Last January I put offered a blog about John Williams's Air and Simple Gifts, an attractive and enjoyable chamber piece played by Yo-Yo Ma and friends for President Obama’s inauguration. This composition (“Air”) and arrangement (of the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts”) has been published, I’m happy to say: Copyright 2009 by MARJER PUBLISHING, under the Hal Leonard imprint. Here’s the performance (or miming, since it was fifteen degrees out and what we heard was a recording), on youtube.
I will be curious to see if this piece begins to appear on chamber music programs; it has the sort of sound many audiences would appreciate, and is probably very grateful to play. It is a chamber piece—all classical instruments, in fact (as I pointed out before) the Quartet for the End of Time ensemble: piano, violin, cello, B-Flat clarinet. What is the likelihood that a piece for that ensemble would gain a currency and familiarity outside the highly limited classical/academic chamber music environment?
Side question: and will there be some political ramifications to playing it? Despite the President’s care, resilience, and single-minded attempts to engage most shades of the political spectrum, the—well, Death-Eaters, for lack of a better term—are still hell-bent on obstructing any possible change, accomplishment, improvement, or invigoration of American society and culture. One or two of the possible causes for this are too painful to contemplate, so I’m not going there, but is worth asking if playing Williams’s short appetizer or dessert of sweet Americana would be taken as a political statement in certain areas of the United States, resented (or even proscribed) as a partisan declaration.
Of course, you’d have to be an idiot to make this argument seriously: it was a commissioned inauguration piece for a duly elected American president, and the fact that it’s on the market means that it’s not rental-only—so, the composer seems to be saying, go play it and have a nice time. Still, consider the level of discussion on various pressing issues we’ve seen in the press and on cable TV and from (let’s say) certain legislators. Such stupidity is not at all outside the realm of possibility.
My feeling? Give it to all your student groups. Play it all night long, as Warren Zevon put it (in a very different context). Perform it, all over, until we’re sick of it. The last “classical” (qualifying quotation marks are intentional) piece to be a hit was Rachmaninov’s C-Sharp Minor Prelude, right? That was published in 1892, but quite a hit in the U.S. during the flapper era. Or perhaps we should count Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924). Fact is, though, it doesn’t happen very often. I think it would be a worthwhile experiment.
And then let’s see what Michael Steele, John Boehner et al. trot out as a response. Which country star will it be, do you think? Or will it be something with Mike Huckabee on bass? Lee Atwater: The Dungeon Tapes? John Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar,” only this time with electronica background?
Or laugh track?