Notes from the Composer attempts to improve musicality through a better understanding of the inspiration, environment, time and intentions of the composer. By knowing a little more about the origins of the song, you are able to perform with clear musical understanding of the work. Feel free to check out a few of the songs and composer notes for works performed by the band.
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Who plays the Taxi Horn? Gerswhin's "An American In Paris"
Music is more than the notes on the page. It captures the life and times of an era through sound, recreated for generation - oceans or decades apart.
Gershwin’s American in Paris does exactly that. First, to appreciate the musical mastery, one must first understand Paris of the 1920’s. France had just returned home after World War I victorious. It was engulfed in the aspiration of both joy and debauchery. The cultural center of society, Paris entered into a period of lightness and distractions. Parisians knew how to have fun and did so often. They frequented the music hall, theater, circus and cinema in pursuit of a continuous experience.
Even though Paris was a striving metropolis, it was also the hot bed for music, art and literature. Several American ex-patriots sought the life Paris could offer. Josephine Baker, Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald might have even called Paris their home away from home as they ushered in a new era.
Hemingway once wrote, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Like Hemingway, who captures Paris in his literary works, Gershwin expresses his memories though sound: American in Paris. It was so powerful, that a movie by the same name, featured the music of Gershwin. A critic writes the movie is more about sound and dance than plot and character. Maybe, that’s they way its supposed to be. Paris of the 1920’s was more about the experience of having fun.
So, the next time you listen or perform this piece, listen for the busy streets, see the artist struggling to capture his soul in paint, and hear the early narratives being read aloud by burgeoning literary masters. And of course, step out of the way when you hear the taxi horn sound.
"El Salon Mexico" Composed by Aaron Copland
Folk Songs from South of the Boarder
Described as a “Harlem-type night club for the peepul, grand Cuban orchestra Salon Mexico. Three halls: one for people dressed in our way, one for people dressed in overalls but shod, and one for the barefoot.” Copeland visited the wild dance hall in 1932 with Carlos Chavez, a Mexican composer and conductor. A sign in the dance hall cautioned “Please don’t throw lighted cigarette butts on the floor so the ladies don’t burn their feet.”
Copland was inspired by this visit and wrote the El Salon Mexico from a variety of Mexican folk songs. He spoke of his visit “My thoughts kept returning to the dance hall…the spirit of the place…I felt a live contact with Mexican people, their humanity, their shyness, their dignity and their unique charm.”
As you listen and perform Copeland’s El Salon Mexico, imagine, sitting at a table in a 1930’s Mexican dance hall, surrounded by people from all walks of life having a great time. Visualize the vibrant colors of the citizens, moving to the festive sounds of folk songs known throughout the region.