Before his music became identified with the Olympics, or with an ad campaign for beef, I love Aaron Copland. Before I could listen to it and not have to block out the voice of Bob Costas, or the image of a branding iron searing a steak, I used to lie on the floor of my parents living room with headphones on and eyes closed, and listen to Fanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo. Even then I’d get a lump in my throat. Even then I could appreciate how beautiful it was, and how gifted Copland was… and how fortunate I was that he wrote any of it.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I can’t listen to some music like a “normal” person. I always have to attach emotion to it. I always have to feel it. It’s wonderful in a way, and awful in others. I always wind up enjoying the music, but not before spoiling it with a bit of a bawl. But, what happens when I listen to music that I love is that I wonder how the composer must have felt when he wrote it. Some composers, at least on paper, seem so cerebral to me. But even the most cerebral of those have to have felt something as they wrote their pieces. This brings me back full circle to Aaron Copland. How was he able to capture this feeling of America that I identify with, that I craved to find? I’m jealous of him for it. It goes beyond the pervasive cowboy on his horse. It brings the mountains to life. It encapsulates the sky and the plains. It makes you feel the spirit of this land. It does so, to me, not in the way of Gershwin’s (beautiful, inspiring) machinery and modern age. Copland does so through simplicity and grandiose, broad strokes.
Last month I was lucky enough to finally see the West as I had imagined when listening to the music of Copland. I fulfilled one of the dreams of my life, to see the Grand Canyon and the desert around it. And as I rounded the last bend on the Hualapai Nation road that took me the west rim, and as the Canyon unfolded before me after one final turn through a smaller one, I heard the timpani of the opening movement of Fanfare for the Common Man in my head and in my heart. And I cried.