I've been a bit obsessed with analyzing orchestral scores lately (one of the reasons a blog post didn't happen in February). I love to grab a pile of scores from the shelf, sharpen the pencils, and immerse my left brain in some mental calisthenics. My latest venture focused on one film composer, John Williams. I'm sure many of you are thinking, "Cool Lou, I love John Williams", well ..... truth be told, I don't. Mr. Williams is an incredibly talented and effective composer who isn't really my cup of tea. It's not about his level of talent, it’s about having different sensibilities. "So you may be asking - you're not much of a fan, but you are spending hours analyzing his work?"
During the early years of my music development, I mainlined heavy doses of 20th century icons like Bartok and Stravinsky. I worshiped them really, not just the compositions, but the orchestrations too. I could get lost in any movement of their masterpieces for days. At this age I was a bit black and white when it came to what I liked, and what I believed had value for my growth as a composer. One can then imagine my horror when my orchestration teacher told me that he and I would be studying Aaron Copland's Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo. "Frickin' cowboy music!!!" "All that Americana crap??" I was not enthused, but like most folks at that age, I would soon find out how wrong my opinions really were.
It is true that Copland's music goes hand-in-hand with the wide open spaces of the American west. That doesn't mean it's overly simplistic and without wonderful intricacies. Once I was forced to really look behind the curtain, I could really see his genius. I discovered techniques and some gorgeous instrument pairings that I use to this day. They may have been used in a context that evokes the imagery of Americana, however their use isn't limited to that context. Techniques can be incorporated without echoing the source so don't dismiss music that is 180 degrees from your own. The artists that differ greatly from your style can be a wonderful resource for expanding your musical identity. Thankfully this is a lesson I learned early on.
Here, in all its glory, is Copland's Rodeo and some of the selections of John Williams bountiful catalogue I've been studying.