A Print Music Fourth of July
Great American music for a great American holiday
Ah, the Fourth of July. Fireworks, crowds at the Mall, parades in 100 degree weather, hot dogs, sunburns...and a ton of music. It's one of the most musical major holidays - parades and marching bands are staples of our celebrations, as is enthusiastically singing patriotic songs with half-remembered lyrics. Here's a handful books of patriotic or American that will help you celebrate America's birthday in style, all with a local connection to Washington DC!
The Greatest American Songbook
This one's pretty no-frills. It's just a great collection of all the most famous patriotic songs, including all of the armed forces songs. The piano arrangements are reasonably simple, and the book also gives chords and a separate vocal line. This is a great book for a sing-along celebration.
Local connection: Includes excellent piano transcriptions of several of the most famous marches by John Philip Sousa, who was born on G St. SE in 1854, conducted the DC-based Marine Band, and is buried in the Congressional Cemetary.
Duke Ellington: Jazz Piano
Who says you need to play patriotic music on the Fourth? Celebrate America with great music from one of DC's greatest musicians. A lot of the tunes are actually by Billy Strayhorn, Ellington's longtime collaborator, though Ellington often gets credit for them (Ellington once joked that "Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows!") The piano arrangements are pretty difficult, but sound much more authentic than the standard PVG-style tunes. This is also an exceptionally well-printed book with a beautiful cover, making it a great gift for a serious pianist.
Local connection: Well, Ellington's on our "state" quarter, so I guess he's kind of a big deal.
Aaron Copland: Ballet Music for Piano
Copland is the composer most frequently associated with the "American' sound. His compositions make constant use of open fifths and fourths that evoke the vastness of America's prairies and mountains, and frequently make use of folk tunes and hymns. This collection of beautiful piano solo arrangements of his ballet music include some of his most famous pieces, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Billy the Kid. Only one of the arrangements was done by Copland himself, but the others also translate the orchestral sound pretty effectively.
Local connection: One of the pieces in this collection, Appalachian Spring, was premiered at the Library of Congress in 1944. Martha Graham danced the lead, and the piece won the Pulitzer prize for music.
Bernstein: Theatre Songs
This excellent new set of books showcases the theatrical songs of another great American composer, Leonard Bernstein. There are three volumes: high voice, low voice, and duets and ensembles. The books all feature extensive introductory notes on Bernstein, his theater music in general, and each of the songs and shows themselves. Many of the pieces in these collections have not appeared in print before, making these books a must-have for Bernstein fans. The music itself, of course, is excellent.
Local connection: Bernstein's controversial Mass was premiered at the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971.
American Folk Songs for Children
The book says it's for children, but that's a lie. This is a fantastic book for anyone interested in America's rich heritage of folk music. Compiled by American composer and folklorist Ruth Crawford Seeger, this illustrated collection features great tunes from all around the nation on a wide variety of subjects. The book starts out with a length introduction explaining the collection, as well as interesting and useful essays on the issues involved with using folk music as a teaching tool. It also has one of the best indices I've seen in a music book, listing songs by subject, meter, and a variety of other characteristics.
Local Connection: Ruth Crawford Seeger initially wrote the book in 1941 for use in a Silver Spring nursery school. She later introduced it to a number of DC schools including Georgetown Day, Potomac, and Green Acres.