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.