Archive for April 3rd, 2008

Today we celebrate the life of Ferde Grofe.  Born in New York City in the late 1800’s, he passed away on April 3, 1972.  Both his parents were musically-gifted, and Ferde first gained acclaim for his orchestral arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

But it was his own creation, The Grand Canyon Suite, that really made him famous, and it’s one of my favorite pieces.  If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon (I have, one time), listening to this piece of music with your eyes closed can transport you there.  The arid landscape, the beauty of the North Rim, the serenity of Bright Angel Trail…it’s all there.

Grofe’s passing brings to my mind the question as to whether classical music is fading away as well.  I’ve had people tell me on many occasions that classical music is boring and that nobody listens to it anymore.  But I believe we’ve been conditioned to 4-minute songs, 8-minute TV segments broken by commercials, and the ever-changing images of the video game.  It now takes patience, planning, and even strength of will to sit back, shut off the world for 30-45 minutes, and lose oneself in a single piece of music.

Is it too late?  I think not.  Believe it or not, most people my age have been listening to classical music all their lives…they just may not have known it.  Old MGM (here and here), Looney Tunes, and Merry Melodies cartoons were often created with classical works supporting them.  Some television commercials have used classical music (Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner ads from the 90s used music from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo).  And there are many more examples.

So, why not give classical music a try?  The Grand Canyon Suite is a great place to start.  Aaron Copland is probably the most famous American composer, and his works have a distinct American flavor.  I have this in my collection and recommend it.  I like tone poems as well, so I recommend Ottorino Resphigi’s The Pines of Rome…my favorite work of all time.  The trumpet solo in the second movement gives me shivers every time I hear it.

I think there’s a little Grofe in all of us…maybe there’s a lot in you.

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On April 3, 1865, Union forces finally captured the Confederate capital of Richmond.  The end to the American Civil War was in sight.  But if you can believe it, the activities of the night before are even more interesting.

Knowing that Grant’s army was on its way, an order to evacuate the city was given around 4 pm.  The citizens that were able to get out of town did so before dark, but a large number remained – holed up in their houses, afraid for their lives and their belongings.

The military and militia in Richmond were given orders to destroy any remaining weapons, dump the barrels of liquor and burn the tobacco warehouses.  Taking care of the cannons was easy enough as they were just tossed into the river.  Perhaps they should’ve done the same with Richmond’s vast amount of leftover whiskey.  Instead it was merely poured into the gutters.  Men do strange things in desperate times, and I would say that living through four years of death and disease might cause people to go a little crazy.  But the idea that were people literally lapping up whiskey from the streets still seems sub-human.

A little dirt whiskey really emboldens a crowd.  Stores and homes were looted, fights broke out, and there were suddenly no troops or law anywhere to be found while a mob of thousands ran amok.  One resident called the societal breakdown “the saddest of many of the sad sights of the war.”

Around the same time, the tobacco warehouses were finally set ablaze.  But the winds shifted, and suddenly the fire was out of control.  Volunteer firemen tried to put it out, but for reasons probably not even known to them, a mob of people chopped their hoses.  But the time it was over, more than twenty blocks had been destroyed.

To cap off the night’s happenings, the National Arsenal exploded causing a chain-reaction of explosions among the remaining ironclads that had been inconveniently packed with the army’s remaining artillery shells.  Altogether over 100,000 shells exploded over a four-hour period raining fire and debris over the city.

What was supposed to be a peaceful evacuation of the city turned into chaos and even more death and destruction.

Recommended reading: April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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