The Corner

Music

Groovin’ to America

George Gershwin (Bain Collection / Library of Congress)

My new episode of Music for a While offers an all-American program, in honor of Independence Day. As I say in my introduction, we don’t need the excuse of the Fourth to have American music — but it’s a sweet excuse all the same.

The program begins with “Hoe-Down,” from Copland’s ballet Rodeo. A lot of Americans got to know “Hoe-Down” in the 1990s when the American beef industry used it in a series of television ads, narrated by Robert Mitchum. (“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”)

Then I have a little piano piece by Edward MacDowell — not “To a Wild Rose” but another of his Woodland Sketches, “By a Meadow Brook.” The rose has been overshadowing the other sketches for a long time. It’s time for them to enjoy a moment in the sun.

I have a song by Amy Beach, one of her Three Browning Songs, “Ah, Love, but a Day.” And another song by my old friend Lee Hoiby: “Lady of the Harbor,” written in the mid 1980s to honor the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

Another friend, Scott Wheeler, has written a rag — yes, a new rag, in 2020. It’s called “Isolation Rag,” with the “isolation” referring to these strange months we have been experiencing. (And let’s hope the months don’t turn into years. Mark Helprin reminded me recently that people used to speak of “the plague years.”)

In addition to Scott’s rag, I have some bluegrass: bluegrass courtesy of Edgar Meyer and a few of his friends, who include Joshua Bell, the violinist. Then an opera aria: “Ain’t It a Pretty Night?” from Susannah (Carlisle Floyd).

There’s Gershwin, of course. That’d be his Piano Prelude No. 2 in C-sharp minor, though arranged (for violin and piano) by Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz arranged all three preludes and recorded them in 1945 with Emmanuel Bay, his regular pianist.

Heifetz was a very patriotic American. He flew the Stars and Stripes outside his home every day. He must have been very glad to be out of the Soviet Union — and in Southern California.

Music for a While ends with “Plenty Good Room,” the spiritual, in a jazz arrangement: Barbara Hendricks is the singer (delicious) and Dmitri Alexeev the pianist (fabulous).

So, this is just a little menu, out of many possible menus. (I’ve been doing Fourth of July programs for years now.) Again, find it here — and Happy Independence Day.

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