Celebrating the Music of America
As with so much of our nation’s culture, America’s musical traditions grew from a diverse mix of influences brought by the many people who came to this country.
5 Important Composers Who Helped Shape American Music
1. Elmer Bernstein
Elmer Bernstein wrote the music for countless films, including classics like The Magnificent Seven and To Kill a Mockingbird, comedies like Ghostbusters and National Lampoon’s Animal House, and even the orchestral segments for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. He composed the National Geographic Fanfare in 1966 as a theme song for the National Geographic Society’s television specials. Almost everyone will recognize the music within the first five notes, but we doubt you’ve ever heard the piece in its entirety!
2. William Grant Still
William Grant Still was the first Black musician to achieve true success as classical composer in the United States. Although he was from Arkansas, Still had a strong connection to Los Angeles and Southern California. When he was asked to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936, it was the first time a Black man had conducted a major American orchestra.
The Redlands Symphony is proud of its own connection to William Grant Still. In 1957, we premiered The Little Song That Wanted To Be a Symphony, a work commissioned from the composer as part of the Symphony’s education programming.
Miss Sally’s Party was a 1940 ballet, to a libretto by Still’s wife, Verna Arvey. The ballet’s story was simple but charming — several party guests are competing in a cakewalk competition, and mischievous children pull a few pranks. The score is filled with references to popular music idioms, including a cakewalk (of course), waltzes, and square dances.
3. John Adams
It’s generally accepted that John Adams is the most-performed living American classical composer. His Saxophone Concerto, which will be performed by the amazing Patrick Posey, is an homage to the virtuosity of John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, Gil Evans, and other jazz greats, filtered through Adams’ own unique voice.
4. Joan Tower
We’re all familiar with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (and the Redlands Symphony has performed it several times). Joan Tower found inspiration in this classic title when she composed her Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. This piece is actually six fanfares, played in succession. Each fanfare was written in tribute to a different woman who influenced Tower’s life, including conductors Marin Alsop and JoAnn Falletta and ASCAP executive Frances Richard.
5. Aaron Copland
Agnes de Mille was one of America’s most influential choreographers — she choreographed Brigadoon and Oklahoma! But before those Broadway successes, she and Aaron Copland created a “cowboy ballet”: Rodeo. Filled with hoedowns, square dances, and the classic nobility typical of Copland’s music during this period, the Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo have become one of his most popular pieces. (Those of us with memories of the 1990s will have difficulty separating the “Hoedown” from the memorable “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” commercials that it accompanied for so long!)
Join us at our Season Opener on October 15 and hear music by all five of these Great American Composers!