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Here’s a nice enough idea:

The Redlands Symphony Orchestra will celebrate America's contribution to music…

Hmm. What is America’s contribution to music? For now, just keep that in mind. It’ll be important later on.

…in their season's final concert Saturday night, offering a program of American and Americana works. The program features Morton Gould's "American Salute," the Overture to "On the Town" by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and Symphony No. 2 "Romantic" by Howard Hanson.

I am especially happy to see they’re programming Gould and Hanson, two very undeservedly neglected composers. I mean, there are names other than Gershwin, Bernstein, Copland, and Barber, don’t you know? Still, I can’t shake the feeling that orchestras are a small part of a mega-conglomerate that makes and sells American flags and, sometimes, Russian flags.

Anyway, let’s hear more about this promising concert.

"It's like splitting hairs lengthwise…

Plot twist: In case you were thinking I was going to take to task the author of this review, think again. The conductor, asked for some quips to fill some space in this Press-Enterprise puff piece, potentially errs in some way, or…uh, lengthwise.

"It's like splitting hairs lengthwise to distinguish between American and Americana," said conductor Jon Robertson as he discussed the program's composers […]

Well then. Distinguish away!

"Americana music reflects the American sound, usually with some elements of folk music or rhythmic music like jazz -- jazz being the American contribution to music."

Ah ha! So that’s the American contribution to music—jazz. Good to know.

To Robertson, the Hanson symphony is a good example of strictly American music…
So it’s nothing but folk music and jazz?

…that is, music composed by an American in a European style and structure.

Oh. So a touch of folk music or jazz is Americana (suspiciously nationalistic, if you ask me) and music written by an American is American. I’ll buy these distinctions. You?

To me, however, this is the first weird juncture. According to Mr. Robertson, America’s contribution to music was jazz and symphonic composers used jazz in their music. Fine. But let me ask this: why not go see jazz instead? Why should I pay to see watered-down American jazz or folk in a European-instituted venue? Besides, as the conductor of a symphony, aren’t you supposed to promote your organization?

Personally, I’m hardcore; gimme the good stuff.

"Copland -- now, that is clearly Americana, with the beautiful Shaker tune of 'Simple Gifts,' " said Robertson. "And Bernstein, too, is Americana with all the jazzy elements. The Gould piece is another example as it takes the tune of 'Johnny Comes Marching Home Again' and orchestrates it into a big piece."

There is some dispute whether or not “Johnny” is in fact American. So…


Robertson asserts that you can't hear that sound in other countries' music. "If you do, they copied it from us."

We most certainly hear jazz in other countries’ music. And by definition it’s still Americana.

But what I find odd about this whole “who copied who?” business are the arbitrary lines one must draw when making this assertion. Does borrowing a V-I cadence constitute copying from European music? What about all the American composers who have appropriated “Sheep May Safely Graze?” Are they copycats? On the flip side, I wonder if any Austrian critics boast that American composers still write for the string quartet.

Robertson has a theory about why Americana music is so appealing to listeners.

Yikes! Non sequitor. [abruptly shifts gears] Still, this has to be entertaining, given the above theorizing.

"Back in the time when avant garde music…

Here we go again.

"Back in the time when avant garde music was all that was being composed for orchestras, the listeners rejected it in droves.

Correction: Back in the fictitious time when avant garde music was all that was being composed for orchestras…

“At the same time [sic?], people were going to the movies and hearing beautifully accessible music written by highly-trained European composers who the film houses brought to America.

FYI Mr. Robertson: “beautifully accessible music” means that the accessibility was beautiful. I doubt that’s what you meant.

“These composers weren't just hacks. Without realizing it, film-goers were hearing really good music, and responding to it."

So it’s appealing because people liked it? Well that sounds like a wristwatch-challenged argument.

According to Robertson, Americana music fits naturally with the ear.

That’s the theory? It fits naturally with the ear? What the fuck does that mean?

"When you hear Copland or Bernstein, you just naturally enjoy it. It's really in the ear," he said.

Oh that clarifies everything. [snicker]

Listen. The point I’m try to articulate is that Mr. Robertson is promoting something that I think is somewhat detrimental to the health of American music. And I don’t think it’s completely unfair to draw a metaphor from the fast food industry.

Here’s what I mean: Big Macs are bad for you—we all know that. But they’re engineered in such a way that you can’t resist them. They’ve got all the goodies that we find naturally appealing: tons of fat and tons of sugar.

Instead, maybe that’s the defining characteristic of Americana.


Sator Arepo said...

I guess Big Macs just 'fit in the mouth' then.

Since when did the rise of folk elements in nationalistic (or xxxx-iana) music originate in America?

I was going to say that, perhaps, we should consider ourselves lucky that more like-minded individuals do not pursue composition (choosing conducting instead, thinking that it's a great idea to program Copland's Fanfare yet again, because, you, know, America, right?), but that seemed mean, so I couched it in the middle of this long, obfuscatory sentence as a subordinate clause.

Sator Arepo said...

Also, dude: needs 'food metaphors' tag. Indeed.