July 2017

The Mariposa County Arts Council and the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra are throwing a birthday bash for America – and YOU’RE invited!

One night only – Saturday, July 1, 2017 in the Amphitheatre of Mariposa County Park, at 4889 County Park Road, right in beautiful downtown Mariposa.

Click here to purchase your seats online.

When one thinks of American Symphonic Music, the mind immediately goes to the great Aaron Copland (1900-1990.)   Sure, there are others, but Copland so indelibly established his bona fides as THE great American “classical music” voice with his populist music beginning in the 1930s, that he stands just a little taller than all the rest.  He was widely regarded as the “Dean of American Music” even by his composing colleagues.

Brooklyn-born and raised, Copland was the youngest of five children of Lithuanian Jewish parents who had immigrated to the US from Russia, changing their last name of “Kaplan” to “Copland.”  A rail-thin, bookworm who was fascinated by his older sister’s piano practice, by age 15 Copland decided to be a composer. In 1921 he left for Paris because (he said) “that’s where the action seemed to be.”

Composer Aaron Copland, June 27, 1956

He eventually studied there for three years with Nadia Boulanger, who was to become the most important teacher of 20th-century composers, training more great musicians than any other teacher in history.  Copland was her first American student and they remained close for 60 years until her 1979 death.  She cited Copland as the most important and accomplished of all her important, accomplished pupils. His compositions of the late 1920’s and early 30’s were modern and (perhaps) somewhat avant-garde but his personal philosophy of populist humanism asserted itself over this artistic philosophy.  His music began to give way to a more accessible, “American” sound. By the mid-1930’s his music was sparse, tonal, harmonically simple (even when bitonal,) melodic and accessible. El Salon Mexico, An Outdoor Overture, John Henry, his 1939 film score Of Mice and Men, 1940’s Our Town and the simple beauty of Quiet City and Danzon Cubano established Copland as one of America’s greatest composers. He struck a new high when, in the aftermath of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and resulting low national morale, the conductor Andre Kostelanetz commissioned Copland and other composers to write musical “portraits” about eminent Americans. Copland’s resulting A Lincoln Portrait established itself as a staple of American culture—you may remember our performance of it four years ago with Shelton Johnson as narrator. 1942 also saw yet another of Copland’s great scores: commissioned by Agnes de Mille as a follow-up to his 1938 success Billy the Kid (ballet,) de Mille proposed a ballet based upon her own scenario of a love story of the old west: Rodeo – subtitled “Courting at Burnt Ranch.” And you’ll remember our performance of that great orchestral set from Rodeo which the MSO performed two years ago.   Rodeo is lighthearted where Billy the Kid had been dark.  And then in 1943 the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation commissioned a ballet from Copland, to be choreographed and (lead-)danced by Martha Graham.  Copland and Graham had hoped to collaborate on a new, original piece for well over a decade, and finally had their chance.  Another ballet from Copland – and the result may be the finest of them all.

Initially, there was no real story; Copland received only a broad scenario.  And he also received something of a paltry fee for composing the ballet: $500.  But that didn’t much matter to Copland; to him it was the temptation of a new work and collaborating with Martha Graham.  The initial scenario was more than a little intriguing, and was very much in sync with Martha Graham’s psychological approach to dance and movement.  As Copland was to later write, “I was fully aware of her very special personality and it affected my writing of the piece.  It was the quality of the dance. In my own mind, it was a ‘Ballet for Martha.’ Very much so.”

That initial story delivered to Copland was something of a battle of the sexes which centered on the concept of man as the worker and woman as possessor of emotion, but slowly morphed into something which came to be called “The House of Victory.”  THAT story – to which Copland composed his music: concerned a pioneer mother and her daughter and their interplay with characters labeled as “Indian Girl,” “Fugitive” and “Citizen.”

But Martha Graham fleshed-out the story as she worked on the choreography; it eventually became – according to the notes in the published score: “a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-build (sic) farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the last century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house.”  The ballet?  Appalachian Spring.

Incidentally: the “Spring” in the title doesn’t technically refer to the season but to water bubbling up from the ground.  And that title actually wasn’t appended to the ballet until the day BEFORE its October 30, 1944 premiere!  Martha Graham found that title “Appalachian Spring” in a poem by Hart Crane called “The Bridge.”  And therein, it refers to yes, not the season but to a spring in the ground.  Copland was often amused when people told him how brilliantly he had captured not only the feeling of the joyous birth of the season of Spring but also of capturing the very essence of the Appalachian mountains.  Even though all those mental pictures had nothing to do with Copland’s writing; the title (as noted) – and in fact its very implication of taking place in the Appalachians only was assigned on the day before the ballet was premiered, long AFTER the music and choreography had been completed.  So: Copland had neither spring OR the Appalachians in mind – but had no problem with people associating his music with both!

Copland incorporated the beautiful 1848 Shaker tune “Simple Gifts” into the ballet, making it an overnight sensation – albeit a century after that tune was written (as a “dancing song” or even as a quick dance) by Elder Joseph Brackett (1797-1882) while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. Brackett wrote one verse of lyrics for his song and the simplicity of tune and words creates a wonderfully elegant little song.  Ripe for the picking AND ceaselessly inspiring for Copland’s brilliant treatment in Appalachian Spring.

The ballet premiered at the Library of Congress in 1944 and the result earned Copland a Pulitzer Prize as well as a New York Music Critics’ Circle Award.  As well as yet ANOTHER brilliant hit for America’s most-respected composer of his, and perhaps: our time as well. The music was originally composed for 13 musicians in a ballet pit orchestra (the commission called for 12, but they compromised!) and not long after the ballet’s premiere, Copland was commissioned by Artur Rodzinski to create a version for full symphony orchestra.  Copland removed about 10 minutes of the ballet’s music that was considered important only to the choreography, re-orchestrated the remainder of the music for a full orchestra, and gained yet another success when THAT version was premiered at a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Rodzinski on October 7, 1945.  The suite has become a standard of symphony orchestras the world over.

The concert will include a great many more overtly patriotic American classics, with a special emphasis this year on marches, including no fewer than five by America’s own “March King” John Philip Sousa (1854 – 1932.)  Some well-known, some lesser-known, but all toe-tappingly upbeat and positively American!  Sousa was one of America’s pre-eminent musicians of the latter part of the 19th century and first third of the 20th; most famous for his many rousing marches, he was born in Washington DC and trained early on the violin, as well as harmony and composition at the very young age of six.  He also received instruction in voice, piano, cornet, baritone horn, flute, trombone and also alto horn, before being apprenticed to the US Marine Corps Band at age 13 by his father, who was a trombonist in the band.  The kid was a real catch when – years later, he began working in a pit orchestra for a theatre; he learned to conduct while performing duties on multiple instruments.   By 1880, he made a pretty impressive return to the US Marine Band which he had left as an apprentice: he now was its music director and conductor at age 25!

He was to lead the “President’s Own” Marine Band during the Administrations of five presidents beginning with Rutherford B. Hayes, and ending with his (initial) retirement from military service and from the Marine Band during the Benjamin Harrison presidency in July of 1892.  (He was later to re-enlist in the active reserves at age 62 during World War I, but being a little…long in the tooth, performed his service stateside.)   At his own request, Sousa received a discharge from the Marine Corps because he realized the lucrative career open to him on the public concert circuit, leading his own band.  He was to conduct his own farewell concert at the White House on July 30, 1892, receiving his discharge the following day.  He nearly immediately created his own, famed John Philip Sousa Band – which during its ensuing 39 years under his direction, played nearly 16,000 concerts internationally, to extraordinary acclaim.   The Sousa Band made a great many early cylinder and later disc recordings in the early day of sound reproduction and those best-sellers helped to spread the fame of this magnificent musical organization both wide and far, and internationally as well.

We’ll perform these Sousa marches on our Saturday, July 1 concert:

1895’s “King Cotton.”   Composed for the “Cotton States and International Exposition,” the expression “King Cotton” refers to the high importance of cotton as a cash crop in the South, as it was before and after the American Civil war, and remains so even today.

1889’s “Washington Post.”  The owners of The Washington Post newspaper asked Sousa   (at that time, still the conductor/musical director of the United States Marine Band) to compose a march to help publicize the newspaper’s essay contest awards ceremony.  Sousa complied and the march was introduced at the contest’s ceremony on June 15, 1889.  It immediately became lastingly popular.  And it was, incidentally: that very march was to lead to a British journalist dubbing Sousa “The March King.”   The WaPo honors Sousa to this day in the Post’s offices for his “contribution to the newspaper and his country.”  In that order!

1890’s “The Liberty Bell.”   This march is among Sousa’s most famous, mostly thanks to it being used since the 1960s as the theme for the British comedy team Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Less-known for his operettas, Sousa composed “The Liberty Bell” March as simply a march FOR his operetta “The Devil’s Deputy,” but never completed that work when backing for the show disappeared.   Not long thereafter, Sousa and his (then-)band manager George Hinton attended the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There was a large-scale stage spectacle entitled simply “America” and at one point, a backdrop depicting the Liberty Bell was lowered.  Hinton had an idea, and suggested “The Liberty Bell” be used as the title for Sousa’s still-untitled march from that operetta – at least a march could be salvaged from it.  At nearly the same time, Sousa’s wife informed her husband that their son had participated in a parade honoring the Liberty Bell.  That of course did it for Sousa – and his new march now had a title.  It – as was so often the case with Sousa’s marches: was an instant success.  The march is sometimes performed with an addition of a low bell strike signifying the Liberty Bell; I’ve heard it performed with a recording of an actual strike taken from the actual Liberty Bell.  For our MSO performances, I’ve added a bell part to simulate, the sound (and pitch) of the actual Liberty Bell – which was believed to originally sound the note E♭, but which now is a little lower (due to the crack) and sounds in the rough vicinity of the note D.  For the curious, here’s a link to a brief June 6, 1944 D-Day speech by Philadelphia Mayor Bernard Samuel – broadcast nationwide.  During Samuel’s speech, he used a mallet and (according to the National Park Service) “struck the Liberty Bell seven times, one time for each of the letters in the word “Liberty” to announce the allied invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy.  To preserve the Liberty Bell, we no longer strike it with a mallet or anything else.”  Here’s the link to that brief speech and the sound of the Liberty Bell: https://www.nps.gov/inde/upload/Liberty-Bell-E-Day-WIP-1944-Mono-on-Left-s-edit.mp3

1888’s “Semper Fidelis.”  The composition of this march was suggested to Sousa by then-President Chester Arthur himself because he so disliked “Hail to the Chief;” it’s actually one of two such requests Arthur made of Sousa for a new piece which might be used for association with the American President.  “Semper Fidelis” is Latin for “always faithful” – and is, of course: the motto of the United States Marine Corps. “Semper Fidelis” became the official march of the United States Marine Corps, but: there is no historic record of how or when that designation occurred as all pertinent records were destroyed in a flood!   All we DO know is that it DID become their official march, and remains so to this day.

1896’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”  Of course, we’ll close our July 1 concert with a performance of John Philip Sousa’s masterpiece, duly designated as the official National March of the United States in 1987 – just as we’ve closed every Independence Day Spectacular! Concert over the past 15 years.  In 1896 Sousa was returning home on an ocean liner from a successful concert tour in Europe when he received word that his band manager and good friend David Blakely had died back in America. Sousa ruminated aboard ship about the loss of his friend while returning home; his bittersweet joy of homecoming under these circumstances was manifested in his best means of self-expression: by composing a march in honor of Blakely.  Here’s a little-known bit of trivia for you: the first four notes of this triumphant march quote the initial notes of the medieval Latin chant “Dies Irae” or “day of wrath.”  Sousa didn’t write the march down in manuscript while traveling home, instead he mentally composed it while aboard ship.  Upon returning home, he scribed the entire piece to paper—without changing a single “mental” note.  And thus, he produced the greatest, most brilliant and immediately-successful march of his entire career.  And that’s saying quite a lot: Sousa composed some 136 marches as well as many other works, including ballets, operettas, theatre-pieces and other works; he was also a distinguished trapshooter and even produced three successful novels.   In his later years, Sousa even composed (nearly unknown) words to the march:

                 “Let martial note in triumph float —
                   and Liberty extend its mighty hand.  
                   A flag appears ’mid thunderous cheers —
                   The banner of the Western land…”

Ironically, Stars and Stripes Forever is believed to be the last piece of music Sousa heard – and conducted.  He died of heart failure on March 6, 1932, in his room at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, PA the day after conducting a rehearsal of the piece.

But wait!  There’s more!

In fact, TWO more beloved American Marches:

National Emblem March by Edwin Eugene Bagley (1857-1922)


American Patrol by Frank White Meacham (1856 – 1909)

Bagley’s National Emblem March dates from 1902 (though some sources claim 1906) and will be immediately recognizable, especially for its trio section – which is used by the U.S. Military for color guard ceremonies during which the colors are presented, and then retired.   One of the fascinating things about this wonderful march (which the American wind/band master Frederick Fennell once described as a “perfect march”) is that it nearly never came to be.   Bagley wrote the march but was confounded by the ending, and became so dissatisfied with it that he gave up on the march and threw the manuscript into the trash.  Fortunately, members of his band found the march, rehearsed it in private – all on a train, during a tour of the band: and then shocked Bagley when they told him the march was wonderful, rehearsed, ready to go and that they’d like to play it at their very next concert – which was to occur less than an hour later!   This march was to become Bagley’s most famous of all his compositions – and with good reason: Fennell was right!  (and incidentally, our own late, great Dr. Phillip Smith studied at one point in his military music career with the late, great Fennell.)

Listen carefully: in the first major section, Bagley quotes The Star-Spangled Banner, but in TWO-time rather than its actual triple-time.  He then takes off on a really rousing, fun and all-American experience.  And Fennell wasn’t the only other musician who strongly admired the piece: John Philip Sousa named Bagley’s National Emblem as one of the three most effective marches ever composed; the other two, of course: were Sousa’s own!

American Patrol is just plain fun! And it’s not only popular, but pretty famous, too –
particularly for the 1941 recording of the piece (in a swing arrangement) by Glenn Miller.   Frank White Meacham, who was a tin-pan alley composer/song plugger, usually went by the name “F. W. Meacham,” just as Bagley usually used “E. E. Bagley.”  He composed American Patrol in 1885, utilizing both his own melodies AND famous American patriotic (and other) tunes – particularly those popular at the time of its composition.   Listen for “Dixie” and “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean” as well as others.  Historically, throughout classical and light-classical music starting with the early Romantic era, the concept of a military (or other) procession being heard at first faintly in the distance, before growing in sound as the presumptive musical group nears the listener – and then slowly retreats into quietude: pops up every now and then.  Beethoven did so in his Wellington’s Victory – which the MSO has performed on occasion, Carl Maria von Weber’s Konzertstuck for Piano and Orchestra  likewise has a fun little second movement in which the orchestra begins a march quietly, growing in volume as the “military band” approaches the listener: at which time the solo pianist offers the single contribution Weber gave to the instrument: a ff glissando – before the orchestra then has a jolly time with the march, then eventually retreating into silence!

Meacham used that device in American Patrol; the original version (for piano) was very explicit in following that model but the later band (and in our case, orchestral) versions weren’t quite as strict.   Enjoy the piece – you’ll be hearing quite a bit of music in this brief march that will be VERY familiar!

Armed Forces Salute is an arrangement by Dr. Phillip Smith (1955 – 2013.)  Local treasure Phil
Smith served for many years as composer, conductor, instrumental musician and arranger for the United States Army Bands.   His Armed Forces Salute continues to be played by US Army Bands and of course, the MSO.  Phil’s arrangement includes: “Army Song” (“The Army Goes Rolling Along”), “Anchors Aweigh” the official song of the US Navy, “Marine’s Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma”), “Wild Blue Yonder” the official song of the US Air Force, and “Semper Paratas” – the official song of the US Coast Guard.  Phil was the MSO’s Principal Tuba Player from our inception and created wonderful original musical works and arrangements not only for US military forces (and the MSO) but also for the Mariposa County High School Grizzly Band – an organization he shaped into an award-winning and nationally-recognized force with which to be reckoned.  His Armed Forces Salute honors the armed forces of our country as well as the courage and sacrifice demonstrated by all those who serve in our defense past and present.  As we play, please stand when you hear the tune of the branch with which you or a family member is associated.  We’re grateful for your service to our united America.  And I’d like to personally dedicate this work in perpetual memory of one of the most dedicated and best Armed Forces veterans I’ve ever been privileged to call my friend – and the man who touched the lives of so many: Dr. Phillip Smith.

The actual flag Francis Scott Key saw during the bombardment of Ft. McHenry

The Star-Spangled Banner
  Tune composed 1778 by John Stafford Smith (1750—1836) with poem “Defence of Ft. M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key (1779—1843) added in 1814. The MSO uses an orchestration/arrangement by Les Marsden.   Englishman Smith composed the tune “Anachreon in Heav’n” (with words by Ralph Tomlinson) as a bawdy drinking song for Britain’s elite Anacreontic Society. It saluted the 6th Century BC Greek poet Anacreon’s obsession with love and wine. The original song was well-known on both sides of the Atlantic, though derisively on our shores.  A month after the British burned the White House and much of DC during the waning months of the War of 1812 (1812-1815) between Great Britain and our country, lawyer Francis Scott Key was briefly held aboard a British ship in Baltimore harbor where he witnessed the September 13-14, 1814 bombardment of Fort McHenry. By dawn the failed British attack was over but Key wrote a poem questioning the uncertainty of the young country’s survival: “oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave?”  Titled “Defence of Ft. M’Henry” (sic), the poem’s words resonated with Key’s brother-in-law Judge Joseph Nicholson.  Nicholson realized the poem’s words fit the 36-year-old song “Anachreon in Heav’n” and on September 17 1814, just three days after Key wrote his poem: Nicholson had those words printed (anonymously) as the new lyrics to the existing song. Bingo: the US had an anthem, though it wasn’t made official until 117 years later in 1931 by Congress.  I’ve seen that very flag in person: that 15-star battle-torn flag which inspired Key as it flew over Ft. McHenry in 1814.  It now hangs in Washington, DC – in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Formerly 30 by 42 feet, it was worn down by battle and time to 30 to 36 feet.  John Stafford Smith – musicologist, composer, organist and lay-vicar of Westminster Abbey—died in 1836 (at age 86,) 22 years after his tune had become the basis of the anthem of those upstart Americans.  What greater shame could there be for a proper Englishman!

But wait, there’s EVEN more!  Have you ever heard the truly wonderful mouthful of a piece:
Festival Overture on the American National Air “The Star-Spangled Banner”?   It’s one of my very favorite lesser-known pieces of Americana, composed in 1880 by Dudley Buck (1839—1909.)  Buck was born and raised in Hartford Connecticut, and at 19, traveled to Leipzig, Dresden and Paris to receive his formal musical training – like most American composers of his day, he was trained to compose in a very Germanic formal structure. Back home, he quickly established himself as an accomplished organist, conductor and composer and became one of America’s most respected musical pedagogues. The 1880 Festival Overture wasn’t performed by an orchestra until 1887 but had become established in a version for concert band arranged by famed bandmaster Patrick Gilmore. It’s a gem of masterful writing following that strict formal structure Buck learned in Europe. The second (subsidiary) tune is The Star-Spangled Banner – which Buck interweaves with his rousing main tune with breathtaking skill.

Had enough yet?  Well: that’s all!   But oh, what a concert it’ll be!  Appalachian Spring is the perfect piece of music to enjoy outdoors under Mariposa’s cooling starry July 1st evening, a perfect piece of music to celebrate all that’s down-to-earth about America: America at its absolute finest.  It’ll be an all-American concert from start to finish, a wonderful evening to spend at our very own version of the Hollywood Bowl – right here in beautiful, historic downtown Mariposa.

Tickets are a VERY reasonable $10 for adults, $6 for students.   And member of the Mariposa County Arts Council get a nicely-discounted price: $8 for adults and $5 for students.  Where else can you get a remarkable bargain like THAT for live, outdoor symphonic music?!    Just click here to securely, quickly purchase your seats online and we’ll look forward to celebrating America’s Birthday with you three days early, on Saturday, July 1 at 7 PM!

Notes from Les Marsden, MSO Founding Music Director and Conductor

Les Marsden,

Founding Music Director and Conductor

The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

Back to Mariposa Symphony Orchestra