Monday, April 14, 2008

Appalachian Spring: A simple gift upon the passing of milestones

Creation Falls, Red River Gorge
Creation Falls, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest

Marie Reilly of Red Lion Reports recently passed a blogging milestone. So did Jurisdynamics and MoneyLaw. The occasion warrants a modest celebration, at the very point where Marie's world and mine — whether expressed in legal, geographic, or intellectual terms — intersect.

I begin with geography, which is arguably the easiest place to start. Between State College, Pennsylvania, and Louisville, Kentucky, lies the upstream portion of the Ohio River, short of its fall line here in Louisville. Significant cities, most prominently Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, lie along the riparian route. But travel instead by land, and the entire Appalachian Mountain chain opens itself as a possible meeting place between us. The geologic romance of Appalachian orogeny and the sheer beauty of places such as the Red River Gorge all but dictate the land route.

And there, in a mythical Pennsylvania village just west of the Appalachian plateau, music, dance, poetry, and inpiration meet. The music of the Shakers, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the poetry of Hart Crane made flesh and fluid motion by Martha Graham, the timeless beauty of the rainbow — everything comes together.

Read the rest of this post . . . .Listen closely. Talented young men and women from Kentucky are playing Aaron Copland's 1944 balletic masterpiece, Appalachian Spring. The climax of the orchestral suite is a medley of five Shaker melodies, most prominently "Simple Gifts," in celebration of the wedding of a farm couple in western Pennsylvania.

Martha Graham

National Public Radio, Milestones of the Millennium: Appalachian Spring (RealPlayer source file)
Copland, for his part, had no inkling that his ballet score would (in the words of an National Public Radio retrospective) "capture[] the essence of an ideal America, one of open fields and endless possibilities," and thereby "become one of the most inspiring and symbolic works of the [twentieth] century."

Copland composed the ballet score for Martha Graham and had no particular literary or geographic target in mind. Lacking a more elaborate title, Copland simply called it Ballet for Martha. Shortly before the premiere, Graham suggested the title Appalachian Spring, drawn from Hart Crane's epic poem, The Bridge:
O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!
As one critic has observed: "It is one of the minor oddities of history that this phrase had never before been encountered by the composer, for it describes the music so perfectly that one would naturally conclude it had driven the creation of the work instead of being appended only as an afterthought."

All that remains is to connect Appalachian Spring and the mountains (accidentally) evoked by that composition to the place where I owe Marie Reilly my greatest debt.

Janet Powell, Rainbow against darkened early evening sky in the Red River Gorge (2007)

Marie reminds me constantly to believe, especially when I am least inclined to do so. This is perhaps the simplest of gifts, but it is by no means the least:
12 This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
Genesis 9:12-16 (Revised Standard Version).


Blogger Kelly Joy said...

Dear Dean Chen,

What a gorgeous post! I have to share that I studied Graham technique for three years in the amazing Dramatic Arts department at Cal - at the time our teachers were former Graham Company dancers. I am absolutely thrilled to see her incorporated on Jurisdynamics in such a way. Her form of expression is incredible and never ceases to inspire me.

Thank you,

4/16/2008 5:20 PM  

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