Listening Week 8: America's Orchestra Celebrates America!
Pops at home: Listening Week 8: America's Orchestra Celebrates America!
Great Performances from The Boston Pops, selected by Director of Artistic Planning, Dennis Alves.
Over the next eight weeks, we’ll share some favorite Boston Pops Orchestra recordings, conducted by the orchestra’s three most recent (and most famous) conductors: Arthur Fiedler, John Williams, and Keith Lockhart. We’re grateful to have the opportunity bring you joy with weekly musical treats during these unprecedented times.
America's Orchestra Celebrates America!
The Boston Pops sincerely thanks Richard and Nancy Heath, Sidney and Deanna Wolk, and an anonymous donor whose gifts supported the Boston Pops’ Student Conductor Program. Support of emerging artists is foundational to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and we look forward to a time when we are able to once again make music with the students of Boston Arts Academy, BYSO’s Intensive Community Program, and Muniz Academy.
New arrangements and works for the Boston Pops are generously supported by the Cecile Higginson Murphy Pops Programming Fund.
“And crown thy good, with Brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
When you read the above phrase, chances are the strains of America the Beautiful played in your mind, proof that our love of musical expression and patriotic sentiment finds its ideal intersection in the glorious body of musical works by great American composers. It is the Pops’ annual appearance on our nation’s birthday, seen annually by hundreds of thousands live at the Charles River Esplanade and millions nationwide on television, that really cements our hold on the title of “America’s Orchestra.” Here are some favorites, from The Stars and Stripes Forever, to America the Beautiful, Lift Every Voice and Sing, to newer, Pops-commissioned works, like Flaherty and Ahrens’ moving With Voices Raised.
A few stories:
After the half-dozen most popular marches of John Philip Sousa, Edwin E. Bagley’s National Emblem is one of the best-loved of all American marches. Bagley enjoyed a modest career as a euphonium and trombone player in professional bands and later as a school bandmaster in New Hampshire. He remains known for this march, which he named because the first tune is derived from the opening phrase of The Star-Spangled Banner.
Unlike Francis Scott Key and John Stafford Smith’s words and music for The Star-Spangled Banner composed decades apart, the collaboration of Al Jacobs and Don Raye was somewhat premeditated. Both were well-established song writers before they ran into each other in 1940. Jacobs told Raye he was writing a patriotic song and asked if would he like to write the music. The results, This is My Country, has since been recorded countless times.
It’s hard to imagine that God Bless America was written for a summer camp comedy revue by thirty year-old Irving Berlin in 1918. Deemed too serious, Berlin shelved it until 1938 when, wanting to write a peace song, he revised it to better reflect the more somber mood of the country at the time. It has been America's unofficial national anthem ever since.
At the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1986, the Boston Pops premiered Liberty Fanfare, written by its then conductor, and now Laureate Conductor, John Williams. It too has been etched into our patriotic psyche as it perfectly embodies, like the Statue of Liberty itself, feelings of noble pride, remembrance, and spirit.
A staple of the Boston Pops repertoire since 1974, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy was actually composed before World War II, but became a wartime favorite thanks to the Andrews Sisters. The melody is again by Don Raye, this time with collaborator Hughie Prince.
Woody Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land in 1940, inspired by (and in contrast to) lrving Berlin's God Bless America. Guthrie recorded it in 1940 and it was released in 1944. Though its lyrics have gone through countless revisions and parodies, its simple melody is eminently singable, as millions of Americans can attest. Woody's son Arlo, gives us his own special rendition for this CD.
Lift Every Voice and Sing was first written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, and then set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson, for a 1900 Lincoln’s Birthday commemoration, and sung by a children’s choir in Jacksonville, FL. James Weldon Johnson was a Harlem Renaissance writer, educator, activist, diplomat and NAACP leader in the 1920s, and the first African-American professor hired by New York University in 1934. Trained at the New England Conservatory, J. Rosamond Johnson was a well-known vaudeville, ragtime and Broadway composer and music director, as well as educator and music editor. This, their best-known song, is frequently referred to as “The Black National Anthem”.
With Voices Raised was commissioned by Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops in 1999, with music by Stephen Flaherty and text by Lynn Ahrens, with orchestration by William David Brohn (Tony-winning creators of the musical Ragtime). Written for orchestra, multiple choruses, speaker and singer, it honors American who have raised their voices in the cause of freedom, justice, and equal rights.
America the Beautiful was inspired by a train journey. Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, wrote the words in 1893 describing all the sights she had seen on a train trip to Colorado Springs, Like The Star Spangled Banner, it was paired with a preexisting melody, Materna, composed by Samuel Howe in 1904.
Archival images courtesy BSO Archives