceptional student, helping him to study abroad in France. When Copeland came back to America, he dedicated himself to composing music full-time.
A Jewish American Composer
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As a first-generation American with strong ties to Europe, I would expect his compositions to reflect classical European music. Instead, Copland’s compositions reflect the diverse cultures living in America. For example, El Salon Mexico, the piece that I played with my orchestra, had a great deal of Latin influence. It was inspired by Copland’s visit to a dance hall in Mexico.
When performing this piece of music, I could hear the different themes that Copland was presenting in the music. The beginning of the piece represents the wealthy class. Here, the music is more reserved and controlled, similar to a traditional classical piece of music. The piece then transitions into a joyous theme where the orchestra is more festive, representing the Mexican working class. This was my favorite part of the piece because of the excitement that was needed to contribute to the sound and bright tone of this section.
El Salon Mexico exhibits Copland’s belief in populism and the idea of the “American Dream.” Even in his music, the “common man” theme of the piece wins in the end as the more refined classical theme is overpowered.
Copland’s music was written to reflect the American Dream.
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Even in the title of his piece Fanfare for a Common Man, Copland illustrates the power the “common man” has in America. I find this very interesting because Copland is the common man. He grew up in a small, New York City apartment, and is now credited with being one of the most important American composers. He composed music that reflected the diversity and possibility of America.
Whenever I have the chance to play a piece by Copland, I am reminded of how amazing the American dream can be.
If you would like to learn more about Aaron Copland, visit the website https://www.biography.com/people/aaron-copland-9256998.
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