September 17, 2020
I’m no music buff. But being human I enjoy music; mainly music inspiring positive emotion. Often supplying my own words to go with it.
I visit New York City for a yearly midtown event (pre-covid). And hurrying through the rumbustious streets of this city of cities, my inner ear always hears Rhapsody in Blue. Setting the experience to music.
What a pleasure to find in The Humanist magazine an article about Rhapsody by arts editor Daniel Thomas Moran. Discussing its 1924 composition by George Gershwin. But also its meaning. Moran beautifully expresses my own feelings evoked by this music.
It was a sound track for New York, but more, for all of America and what it represented. I can’t improve on Moran’s words:
“[I]t embodies all the hope and exuberance of America at its finest. It was the Jazz Age and the Industrial Age, and the time of an American artistic renaissance in culture and literature . . . .
“It was a time when all our best years seemed ahead of us, when the cauldron of culture and national identity and the embrace by all of that thing that we felt was American was at full boil, in full blossom.
“[W]hen we as a nation and a people seemed to be lifted skyward both literally and figuratively. We were strong and sure and passionate, inspiration was abundant, and we were willing to do the work and take all the risks.”
Yes, this is what I hear in the music. But notice that the foregoing is written in the past tense. That American spirit of Rhapsody in Blue did endure for several decades more — but then lost steam. And in the last few years has fallen off a cliff. Today the country’s psychic ethos is very different. No longer is Rhapsody the anthem of a vibrant American heart and soul. Instead we have the empty, truculent mockery of “Make America Great Again.”
Yet I will end with the words Moran did: “Even in the exuberant echoing vibrato of the opening notes, we can recognize the distant sounds of hope.”