Friday, July 3, 2009

Subdued patriotism

Since last Sunday was Christmas in July, you can figure out where we are in the Creed and discover that "4th of July Sunday" is also the Sunday on which we will consider the crucifixion. That created quite a conflict in the musical programming at first.

Then I began to think that our country's mood has been more subdued and introspective, though hopeful. We face enormous struggles - economic and military, political and social. We've been mourning the deaths of a number of celebrities lately. Perhaps this is not the year for bombastic marches.

Instead, I've turned to the music of Aaron Copland for the preludes. First, an arrangement of the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts." The song has always been a reminder of the important things in life, the simple joys: family and friends in particular.

I will also be playing Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" during the prelude. It's one of his more famous pieces, having been co-opted by Olympic television coverage, movies like "Saving Private Ryan," and dozens of other uses outside the concert hall. Its origin was World War II, when Copland was commissioned to write a presumably militaristic fanfare and instead delivered a solemn paean to the everyday soldier. Copland turned the typical concept of a fanfare upside down - no longer does it convey just pomposity and triumphalism; instead it carries notes of sacrifice and determination. I think it matches our country's mood today, and it also conveys the very heart of Christianity, that a humble cross can serve as a symbol of triumph over sin and death.

On a much lighter note, the postlude is a work by PDQ Bach, officially titled "Toccata on an American Hymn for the first Sunday after the 4th day of the 7th month after the New Year." PDQ Bach is a pseudonym for the musical satirist Peter Schickele, and the title of this piece alone makes me laugh as it gently mocks our "Sundays after Pentecost." He takes a simple tune that everyone will recognize and puts it in the pedal line beneath a more traditional-sounding organ toccata in the manuals. I hope you listen for well-known song and it makes you smile on this patriotic weekend.

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