Thanksgiving, Aaron Copeland and a poem….

A Tom Turkey walking into Thanksgiving

A Tom Turkey walking into Thanksgiving



In the hollow of winter twilight

The ground of the soul is darkened,

Silent, waiting,

A shallow breath will do.

Muted  grey

Floods earth and sky,

Black bare-armed trees,


Now softened in this sullen light,

 To clothe, us too, with longing.

True winter has begun

This season of scarcity, silence,

Survival never assured us,

The very thinness of air,

A sharp, searing bitter breath of air,

The inhaled pain alerts us to life.

No excited cries of birds,

No rumble of young  squirrels

Turning tree hollows into hide and seek.

Only faint tracks in the layered snow

Gives  evidence of life,

Small three-point, delicate prints

As if a creature bounded on tiptoe.

There is little left to do

In this darkened ground of  time

But rest before the fire

And fill the hollow of the season

With hope, patience and desire.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012


Thanksgiving, Aaron Copeland and a poem….

It is Thanksgiving, a particularly American holiday. There are harvest festivals the world around, but nothing quite like the combination of elements that go into the American Thanksgiving. I put on  Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring”, and something transforms in the heart.  It is an attitude of gratefulness for so many things. Looking outside to the huge oaks and pecans, I am comforted by the bounty of Nature.  I am part of that Nature. Again, music expands the soul.

It’s a beautiful, cold,  rain filled Autumn.  Copeland is perfect background music for the day’s activities.  Or evening. There is such a poignancy and tenderness in Copeland. It sets the heart and humours in the right direction to get on with the day.

This is a love letter to Aaron Copeland.  For those not familiar with our quintessential American composer, this entry isn’t going to help much, but a couple of cds of his will. 

I have always loved Copeland, but just like most people with a little bit of musical training, didn’t really know much about him or the genesis of his music.  I do now.

Nothing is better than his well-known “Appalachian Spring”, composed as a ballet in 1943 for Martha Graham.  This was Copeland’s third dance score, based on a pastoral about the 19th century American religious sect, called “Shakers”.  The name came from the poet, Hart Crane, another iconic American ‘composer’.  The Appalachians are in the middle South, mostly mountainous country.  Copeland composed full length hymns of his own, climaxing with the known Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts”.

Copeland’s music is very distinctive, and immediately the tonal, chordal qualities are recognizable.  At least to Americans who have grown up with his music.  I could recognize some of the compositional issues, this long, lyrical line, long bow, long breaths with the woodwinds, and the strings…a long, legato, strung together with such delicate phrasing.  Or so it seemed to me. 

I started to search around more for where Copeland’s music originated, because there is always a beginning to things, an influence, usually several or many influences, and in the arts, this is rather common.  I discovered that Copeland, while we think is American music at its best, well, the early influences are rather Germanic. One of his most influential teachers was Nadia Boulanger, who in particular emphasized ‘la grande ligne” (the long line).  This makes sense, and accounts for Copeland’s graceful lyricism.  But even more, he expressed this sense of forward motion, the feeling for inevitability, for creating an entire piece that had little seams…or none at all.

Copeland stated that ‘ideal music’ to him might combine Mozart’s spontaneity and refinement with Palestrina’s purity and Bach’s profundity.  There is more in his line, though, Copeland’s:  there is a regal elegance and an unforced dignity.  The expressive content is more formed on ‘feeling’ than technical points.  This is an amazing freedom of composition, and not usually so facile. 

Copeland spent a lot of the Depression in Europe, especially Paris.  This gave him a chance to explore American jazz divorced from America.  He said that listening to jazz in Austria was like hearing it for the first time.  But jazz, although quintessentially American, was limited for Copland. He used it in the 20’s and 20’s , then turned to Latin and American folk music in the 40’s. 

There are other influences you can pick up in Copeland, if you have enough of an ear…or have heard enough other music.  Stravinsky’s rhythm and vitality is obvious in much of Copeland’s works: jagged and uncouth rhythmic effects, bold use of dissonance, and a hard, dry crackling sonority.

I hear this last in his “Billy the Kid” based on the American gunfighter.  The gunfighter, the quick turns and changes like a paint pony on a dime…these are borrowed from Stravinsky.

But back to “Appalachian Spring”.  Prokofiev’s  fresh, clean-cut, legato line and articulate style is in there, too.

There is a powerhouse of American influence in the 20’s-50’s with Copeland, John Steinbeck, Virgil Thomson,  all composers and writers trying to express the fundamental American sight and sound.

Perhaps it’s easiest to think of Copeland for his optimistic tone, his poly rhythms, poly harmony that reflect the jumpy energy, the forward motion of the American life then, before we became couch potatoes. Even the silences are filled with purpose, expectation and expressiveness to come.  This forward motion again.

Copeland composed on a large canvas with a directness in sentiment, when a time where sentimental music was not pushed away, when it expressed the goodness in humankind and the future.

It will come as a surprise, that this classical “New England” composer, who wrote Western music and New England pastoral ballets was a New York Jew.  His father was Lithuanian, and changed his name from Kaplan.

Asked how a New York Jew could capture so well the Old West? Copland answered: “ It was just a feat of imagination.”

An imagination that expressed the enormous power and scope of a new and throbbing nation.

It’s all in there, a powerful landscape made into the intangible except to the heart.

The leitmotiv of a young nation.

This article is dedicated to my friend, Nick, for all the right reasons.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

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32 Responses to “Thanksgiving, Aaron Copeland and a poem….”

  1. Nick Nicholson Says:

    A wonderful poem and a wonderful article! Your description of Copeland’s music is incredibly evocative. And the poem beautifully captures the essence of winter. Thank you, Jane 🙂


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Nick! I hoped you would like that article.

    For those readers who don’t know of Nick Nicholson, …Nick and I are collaborating on “The Nightingale’s Song”….my poetry and Nick’s wonderful photos. Nick is also doing the cover. This is such a thrill to work with a long term friend who has vision and sensitivity. Nick is also a marvelous musician in his own right. A decade ago, Nick produced “Angel Factory” a collection of his own compositions. He sent me the cd a couple of Xmas’ ago, and I was enthralled. His music is as fine as his photography. This cd should be widely played, but Nick is by far, too modest a man to push his creativity. It is left to his friends to do this. Nick is from Canberra, Australia, and recently visited us in Atlanta. Needless to say, little sleep and a lot of fun.



  3. TR Says:

    I loved the poem and how you capture our entrance into winter; I love how in both the poem and in Copeland’s music you refer to silence an expression as well. Thank you for sharing his story.


  4. Caliban's Sister Says:

    Beautiful poem. And I agree that your description of Copeland is evocative, and gets to the heart of where and how his music hits us. Your love of winter, nature, all things creative, your embrace of change, fallow and vibrant, is always inspirational to me. love CS


  5. ladynyo Says:

    Hi CS! First, thank you for reading and your supportive comment. That article….LOL! I had forgotten it, but it still proves true…I love Copeland and he evokes the best of the American spirit to me.

    I found a book that I had given my husband back in 2002. He never read it, nor did I. Wow. “Kinship to Mastery”, Biophilia in Human Evolution and Development”…by Stephen R. Kellert.

    You know how we are drawn to a philosophy, etc. but don’t really know why? We just feel comfortable in the aspects, etc. Well, this book is an eye and heart opener. With chapters as “Nature as Metaphor”, and “Yearning for Kinship and Affection”, etc…all about our deep genetic involvment in biophilia…well, this is an eye opener. And this 19th century (or before..way before) belief that ‘the earth is made for our dominance’? Hah! This book is something many of us can embrace on that fundamentalist religious issue. “Diminishing Self, Nature and Society” is only one chapter that addresses all that jazz.

    If I had to choose why Winter, Nature, etc. is so evocative to me, and why it generally is the center of my ‘creativity'(as opposed to poets who write about themselves and their angst…)….I guess I could site this book as the reason…the rationale. Not that I have finished reading it, but I understand the importance more of this ecological position…we are very much part of the web of life and if we think we dominate??? Hah!
    In any case, thank you, dear CS, for reading and for your encouraging comments.



  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hi TR! Down with the flu here and slow on the button. Thank you so much for reading and your insightful comments. You nailed it: Copeland’s areas of silence, etc…are so much part of the stew of his music. He evokes and weaves a magic in his art.



  7. ladynyo Says:

    Copeland’s story is remarkable. It’s about the promise of a truly creative immigrant…and creativity that can’t be squashed because of so many social things. It rose above all that, and today? What better than Copeland to define musically our nation?

    Just my opinion, but there are many others, too….LOL! Come to think of it…



  8. TR Says:

    His story is remarkable and through all his obstacles his creativity came through. I think your creativity shines through and refuses to be squashed too. I love being able to see and read it.

    No worries on the time; I hope you feel better soon. Hugs, TR


  9. ladynyo Says:

    Yes, it is…remarkable. And thanks, TR…feel better today.

    Creativity is a slippery thing. It has to be used and pursued. And there are a lot of obstacles thrown up in the pursuit. By ourselves mostly, but also by outside elements…family first of all, but then we have to learn (over and over) how to pick our friends and influences. This is hard when we haven’t deepened boundaries, or in fact, which is so much the issue for many of us (females, especially) known that we could have boundaries. Comes with the N influence.

    Thanks, TR.

    Hugs, Jane


  10. brian miller Says:

    i hope you had a great thanksgiving…nice capture of the sparseness of the season…it is also one of anticipation and patience as you bring out there in the end…waiting has never been a strong suit for me but it is part of the cycle and even as nothing seems to be happening new growth is storing up energy, resting so it can burst forth come spring….well done j


  11. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) Says:

    Oh this picture of a winter’s day filled me with joy.. that is the kind of stillness one wish.. for… very calming to read.


  12. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! Bjorn…thank you for reading this poem. If you can’t excite, I guess the next best thing is to calm…and winter is a very calming season for me….I love the silence, the scarsity, the introspection and the monotone of color.

    Lady Nyo


  13. ladynyo Says:

    Thanks, Brian…we are of a same mind about the season, and about patience. LOL!

    thanks giving was good, quiet and …unremarkable…except for the Copeland on the cd player. LOL!

    Thanks for reading and your comment.



  14. M. J. Joachim Says:

    It’s a lovely poem, and your thoughts about American Thanksgiving are pretty much spot on. Ours was festive, busy and full of surprises – mainly for my brother who turned 50 on his visit this year. Hope yours was delightful too!


  15. Tony Maude Says:

    Winter is a time to reflect, to anticiapte and to prepare; to give thanks for the past, to get excited about the future and to make ready for what it will bring. Although I’mnot a fan of the long, dark nights, I love the pause that winter brings into the year with its sparcity.


  16. ladynyo Says:

    I am happy to know your thoughts about winter. I concur.

    Lady Nyo


  17. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Joachim…..congrats to your brother on his 50th!

    And thank yhou for reading and your comment. Ours was very quiet, with Copeland blaring from the background. So, not so quiet. LOL! But essential music for Thanksgiving…and the general season.

    Winter was usually the most creative season for me concerning poetry. I don’t about this year. There is always hope.



  18. Victoria C. Slotto Says:

    Poor Tom. He was delicious, though. And, Jane, you never have to apologize to me for not commenting back. I just read, enjoy it, and don’t keep score. The comment you left warmed my snow struck heart. Thank you.


  19. ladynyo Says:

    Well, you are a better poet, and probably woman, than I am. And I mean it, Victoria.

    I love your poetry and I will be around more. Like Laura Hegfield’s work, it fills my heart.



  20. ayala Says:

    Lovely capture and I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving .


  21. ladynyo Says:

    Did, Ayala, and I know you did, too!



  22. Katie (@PunkRockPoet84) Says:

    Very nice. Yeah, winter can be quite sad if you let it.


  23. ladynyo Says:

    Thanks for reading.



  24. CZ Says:

    To fully immerse myself in the pleasure of your words, I found Copland’s Appalachian Spring on YouTube and then I read your entire post again!

    You have enriched my life in so many ways. I am grateful for our friendship. (Hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving!) love, CZ


  25. ladynyo Says:

    Oh, shoot, CZ! You SAVED my life.

    I don’t think that I could have gotten through the last few years without your blog and our developing friendship. So much had happened….on the narcissist-front, that I felt lost. You were always there with your brilliant and compassionate support. I think there are many women out there that owe you so much…and not just emotionally.

    Both of us are impassioned women….at times in our lives, thwarted by issues, but we are beginning to trust ourselves…and listen to our gut. (though it gets bigger each season…lol!)

    I am so happy that you tapped into Appalachian Spring…marvelous music, CZ….as you have heard. I put it on in the fall because Copeland means so much of that to me….It’s called App. Spring, but I can’t imagine Autumn without Copeland’s Spring! LOL!

    That post was a stretch for me….I haven’t been involved in music for a decade or more. But these earlier loves can be enjoyed again. As you have shown in your blog essays….your love of a ‘very deep thing” as Sagan said…stretches out to us reading. We are the ones enriched.

    You have changed my life and so many others. And Thanksgiving was a very calm and placid day…with only ONE pie! LOL!

    Love, Jane


  26. Selma V. Dunlap Says:

    Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring , Billy the Kid and Rodeo , his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony . The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores.


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