Posts Tagged ‘Tom Turkey’

Thanksgiving, Aaron Copeland and a poem….

November 30, 2013
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

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2012

A Tom Turkey walking into Thanksgiving


My father was a tender man. He came back from WWII, from the Pacific Rim, probably shell shocked, certainly a pacifist.

It was somewhere in the 50′s. My parents had bought their dream house: a very old, and badly- needing- restoration pre-Revolutionary War house. My father, along with my 9 months pregnant mother, moved into this house and began the necessary restoration. I remember my brother and I were bedded down in what was to be the dining room.

Both my parents were biting off probably more than they could chew with this property. There were two barns, a few sheds, and lo and behold! An outhouse. That was the toilet…the only toilet.

My mother, being city bred, and also so heavily pregnant, refused to use that black walnut-built two seater outhouse, and since it was already winter, who could blame her? My father worked nights putting in a proper bathroom, and peace reigned again. Sort of.

(Black walnut is beautiful wood, and since they were surrounded with acres of it, that particular wood was used for just about everything, including the beautiful curving banister in the front hall. My father also tore apart the outhouse and used some of the wood in constructing a cabinet under the back staircase, accessible from the kitchen. It was a great place for us to play hide and seek as children.)

Thanksgiving was coming one year, and my father decided he would buy a live turkey, fatten it up and slaughter it for the day. I vaguely remember going with him one night, when it was already dark and cold, and what I remember was a very large, dark room, lit by a bare bulb hardly casting light on the proceedings. If I remember correctly, it probably was a poultry farm somewhere in Middlesex County, probably in Millstone. Back in the 50′s and 60′s, five miles from Princeton, all of this area was farm country. Very old, English, Scottish then Dutch countryside with huge acreage of farms, dairy and grains.

So my father brings home a live turkey, and with two kids and a toddler, he thinks he is going to make “Tom” dinner.
My father soon realized his now-country- bred children had made friends with Tom and the idea of eating a friend, well, this wasn’t on the menu for us kids.

My mother wasn’t about to pluck or clean a turkey. She was a nurse and ballet dancer and hadn’t education in this. She didn’t like to even touch fish to be cooked.

So Tom went to Ham MacDonald in Rocky Hill. He had 12 children and I am sure Tom served the purpose he was bred for very nicely there.
My father went to his friend in Millstone, Chester, who was a butcher, and got a goose. I think he decided on goose because of the quick disappearance of Tom and he knew any turkey carcass showing up on a plate would have been suspect.

So that Thanksgiving we had goose, which was rather strange because Thanksgiving wasn’t called “Goose Day”.

My father was a tender man. Perhaps WWII and the times made him tender. Perhaps having children made him see life through our eyes. Some men become harder faced with life. I think it was because of his nature. He practiced compassion, even to the sensitivities of children.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2011, 2012

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