Currently listening to Aaron Copland (1900-1990). I’ve been listening to a fair amount of Copland recently, likely more than most. Appalachian Spring is my favorite of his pieces. It sounds like an early morning – soothing, and peaceful and patient, but full of the excited energy and possibility of the new.
We in America are currently living through an incredibly momentous and strenuous season as a country – and for better or for worse, Aaron Copland’s work reminds me of a time in this country that is now cast in a warm orange glow of an ethereal past. A time of which I’ll never know or understand much. A time that was objectively worse in so many ways – in discrimination, life expectancy, poverty, war, etc. Yet his work brings me a peace and comfort, carrying with it a wave of longing for a time drenched in proud Americana. Of cowboys and ranches and trains and all the things a child imagines the Wild West to be. Of adventure and destiny.
The America that this music was born from is not an America to be proud of in many regards. We have taken many strides forward from the America of the early twentieth century, and for that I am extremely grateful – but even so, I dream childishly of this simpler era.
In too many areas, the problems that haunted the early twentieth century continue to plague our days and years now. Discrimination and racism are at the forefront and the loyalty and pride in the America built over the last 250 years has stumbled, becoming strenuous in the face of a divided culture, people and government.
Listening to Copland, I am struck by two things.
First: that the weight and power we give to music of the past to encompass its time period as a whole is often uncharacteristic of the past’s reality. I hear Aaron Copland’s work, and it is like looking at my own memories as a child growing up amongst my siblings at home. The strife and disagreements and fights and arguments that pervaded our lives on a nearly hourly rate have drifted conveniently out of my memory, leaving only the warm glow of happiness and nostalgia. Copland encompassed the best, most idyllic (in my mind) version of the early twentieth century, but that does not mean he captured the reality of the time.
And second: it is important to listen, to learn and to reflect on the music of the past, but we must separate the music from it’s period. The peaceful and graceful and lovely notions I hold alongside Aaron Copland’s work should not be attributed equally to the period it was created in. Those qualities should be taken independently, but instead put forward: as a template and model for what the future could look like and feel like and sound like, rather than as a masked image of what we think the past was like.
“To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.”
― Aaron Copland