Good Thing Copland’s Dead
There’s a whole breed of music I hate. Officially, it’s called modern, or 20th century. I call it artsy fartsy. As far as I care, this genre sounds as if the scores from all three Eastwood-Leone films were played at the same time. Not my cup of tea.
Although my veteran’s band I’m in plays mostly marches and Americana and insulates us from most twelve-tone atrocities, we still put up with our share of the avant garde. The next concert’s masochistic selection is Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. Ugh.
Lincoln Portrait features Aaron Copland at his Aaron Copland-est. Published at the outset of American involvement in the Second World War, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from Copland and his period — cheesily uplifting narration; triumphant brass; a main motif that sounds almost cribbed from Gone With the Wind.
It’s all well and good to listen to, I suppose, if melodramatic repetition is your thing, but it’s hell to play. From the bandsman’s perspective, it’s full of key changes, unfriendly time signatures and hatred of all mankind. I’d rather play the Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz.
It doesn’t help that this piece’s director doesn’t have the firmest grasp of the material. Although there are reference numbers at every 10 bars, without fail, he’ll inevitably tell us that we should start seven measures before 150, or three after 210.
We don’t play this piece very well, even in the parts with the courtesy to stay in the same key for more than a few measures. Before we get far, he’ll stop us, and we’ll start over again.
In frustration, and forced good humor, he called us out on our unintended dissonance.
Seriously, now — Lincoln is the good guy.
With all this bad and ugly, we’d never have noticed.