A (VERY) Little Bit About Music with Amy: Rodeo

This week of spring break, I’ve been focusing on preparing for the upcoming Cookie Concert.

I know the music that’s on the program, and I know that it makes me think of cowboys, trail rides and wide open spaces. What I didn’t know was WHY the music was composed to begin with. So, naturally, I figured we’d learn together.

Aaron Copland is a familiar American composer – even if you’re not sure of the name. If you’ve seen the “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” commercials, you know Aaron Copland. That music, making us want to go fire up our grills, is the final song on the program for Cookie Concert… Hoe-Down from “Rodeo.”

In fact, there are three songs on the program from “Rodeo.” So, what is it?

“Rodeo” is a ballet. It was commissioned by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and choreographer Agnes de Mille after the success of Copland’s 1938 ballet “Billy the Kid.” Many themes are recognizable as American folk songs, since de Mille had already blocked most of the ballet to her own transcriptions before Copland was on board.

At its core, “Rodeo” is a love story – in fact, it’s subtitled “The Courting at Burnt Ranch.” At Burnt Ranch, the Cowgirl defies the culture of the time as “one of the guys,” even though she’s in love with the Head Wrangler. Like all the other ranch hands, he’s only got eyes for the Rancher’s Daughter.

There are four (4) movements to the symphonic version of Rodeo:
1. Buckaroo Holiday welcomes the audience to the ranch with brass and percussion mimicking the sounds of galloping horses.

2. Corral Nocturne features the woodwinds sounding a bit like the lovesick Cowgirl. In the ballet, she dances through the ranch alone until the Head Wrangler arrives, only to leave with the Rancher’s Daughter.

(In the ballet, here’s where Ranch House Party goes. In a total bummer, the Cowgirl still leaves alone.)

3. The Cowgirl is left alone as everyone pairs off in Saturday Night Waltz – everyone except the Cowgirl. You can hear the characters (and their sadness) in Copland’s use of single instruments. Good news, the Champion Roper catches the eye of our Cowgirl as the Waltz nears its end.

4. Hoe-Down finishes the ballet with a giant party where the Cowgirl finally gets her man (the Roper, not the Wrangler)! Listen as the orchestra slows down about two and a half minutes in. That big big ‘ole chord is the big ‘ole kiss!

Here’s “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band performing Hoe Down. Forgive me for inserting a band video on an orchestra post – they’re just so fun to hear!