I recently heard a bit of music that brought to mind vivid images of our majestic land.
The piece was written by Aaron Copland, credited as the “Dean of American composers.” Copland was born in 1900 in Brooklyn, the fifth child of emigrant Jewish parents who originated from Lithuania. Copland incorporated the classical music of the Old World and established the seeds of the New World (America) that future generations continue to recognize as a reflection of Americana.
The simplicity of his music belies its complexity. In “Rodeo” and “Billy the Kid,” his music paints the American Southwest giving the listener images of red rocky crags and sunbaked spires jutting from desert sands. His “Appalachian Spring” does the same for the majestic beauty of the Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains. I suspect anyone hearing just a few bars of any of these pieces would instantly feel the love of country at the root of Copland’s music.
In the seconds it took for these images and thoughts to coalesce, it struck me how his music reflects our society as well as the American landscape.
To perform Copland’s compositions, an orchestra must be well practiced, as his simple style will magnify any mistake. Each member must continually strive to do their best so the piece will be pleasing to all ears. The timing must be precise or the different instruments fight against each other, assaulting our senses. Coupled with the diversity of instruments, the strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, a perfect union of sounds painting Copland’s majestic landscapes is formed.
Today we have instruments no longer playing the American song. Instead, an intentional introduction of discordant noise has occurred. By attempting to change the music, some attack highly skilled musicians as elitist and claim the music offends them. They push for laws to silence the music and replace it with discordant noise.
These pockets of disharmony and sour noise label any who yearn for the real song as traitors, liberals, socialists, and are not “true” Americans. They even object to those that created our American song – diverse willing immigrants and enslaved peoples who built this country.
Finding ourselves where their noise drowns the song, we have our fingers in our ears, while the real agenda takes hold. The noise is a distraction to keep us from seeing the drain of public tax dollars to the rich and connected.
These conductors erode public trust in government, public education, and public health. They undermine science, research, the arts, and even math. They push censorship against any competing idea, while using their base to scream about a loss of rights. They declare they have the “correct” rights and can force others to their will, thus undermining the very fabric of democracy. They curry favor with despots that favor them with untraceable funds filtered through shadow organizations. They use lies to stir their followers into frenzies and have them attack the institutions of democracy.
To progress, we must work together, just as an orchestra plays together. Differences are real and cannot be ignored or forgotten; but with good will, an understanding of democratic principles of shared power, while respecting our differences, we can have robust and civil debates. That is, after all, the foundation of a democratic society.
We are neighbors, not enemies. Yes, democracy is messy and hard to maintain. But, we must all work to see beyond ourselves, seek truth and not be distracted by noise designed to deepen divisions within our society.
We should strive to make our music the best we can, by electing the most qualified “conductors” for our government and assuring they know we are watching.
If elected officials, the conductors of America’s music, can’t keep time, or try to cut out entire sections of the orchestra by denying some players the right to vote, then we must fire them.
We must elect officials who understand that America’s music has been built by many diverse instruments working together to create one beautiful and powerful song, moving us ever closer to fulfilling America’s aspirational motto — E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many, One.
Perry Ogletree is a retired Chief of IT with a Federal agency and lifelong Democrat.