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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“Amor Che Attende”

One of my favorite things about film scoring is getting to compose in so many different styles of music. I love discovering artists or genres, delving deeply into them and trying to find my voice in a new musical language. One example of this was a cue from a short film I did a few years ago, in which I did my best imitation of a classic 19th-century Italian opera aria. I asked an Italian composer friend (Vincenzo Marranca) to write the lyrics, and had the privilege of recording the excellent soprano Allie Tyler for the vocals. While I think I’ve become much better since then at sequencing realistic orchestral textures, I’m still pretty proud of this little tune. Check it out:

Here is the leadsheet, for those of you who are curious. And here are the lyrics in Italian and English:

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Film Score of the Month: “Moonlight”

This movie is so beautiful – please watch it if you haven’t already. Here are a few of my thoughts on the score by Nicholas Britell:

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#BlackLivesMatter meets Classical Music

From Bitch Media, here’s an interview with Courtney Bryan, composer of a work dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who was found hanged in her jail cell in Texas in 2015. The piece, called “Sanctum”, was a commission for an activist orchestra called The Dream Unfinished, which premiered the work in a concert last summer.

I love the use of extended techniques to give the orchestra some fresh new colors, and the bluesy phrases based on the pentatonic scale which recall John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” (That may or may not have been intentional…) The work as a whole has a meditative, almost sacred quality, even though the subject matter is so raw, full of anger and heartbreak.

 

For more, here’s a list of 10 Black composers to check out. (Guardian)

And another list of 10 Black women composers. (Bitch Media)

“Alone in the Wilderness”

This is a track I originally produced for an experimental short film about a man attempting to deliver a pizza to an address that doesn’t exist. It was a blast to compose, and very different from my other work, so I thought I would share a little about how I made it. Continue reading