Remembering Aaron Copland

Thirty-five years ago, roughly, I got myself into trouble. It was during music class, the once-a-week excursion outside of the classroom in the Catholic school that I attended in the 1970s, and into the music teacher’s classroom on the first floor. I’ll call the teacher Ms. F, but her full name isn’t really important to this story.

One day, as Ms. F was playing her piano and expecting us to sing along (I think I was in fourth or fifth grade at the time), some of my buddies and I were cutting up in class. We feared the nun who was our regular teacher–as we were supposed to do–but the music teacher didn’t scare us so very much. She probably ignored more of our misbehavior than she should have, but at some point she must have decided that we needed a punishment of some sort. So she told a couple of my buddies and I that we each had to write a report about Aaron Copland, who was probably the composer of the piece that she was playing for us that day.

A week went by, and I hadn’t done a thing for the report, and none of my buddies had, either. On the day that these reports were due, we all began writing reports that gave Copland credit for all sorts of amazing things. I specifically recall claiming that he had invented electricity, and the others were probably even more generous than I was. By the time we had finished out reports, Aaron Copland was just about the most accomplished man of the modern age.

I don’t remember what happened as the result of our creative academic works about Mr. Copland. We didn’t have Google back then, but it was pretty obvious that Aaron Copland hadn’t done any of the things that we gave him credit for. But today, all these years later, I read that Aaron Copland was born on this day (November 14) in 1900. So I decided to actually learn something about the man I was once sentenced to write a report on. And it turns out that I learned quite a bit.

But the single most amazing thing, which but for that long-ago punishment I would have missed out on, has a connection to Abraham Lincoln. The release of Lincoln in movie theaters has set me off on a bit of a Lincoln writing bender, so here’s still another piece about the Great Emancipator. But this one’s really good, I think.

In early 1942, when the nation was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, a concert was organized by conductor Andre Kostelanetz. Copland and two other composers were commissioned to write orchestral pieces about American themes. In the early 1940s, there was no television, no pay-per-view, and really no record industry as we know it today. There were no televised benefits where viewers could call in to an 800 number and make a donation with their credit cards. It was just a concert in a place, and in this case the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was playing the music in May of 1942. The piece that Copland wrote for Kostelanetz was called Lincoln Portrait.

What made this piece so special was that it made use of Lincoln’s own words, from the Gettysburg Address and his 1862 Message to Congress, in which he stated “We cannot escape history.” It also told details from Lincoln’s personal life, in the hopes of rallying its audience, and the nation itself, to war. Almost eighty years after his death, Lincoln’s life and words served as an artistic inspiration. And, as Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis are now showing us, they can still inspire us today.

Thanks to some Googling this afternoon, I was able to get the idea that Ms. F is still around, and probably living not very far from where I grew up. She probably won’t ever read this, as I’m sure that teaching music to me and my classmates is buried deep in the recesses of her memory. But thanks to her, and Google, and a composer’s name that I never forgot, I was able to learn something new and interesting today. Every day should hold such a pleasant surprise, shouldn’t it?.

I ain’t gonna live forever

I admit it. I’ve probably missed out–entirely–on the commercial possibilities of the internet. It was the single biggest thing that’s come along in my lifetime, and with some kind of business or technical savvy, it could have been a gold mine. It still is, probably, but I’m lacking in the inclination to figure out just how that might work. I set up a wireless router tonight and feel like I accomplished something. But somebody had to figure out this stuff once upon a time, and they’re probably very glad they did.

But what I haven’t missed out on is the internet’s creative and archival possibilities. The contents of this blog–which has been a labor of love over the past fourteen months– will outlive me, and I like that feeling. No, I don’t relish the thought of dying one day, but if I walked out my door and got run over by a bus this evening, there’s a good chunk of my words that would still live on. And some photos, too, like the one above. It was taken as the sun was setting on Martha’s Vineyard, and I was taking a ferry back to the mainland.

My ancestors, over thousands and thousands of years, didn’t have an opportunity to share their stories, their dreams, and their very lives in a medium like this. I have three grandparents who live only in my memories, and before that, ancestrally speaking, there’s just nothing. To me, that’s very unfortunate, because any little scrap of information about where they lived and how they lived would be nothing short of fascinating to me.

I’m taking this opportunity, then, to communicate not with the world I’m living in, but with the world that will be, someday. And whether I’m around to see any of it or not, I’ve already submitted lots of my personal stories into this medium that is still growing and evolving. But for every person like me–who appreciates this opportunity and wants to seize it as fully as possible–there are hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of people who won’t bother. They’ll all pass on, eventually, and once they do, their existence will be contingent upon those who knew them in life. And the shelf life of human memories isn’t very long, at all.

I can count, thanks to WordPress’ data figures, how many people are seeing this digital content in my lifetime. That’s interesting, and I’m always humbled whenever somebody finds any of this and likes a post or leaves a comment behind. I wouldn’t like being ignored in life. But that’s not my real aim as I’m typing this out on my computer, on a Friday night in August of 2012. No, I want to reach somebody who hasn’t yet been conceived. Or the child who will grow up thinking that the internet, like electricity and indoor plumbing, has always existed. I’m here to tell that person it wasn’t always this way.

I’ve written about owning records and having photographs developed, things that already seem like relics from another age. I’m a digital immigrant, meaning that I lived a good many years without email and social networking and the ever-present Google. And life was just fine without them, but the way things are moving now, unless something is on the internet, it’s as if it never existed in the first place.

So perhaps it’s vanity on my part, but I want to document my largely 20th century life, for consumption in the 21st century and beyond. I’ve heard it said that the internet is forever, and I hope that’s true, because I’m well aware that I won’t be.

And thanks for reading this, to whoever you are and whenever you stumbled upon this URL.

Where the traffic comes from

After checking my Gmail and Facebook accounts when I get online, this blog is usually the third thing that I look at. A guy from Jersey Shore, which I’ve never watched, has something that he calls GTL–gym, tan, laundry. Mine is a different type of progression altogether: GFB–Gmail, Facebook, blog. Not nearly as much fun, but that’s how I do it.

The page view statistics for this site aren’t very interesting, but I wanted to do a little bit of interpolation from them, anyway. And in the process of doing so, I learned something that I didn’t really want to know, but I’m glad I learned, anyway. And those are sometimes the best bits of insight to have.

These numbers are a couple of days old, but the basic premise still holds true, which is that Google–and Google Images in particular–rules the roost when it comes to driving traffic to this corner of the Internet. Consider the following:

  • Of the XX,XXX number of total page views I’ve received over the 9 months or so I’ve been doing this (and, as I said, the real numbers don’t matter), fully 70% of them have come from the “Search Engines” category. For every page view that comes from Facebook, Twitter, and other people’s blogrolls and blog comments, there are two that come from internet searches. Fair enough.
  • Of those search engines, fully 89% of them are from Google Images, and another 7% are from Google itself. Doing some quick math, that means that Yahoo!, Bing, and the others who compete with Google account for just 4% of that pie. That’s enough to survive, but only as a faint image on a screen that’s presently dominated by Google.

So what this means, from a quantitative perspective, is that if you’re reading this post, you probably did a Google images search for one of the many things I’ve written about. And if you wound up here without doing a Google images search, you’ve clearly beat the odds. Finish reading this and then go find a card game as soon as possible. And you can share your winnings with me at a later time.

Thanks for reading!