Nickel for Your Thoughts: An All American Program

Program Spotlight, Nickel for Your ThoughtsLeave a Comment

In his own words, Vice President & Artistic Administrator Tony Nickle shares what he believes to be the high points of the program, “Appalachian Spring,” but with a little edge and humor for good measure. 

An All-American Program

“…embracing the wonderfully unique aspects that give people a sense of common identity.

It’s been a shocking and tragic week on the international stage. My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine. As I think about this week’s all-American program, it inspires me to think of this program of amazing music not as nationalistic, but as embracing the wonderfully unique aspects that give people a sense of common identity. Elements of cultural identity have been embedded in food, art, dance and music for millennia, and there is deep beauty in that expression. 

Appalachian Spring, Aaron Copland

“…expressions that resonated deeply with its American audience.

Our program begins with perhaps the most famous of all classical American pieces, Appalachian Spring. Copland wrote it at a time when he was compelled to move away from his avant-garde roots, inspired by his earlier studies in Europe, toward a style that captured the American spirit, and capture it he did. It was conceived in the 1940s as music for a Martha Graham ballet about an early-19th-century newlywed couple living on a small farm in Pennsylvania. While not the first composer from the U.S. to explore a distinctly American sound in classical music, Copland was most influential in codifying it through spacious harmonies and folk-like melodies. Appalachian Spring’s most iconic American musical device is the melody from the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” which Copland weaves into the piece again and again in a powerful variety of expressions that resonated deeply with its American audience. 

Symphony No. 1, Florence Price

While in America writing his “New World Symphony” in the late 1800s, Antonín Dvořák famously asserted that American composers should embrace musical identities that were unique to the country and culture, especially finding inspiration in African-American idioms such as hymns and spirituals. For a variety of reasons, this did not really get a foothold, and the European tradition and sensibility continued to dominate among composers in the States. In the early 20th century the budding genre of Jazz very successfully integrated European and African-American musical traditions, but still it wasn’t fully embraced in the American classical tradition. Composer Florence Price, educated in the European tradition at the New England Conservatory of Music, bucked this trend and incorporated the vibrant rhythmic elements from African-American hymns and spirituals. This makes her First Symphony the perfect pair with Appalachian Spring, each embodying a spirit that is so quintessentially American.

The Block, Carlos Simon

Sandwiched between these two works is short but powerful piece by the young American composer Carlos Simon. Carlos is currently Composer-in-Residence at the Kennedy Center, and our performance of The Block represents his Jacksonville Symphony debut. The piece is a musical study on artwork by 20th-century American artist Romare Beardon, whose artwork captured the African-American culture in various settings. Simon composed The Block as a sound painting that captured the “rich energy and joyous scenery that Harlem (where Beardon spent most of his life) expressed as it was a hotbed of African-American culture.” It’s a sizzling piece with driving percussion and colorful brass at its core. 

A Truly American Program

“…a spirit that is so quintessentially American.

It’s a program filled with sounds that are so deeply familiar to Americans, and I hope that among the beauty, spaciousness, and joyous rhythms we are all able to focus on that which we share and connects us together. I hope to experience this with you all this weekend in Jacoby Symphony Hall. 

Learn More & Watch Live

To learn more about this program, “Appalachian Spring,” featuring an all-american program, be sure to read the full program notes. Interested in watching live? Tickets are still available to purchase on the Appalachian Spring event page for Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March5, at 7:30 PM.


By Tony Nickle, Vice President & Artistic Administrator

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