A Lincoln Portrait

To celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, listen to Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait. Copland was commissioned in 1942 to create a composition to comfort a nation at war still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. Copland felt overwhelmed with the assignment. But then he came up with the idea to find comfort for the country in the words of the greatest U.S. President.

The composition uses excerpts from several of Lincoln’s speeches, along with original music that samples American folk songs from Lincoln’s time period, such as “Camptown Races” and “Springfield Mountain.”

For a 1943 program book of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Copland explained that the work is roughly in three sections.  First, he noted, “In the opening section I wanted to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality. Also, near the end of that section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit.”

Copland continued, “The quick middle section briefly sketches in the background of the times he lived in. This merges into the concluding section where my sole purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame about the words of Lincoln himself.”

In the following recording, Gregory Peck provides the voice of Lincoln.

The composition was not among Copland’s favorites according to a 1953 New York Times article. If I had to choose, I would choose his Appalalachain Spring, which is one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. But I still love A Lincoln Portrait. It is a fitting tribute to the sixteenth president of the United States.

Did you know that 2011 was the Civil War Sesquentennial, i.e., the 150th year since the start of the Civil War? On March 4, 2011, it was 150 years since Lincoln was sworn into office. What do you think? Leave a comment.

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    White Stripes Ending: I’m Lonely in Portland

    White Stripes – im Lonely But I Aint That Lonely Yet I‘m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet) – The White Stripes (press play)

    Last week, The White Stripes announced that the band “has officially ended and will make no further new recordings or perform live.” In the announcement, Meg White and Jack White noted that the end is not due to differences or to any health issues. The split is for many reasons, “but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.” They conclude with a warm thank you to the fans:

    “The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to. Thank you for sharing this experience. Your involvement will never be lost on us and we are truly grateful.”

    The news may not be that surprising to most people, as Jack White has been working on other projects for several years, including his work as part of the bands The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. But he was most identified with The White Stripes, and he and Meg even appeared on an episode of The Simpsons. On the other hand, considering that they were married when the band formed in 1997 (although they initially claimed they were brother and sister), and then divorced in 2000, in some ways it is amazing that they worked together for so long.

    I have a few albums by The White Stripes, and it always impressed me how they got such big sound with just two people. One of their quieter songs, though, is “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t that Lonely Yet)” off their Get Behind Me Satan CD. It is a beautiful song, simply about being lonely, missing people, and contemplating suicide. Although it is not as loud as many of their other songs, it is still powerful with Jack White’s voice singing over the piano.

    I also have a strong fondness for Jack White’s work outside the band. So I hope the news of the White Stripes’s demise means he will spend more time on work like he did with Loretta Lynn for her album Van Lear Rose (2004). Below is their duet of the song, “Portland, Oregon.” The song is about a one-night stand:

    Well Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz
    If that ain’t love then tell me what is
    Well I lost my heart it didn’t take no time
    But that ain’t all. I lost my mind in Oregon

    His guitar work on the song adds great texture, and the rock band sound contrasted with Lynn’s country voice created a modern classic. The long 97-second instrumental build-up to Lynn’s voice is perfect. One of my favorite parts of the video is that White and Lynn do not seem to know how to look at each other. I assume if they were closer in age, they would have been gazing lustfully at each other like lovers while they sang. Instead, they look like a couple of friends — or mother and son — singing about a one-night stand.

    The song won “Best Country Collaboration with Vocals” at the Grammys, but is it country? I do not know. I just like it.

    Will you miss The White Stripes? Leave a comment.

    Bonus Documentary: The band was profiled in the 2009 documentary The Great White Northern Lights.

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    Super Bowl Songs: Bon Iver & “Wisconsin”

    Bon Iver Wisconsin“Wisconsin” by Bon Iver (click play button)

    Chimesfreedom continues its celebration of today’s Super Bowl battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers with a song about the home of the Packers: “Wisconsin” by Bon Iver.

    Although Bon Iver’s “Wisconsin” is a recollection of events that happened in Wisconsin, the song is more universal. The narrator is singing about a lost love and his memories of their time in Wisconsin.

    Bon Iver is the recording name taken by Justin Vernon, and “Wisconsin” is a hidden track on Bon Iver’s 2007 album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Most of the album was written by Justin Vernon during a time of seclusion in a Wisconsin cabin. Following a break up with his former band, an illness, and the end of a relationship, Vernon moved from North Carolina to his childhood state of Wisconsin to live alone in his father’s cabin for almost four months. Out of his pain, he created the album.

    You’re up on the bar and your shaking
    With every grimy word
    Who will love
    Whats love when you’ve hurt
    You wonder as you see the snow kissed the curb
    Love is loves return

    That was Wisconsin that was yesterday
    Now I have nothing that I can keep
    Cause every place I go I take another place with me
    Love is loves critique

    Vernon took the name Bon Iver from an episode of Northern Exposure where residents of Cicely, Alaska emerged from their homes after the first snow to wish each other “bon hiver” — French for “good winter.”

    Have a good Super Bowl Sunday and be safe. Bon hiver.

    Bonus Cheerier Songs: If you would like a “happier” song set in Wisconsin, here is the opening to Laverne & Shirley.

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    Super Bowl Songs: Pete Seeger & “Pittsburgh Town”

    As you prepare for a day of watching commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game played by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, Chimesfreedom considers songs inspired by the states in the big game. An upcoming post will address the state of the Packers, but this post considers the hometown of the Steelers: Woody Guthrie’s “Pittsburgh Town,” recorded by Pete Seeger.

    Like some other songs sung by Guthrie and Seeger, “Pittsburgh Town” takes on the big corporate interests. For Pittsburgh, at the time, that meant attacking the steel industry: “What did Jones & Laughlin steal now Pittsburgh?” But the song ends by defiantly proclaiming the workers are organizing and joining the Congress of Industrial Organizations (a precursor to the AFL-CIO).

    All I do is cough and choke in Pittsburgh
    All I do is cough and choke in Pittsburgh
    All I do is cough and choke
    From the iron filings and the sulphur smoke
    In Pittsburgh, Lord God, Pittsburgh

    From the Allegheny to the Ohio, in Pittsburgh
    Allegheny to the Ohio
    Allegheny to the Ohio
    They’re joining up in the C.I.O.
    Pittsburgh, Lord God, Pittsburgh

    According to Ed Cray’s Ramblin’ Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, most of the lyrics to the song were improvised when Guthrie was performing for Jones & Laughlin employees after Guthrie had just seen the workers’ poor living conditions. Guthrie may not have been in too good of a mood, having just spent the night in hotel infested with cockroaches.

    Bonus Cheerier Songs: Yeah, the song is depressing, and maybe I’m mad my team did not make the Super Bowl. If you would like a “happier” song, here is Charlie Daniels “In America” (“Go and lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers fan / and I think you’re finally gonna understand”).

    Do you have another Pennsylvania song you like? Leave a comment.

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    Charlie Louvin RIP

    Country music legend Charlie Louvin died this morning due to complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 83.

    Charlie Louvin, born Charlie Elzer Loudermilk in 1927, and his brother Ira formed the Louvin Brothers, known for their harmonies and described by Allmusic.com as “one of the most influential musicians of the ’40s and ’50s.” After the Louvin Brothers stopped recording together in 1963, Charlie continued to record on his own, including a couple of well-received CDs in the last several years. Ira, who battled alcoholism, died in a car crash with his wife in Missouri in June 1965.

    The Louvin Brothers, who started out with gospel music and then branched into secular songs, had many great recordings, including some original compositions such as “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” which later was Emmylou Harris’s first hit.

    Although rock and roll played a part in the Louvin Brothers’s declining popularity in the early 1960s and their eventual break up, many “younger” people like me discovered the Louvin Brothers through later rock artists who were influenced by the Louvins, like The Everly Brothers and The Byrds. I first discovered them through Gram Parson’s recording of their song, “The Christian Life” (as well as Roger McGuinn’s version with the Byrds). I do not know if Kurt Cobain ever heard the Louvin Brothers’s recording of “In the Pines, (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)” but one could see a connection between their version and his intense haunting MTV Unplugged version. Although Cobain’s version is generally considered to be more connected to Lead Belly’s version, one might hear Cobain transform the Louvin’s yodels of pain into anguished screams for help.

    One of my favorite album covers of all time is the cover of the Louvin Brothers album Satan is Real. The album features the smiling brothers in whites suits standing in hell with a cartoonish devil in the background. I love the cover song too, as I also love their song “The Great Atomic Power.” Even though the songs do not preach my type of religion, I find the songs beautiful and terrifying, with a touch of humor.

    Here’s a cover of the Louvins’ “Great Atomic Power” by another band they influenced, Uncle Tupelo:

    Finally, here is a live recording of Charlie Louvin with Del Reeves.

    Here’s to you Charlie. Thanks for the music. I hope today you found out heaven is real.

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