Musical Inauguration Thoughts

 A big, big day in DC means some primo exposure for a select few musicians.  Most of it worked, and somemissed the mark.

For a wind player, a common aspiration is to win an audition into a Washington DC-based military band.  These are called the "Premiere Bands," and offer very healthy paychecks and benefits, new shiny instruments, a cool outfit, global touring, no chance of combat service, and a hefty military pension.  The downside is playing more Sousa marches than you can possibly imagine.  That's a downside, until of course, Inauguration Day rolls around.  If you make it into the Marine Band (commonly called "The President's Own"), then you get a front and center seat to watch history unfold, and suddenly all those Sousa marches make sense (or...cents...?  zing!).  So as I drooled over the super-coolness of what it would be like to play for a Presidential Inauguration today, I was paying close attention to the music surrounding the ceremony.  Here are some thoughts:

1. Herald trumpets are bad enough to try to play in tune, let alone when you've been standing (and not playing) in 27 degrees for hours on end.  Boy did the fanfares sound bad today--but let's cut those guys some slack.  I know they're all great muscians, and they had the cards stacked against them (not unlike starting your Presidency with two wars and Depression, Part Deux).

2. Can someone explain why we heard a march from Vaughan Williams' "Folk Song Suite" while the Obama girls were arriving on the podium?  He's a Brit!  We're the colonies, Marine Band!  Let's play our music for the President's kids at least!  (Not that Vaughan Williams is bad, but still: I'm just saying)

3. Aretha Franklin should be named the Secretary of Soul.  For life. 

4. I'm sorry, but the new piece by John Williams, "Air and Simple Gifts" was incredibly disappointing.  We had an opportunity to present a stunning piece of chamber music, and we got this: 

I love John Williams, don't get me wrong.  I love him for Star Wars, the Olympics, and the Fourth of July.  But this was boring, unoriginal, and unrepresentative of the power of American classical music composers (John Adams?  Christopher Theofanidis?  Libby Larsen?  David del Tredici?  Richard Danielpour?).  This is not to say that the artistry on display from the members of the star-studded quartet was not superior, because it was.  But with a global stage and probably a billion people watching/listening, could we not have gotten something a little more, I don't know, special?  This struck me as a quickly-written composition without much substance.  But I am hopeful that it may represent an open mind about support for the arts in the new administration.

5.  Being in the Marine Band would still be--I think--the coolest job in the world.



Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts"

Sorry Chris, but I have to disagree with your comments on Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts."  I thought it was a brilliant and pointed comment on where we are, and where we can go.  First, the piece was written for a very general public - so I think they wanted something familiar-sounding to the masses.  Then, it followed in the theme of freedom, change, and hope for the future. 

The air set a somber tone of the country's current state.  Then, the singular voice of the clarinet stepped up to introduce "'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be."  The quartet then vigorously developed that theme, taking us to the final phrase..."'Til by turning, turning, we come round right."

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right.

So ultimately, I think this piece is a significant statement of Obama's goal for change in this country, and focusing on the simple things like freedom, and turning things around to where we will end up in that "right" place. 

Just another interpretation and viewpoint on how we all hear things differently.


re: "Air and Simple Gifts"

Absolutely no need to be sorry, Ruth!  Your points are spot on, and I'm certain that was what Williams was going for.  I also read that Copland is a favorite composer of Obama's, which likely had an impact on the piece.  Nonetheless, I heard the piece as a repackaging of something we've all heard before, and it still struck me as profoundly unoriginal, albeit it distincly Williams-esque.  I realize it was intended for a broad audience (although Rush Limbaugh called "the classical music a total downer"), but for me it did not inspire, merely induce a shrug.  That is not to say that I concur with Rush!

 Chris Van Hof

WXXI-FM Afternoon Host

Also a multi-genre Trombonist


i agree that we all hear

i agree that we all hear things differently and isn't it great that we are all free to be open and honest with our opinion? being able to say what we really feel is one of the 'gifts' we are lucky to have in this country. i was dissapointed too. thought the (canned, as we now know) performance was on the boring side. terry teachout went so far as to say it wasn't "any good at all." in retrospect, the idea of playing simple gifts with such a busy turbulent passage in the middle was maybe the point. our liberty isn't so simple.