Oh noes, the performance of John Williams’ Shaker… More »
Judging by the way our traffic cratered between 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. today, most of you probably saw the above clip of Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill, Gabriela Montero, and the super-cheerful Yo-Yo Ma performing at the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama. The piece they performed, Star Wars composer John Williams’ “Air And Simple Gifts,” used as part of its foundation the melody to “Simple Gifts,” a 19th-century Shaker hymn that was used by American composer Aaron Copland in his 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring. As it turns out, Williams’ homage not only sounded pretty, it served to avenge some red-baiting that kept Copland off a pre-inaugural bill many years ago.
I admit it: I have a bias against literary novelists who write about music. It has to do with my appetite for immediacy. That’s what I like about pop, and pop writing, and it’s not a tendency always shared by literary fiction writers. So I see detailed explanations of milieu that I take for granted and I grow impatient. Obviously, this is my fault, but sometimes it’s the writers’ too. Once I showed a friend a piece a long music essay, by a well-known author, that seemed to spend its first page clearing its own throat. My friend summed up my response with hers: “Trying. Too. Hard.”
So it’s nice to have this bias knocked over, as happened with Hang the DJ: An Alternative Book of Music Lists (Faber & Faber), edited by Angus Cargill. I hadn’t known about the book before Simon Reynolds, who contributed two lists (“Deserving But Denied: Thirty-three No. 2s That Should Have Been No.1” and “The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Great Artists Who Are Terrible Influences”), mentioned the book’s blog on his own. I hadn’t looked beyond a couple of names before my copy arrived; I wanted to be surprised.