Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Manifest Destiny

I’m currently reading An Indigenous People’s History of the US by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and one of the main takeaways is that settler-colonialism is an ongoing process, not a relic from our past. The conflict over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which infringes on the sovereignty of Indians in the Standing Rock reservation and threatens their water supply, demonstrates that fact dramatically. And as families all over the country sat down to commemorate a holiday celebrating a fantasy of Pilgrim-Indian collaboration, the world was stunned by the spectacle of non-violent protesters being brutally repressed with tear gas, rubber bullets, dogs, concussion grenades, batons, and water cannons in subzero temperatures. The ideology of Manifest Destiny has to go. The problem is – what to do we do about all of the groundbreaking, masterful works of art that served to justify, celebrate or shape this genocidal ideology?

I’ve loved Appalachian Spring, Aaron Copland’s landmark Pulitzer-Prize winning ballet, for years. It’s an extremely influential and popular piece, and its impact can be felt in popular film scores, classic and modern, from Elmer Bernstein’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Thomas Newman’s Little Women, and especially John Williams’ Lincoln. I was planning on posting an analysis of Appalachian Spring this month when my growing awareness of the #NoDAPL Movement prompted me to think about the piece in a completely different way.

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