Patriotic Pride: Celebrating Aaron Copland, The Gay “Dean Of American Composers”


The summertime months offer innumerable outdoor concerts to celebrate America (is it great again?) with charming picnic baskets dangling from crooked arms. These musical events vary: Fireworks Spectacular with Pentatonix, John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” under the stars, and many small-town bandshell performances throughout the US of A providing “God Bless America” sing-along opportunities, perhaps followed by Blasphemous Rumours, a Depeche Mode tribute band.

However, nothing yells AMERICA more profoundly than the music of Aaron Copland. Known as the “Dean of American composers,” Copland was born in 1900 in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish Lithuanian immigrants. The brainy young Aaron’s first exposure to music was at Jewish weddings and ceremonies, and he started writing songs at age eight. Eventually his genius expanded to fuse modern music with the melting pot of American folk music, inspired by the nation’s landscape and spirit. Perhaps Copland is most famously known for scoring the Agnes de Mille-choreographed ballet Rodeo, because of its segment “Hoe-Down” used most recently for the “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” TV commercial. Labeled as the quintessential American composer by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Copland also won an Academy Award for his score of the 1949 film The Heiress.

Though he never joined a political party, Copland maintained progressive views throughout his life, and remained a broad-minded agnostic in contrast to his Conservative Jewish upbringing. (Ain’t that America, John Cougar Mellencamp?) As with many fastidious, prolific artists, he guarded his privacy, especially the aspect of his homosexuality, though Copland openly lived and traveled with his companions.

The Hollywood Bowl will host the LA Phil performing two Copland compositions—Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait—on July 13 and July 18 this summer of 2017. The Aaron Copland House (a National Historic Landmark), in Mt. Kisco, NY, has an informative calendar of events for the 2017-2018 season, involving the works of Copland and others.

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