Things that Blow My Mind #4857: Appalachian Spring Was Originally About Abolitionism

Stuff I learn while working on a dance history paper:

Nothing says shiny, idealized American history like Appalachian Spring. The Aaron Copland score is recognized as a quintessential representation of rural Americana. And Martha Graham’s ballet shows pioneers, a preacher, and a newly married couple making a life on the frontier.

(I personally prefer to watch Martha as a murderous mythological madwoman, but I guess this was also a thing . . . )

But that’s not the history they started out with. Graham sent Copland a series of scripts outlining her vision of the then-untitled piece, which changed significantly during the process. The first included a scene based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was cut early on. The second, which Copland used to compose the score, still included an abolitionist figure based on John Brown and a fugitive slave, as well as an “Indian Girl” figure.

For whatever reason–maybe the potential political controversy–these figures were cut from Graham’s final piece. But when Aaron Copland was writing the soundtrack to your images of an ideal, whitewashed American past, he was thinking about the Civil War and racial conflict.

Just think about that.

Kind of turns the whole iconography of American exceptionalism on its head, right?

For more on this subject, check out Mark Franko’s book Martha Graham in Love and War.

In other news, I’m currently in tech week for two different shows this weekend. So this week’s activities are brought to you by Starbucks™.


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