Beautiful Ohio: from pop song to official state song

Beautiful Ohio cover



Ohio’s state song, “Beautiful Ohio,” began life as a popular song. It’s not one of the songs whose popularity has lasted for several generations. It is now as obscure as most state songs. It has a strange story, but where did the idea of an official state song come from, anyway? American song writers have chosen cities as subject matter at least since 1831, when J. A. Gairdner composed and published “New York, O! What a Charming City.” I have no idea what might be the first song about a state, but Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” appeared well … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Carol of the Bells

Christmas carols



Peter Wilhousky, a distinguished American choral conductor, music educator, and arranger, wrote the words to “Carol of the Bells” and published his arrangement of the piece in 1936. The tune has a much longer history. It was originally a Ukrainian folksong. And it had nothing to do with Christmas. In 1916, a Ukrainian choral director named Oleksander Koshetz commissioned local composer Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovych to provide a new choral piece based on folk music. Leontovych looked through an anthology of Ukrainian folk music and selected a four-note tune with lyrics to a song of well-wishing, traditionally sung at New Year’s. … Continue reading

Rodeo, by Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland, Agnes de Mille, Rodeo



Rodeo: The Courting at Burnt Ranch launched the ballet career of Agnes de Mille in 1942. It remains one of only three of de Mille’s ballets that remain in the repertoire. The greatness and popularity of Aaron Copland’s score for the ballet deserves at least some of the credit, but it almost didn’t get written at all. When de Mille spoke to Copland about the basic theme of the ballet, he responded that he had already written a western ballet (Billy the Kid, 1938). Why should he write another one? Why couldn’t she provide him with something about Ellis Island? … Continue reading

Juan Tizol, Ellington’s valve trombonist

Juan Tizol, Ellington valve trombone



Of all the people who populated the trombone sections of professional big bands in the swing era, not many played valve trombone. Not many became famous, either, unless they became known as soloists or band leaders. Puerto Rican Juan Tizol was one of the few in both categories. Most municipalities in Puerto Rico offered musical instruction, and produced many excellent musicians in the process. Jazz bands and theater bands that catered primarily to African American audiences began to recruit them in large numbers beginning before World War I. Tizol first arrived in New York in 1917, but returned home, overwhelmed … Continue reading

Olympic fanfare(s): John Williams and Leo Arnaud

John Williams



With the Olympics in progress, and snippets of John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare and Theme heard constantly, it seems good to take a closer look at this piece–especially since Williams’ 80th birthday is this month. I had intended to say something about Williams’ life and career in this post, but that will have to wait for another time. One of Williams’ challenges in composing Olympic Fanfare and Theme was writing music that could bear comparison with a 20-year-old theme that was already synonymous with the Olympics. Another favorite Olympic theme Ever since the modern Olympics began in 1896, music has been … Continue reading

Summer concerts with movie music

movie music, orchestra concerts



Summer time, and orchestra concerts become less formal. Band concerts, too. Here in Greensboro, City Arts sponsors a series called Music for a Sunday Evening in the Park (MUSEP). Even though the Fourth of July was on Wednesday this year, music by the Greensboro Concert Band at the fireworks was part of the MUSEP series. That, my own orchestra’s upcoming concert, and the outdoor concert by the Eastern Music Festival’s student orchestras got me thinking about movie music. A brief glance at history The concept of “classical” music didn’t exist until the nineteenth century. Neither did the concept of a … Continue reading

Kid Ory and the tailgate style of playing trombone

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Born Edouard Ory on Christmas day 1886 near New Orleans, the future jazz great would have been classified “octaroon” before the Civil War. His father was white, of French ancestry. That explains the French spelling of his name on his baptismal certificate. His mother was the daughter of a Hispanic and an African American, so he had one black grandparent. Under racial segregation, however, he was simply regarded as black and educated in the local black school through fifth grade Ory’s early career He was born and raised on Woodland Plantation in LaPlace, Louisiana and began his musical career playing … Continue reading

Carousel: June Is Bustin’ Out All Over, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Carousel soundtrack cover



As a kid who hated snow from the first time he held a snow shovel in his hands, I immediately loved “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” when I first heard it. It’s an exuberant welcome to the beginning of summer, a fulfillment of the promise that May only started to keep. The song was first introduced as a rousing production number in Carousel, the second stage collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Their first, Oklahoma, had been so successful that they could simply assume that their next project could not measure up. So how did they go … Continue reading

Warsaw Concerto, by Richard Addinsell

Anton Walbrook at the piano in Dangerous Moonlight



Music has been associated with theater for centuries. So it’s no wonder that movies needed music even before it became possible to add sound to them. Composers who wrote mostly concert music also began to compose film music–Aaron Copland, for example But every studio of any pretension has its own staff of composers and arrangers. With notable exceptions, these musicians labor in anonymity. If their names have ever become familiar to the public, their music has been seldom heard on the concert stage until fairly recently. How did Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto become such a well-known exception to the rule? … Continue reading

Now running on Broadway: musicals

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I grew up on musicals. My sibs and I used to sing selections from Broadway and Off-Broadway shows in the car when we were on trips. When we get together, we still sing the same songs. All of them have children, at least three of whom have had parts in high school productions of musicals. So those of us approaching codgerdom have learned plenty of new songs. In the years since learning all of those great musicals by Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Irving Berlin, and others, I have read so much about the death of the American musical … Continue reading