Virtual Music Hour

  Ellington & Copland Archive

  Introduction to the Music

  Listen to the Music

 Due to copyright rules, this week's Virtual Music Hour audio is no longer available.


Welcome to Virtual Music Hour. In preparation for your listening experience, Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson has made guides with activities that can be enjoyed alone, with your quarantine buddies at home and online, or with your students. These activities can be mixed, matched, and altered to create an experience that’s right for you, or as inspiration to create your own. Get as creative as you’d like. Share it with us on social media! If you like seeing and hearing the Colorado Symphony musicians online, imagine how uplifting it would be for us to see and hear you too!

Duke Ellington and Aaron Copland are two of the most famous and beloved American composers of the previous century. Three Black Kings and Lincoln Portrait are works that they each used to convey a musical representation of historical figures. Enjoy delving into these works, considering their context, and listening to your Colorado Symphony performance of each of them.

Here is a listening map that can guide you through the music. Read it in advance or while you’re listening!

Three Black Kings
Duke Ellington

We first hear Balthazar’s music. There is a driving rhythmic pulse building up from the percussion, through the strings, and finally into the winds and brass. This takes a couple tries to get going, the second time more full sounding than the first, before blossoming into a sultry middle section. The driving rhythmic music returns and again we blossom into cinematic styled glory. A quirky woodwind and strings transition bring us right back to the opening material again, and we close with a very bluesy outburst.

King Solomon’s music is next, with soft strings making a gauzy texture calling to mind smoky lounge music just in time for an extended oboe melody. This gives way to a catchy swinging brass melody with a classic groove. Our opening soft string music returns in a rather flirtatious way before returning to the catchy swinging groove featuring pizzicato (plucking) strings over a slow horn pad. This music then grows into a full-on representation of joy and excess before transitioning back to a naïve sounding version of the opening gauzy music and a last hearing of that oboe melody.

The final seven minutes is a dedication to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and is represented by gospel style music which opens slowly over the first couple of minutes before bursting out into full hearted call and response melodic singing from the strings. We return to the opening swing sound in a more intimate way between the winds and brass before the cellos take a bluesy role and invite the rest of the orchestra to join up again. The full orchestra gets going again with expressive abandon for a glorious minute or two before we return to the opening sweet music to carry us out.

Aaron Copland used material from speeches and letters of Lincoln and quoted original songs of the period, including “On Springfield Mountain” and “Camptown Races.” Copland often incorporated American songs from various sources in his compositions. Camptown Races was created by Stephen Foster in the mid 1800s blackface minstrelsy genre which has left a lasting offensive and hurtful legacy.

  How does considering this context help hold a mirror to modern society against the backdrop of Lincoln’s words 80 years after the fact?

  How might this resonate differently for a listener who is or is not already aware of the history of “Camptown Races”?

Duke Ellington was a tireless pioneer of cross-genre ties between the jazz and classical symphonic worlds. He is quoted as saying "I don't believe in categories of any kind." His vast compositional output includes concertos, suites, tone poems, ballets, operas, film and show scores, a television musical, oratorios, ballads, blues, spirituals, short instrumental solos, and arrangements of other composer's works. Consider this array of choices and his skill and achievement as a composer.

  Why do you think so few of his symphonic works are regularly programmed in American concert halls?

Both Lincoln Portrait and Three Black Kings are music brimming with history and pride, and what we consider to be “American” sounding music.

  In what ways do Aaron Copland and Duke Ellington convey these ideas musically?

  How are their choices similar? Different?

  As you listen, what seems eminently familiar to you about their music?

Have some fun researching and listening to the rich and varied array of music by African American classical music composers! Get started with the links below and then do your own discovering. There’s a lot, so pace yourself!

Discover African American Composers

Wikipedia has a treasure trove with links to composer pages. Cross reference them with recordings available on your favorite audio and video platforms. Florence Price has an engaging symphony and a wonderful piano concerto, for example.

Music by Black Composers

  MBC: Music by Black Composers is an organization whose mission is to inspire Black students to begin and continue instrumental training, make the music of Black composers available to everyone, and help to change the face of classical music through greater diversity. Check out all of their resources!

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider, discuss, and get active around the music of Aaron Copland and Duke Ellington, it’s time to listen to the Colorado Symphony performance. Enjoy each of these pieces for their spiritually uplifting qualities, and for their uniquely American styles.



Please share your musical adventure with us through social media! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!


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