The difficulty of defining an “American” sound

Posted on: January 28, 2013

Friday (1/25) on the Drexel University blog The Smart Set, Mary Snydor writes, “What qualifies something as ‘American’? … At just a few decades over 200 years old, we haven’t had nearly enough time to establish the same artistic legacy as the rest of the world. … There’s no doubt that when we listen to George Gershwin and Aaron Copland there’s something more to their music, stylistically, than the traditional sound of ‘classical.’ They are very distinctly American classical. What is behind this sound? Gershwin is famous for sampling jazz, even working it into his opera Porgy and Bess, but not every American composer or composition samples jazz and blues. Could it be an American reliance on our brass, wind, and percussion section? These are the driving forces behind much of Copland’s Rodeo and Fanfare for the Common Man. Then how do we explain Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings? … The choral composer, William Billings, was one of the earliest American composers; he even came before the romantic period, working in the late half of the 18th century. Thus, his America style cannot be attributed to his period or the incorporation of other genres like jazz. Billings’ psalms, composed in colonial New England, are still popular today.”

Posted January 28, 2013