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Amy Reusch

Appalachian Spring

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I was amazed reading Jennifer Dunning in the NY Times today...

The realization came most clearly in a single moment in Thursday's performance of "Appalachian Spring." The dance depicts, to music by Copland performed live, the American West in pioneering days and the kind of hope and resignation that came with settling the land.

Martha Graham's Masterworks, Updated for Modern Times 4-9-05

American West? Pioneers? I always thought it took place in Appalachia... Is that considered the American West?... Isn't Appalachia in the South East?

Very very confused...

NPR: '"Appalachian Spring" by Aaron Copland' with Robert Kapilow and John Adams

...Copland creates the perfect setting for the ballet’s primary characters, two young newlyweds on the western Pennsylvania frontier.

...okay, not South, but not West, is it?

And here: The Appalachian Region

The Appalachia region encompasses area in each of the following 13 states: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennesee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York

Okay, maybe Ohio is the West.... but I can't help but think of that mountain ridge as defining the border between the midwest and the east... I think of "pioneers" as those settling the West... particularly the prairie... Appalachian speaks "mountainous" not "prairie"...

How did I go so wrong?

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Well, yes, as someone who lives west of The West (Washington state), I've always chuckled at the metaphorical construction, but I think Graham really was thinking of a pioneer community, whatever the compass point. And in contemporary minds, all pioneering happened west of wherever.

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The recurring motif of the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" might identify the group portrayed as the "Shaking Quakers" who started in the US in 1782 when "Mother" Ann Lee emigrated from England, bringing her congregation with her. However, the dancers don't act much like Shakers, who didn't use "preachers" after the death of "Father" Meacham in 1787. Like many, if not most, religions, the Shakers didn't believe in pre-marital sex. Unlike most religions, they didn't believe in post-marital sex either! Men and women were strictly segregated. Propagation of the faith was by conversion only, which also took the form of foundling children left with them. The Shakers had their zenith around 1830-40 and began to wane with the American Civil War. Last time I looked there were only seven Shakers left in the world, all in northern New England, keeping to "Mother Ann's" prophecy that the communities should disband in 1984, and the sect die out by 2001. I think sandi's right, though, about the general idea of pioneering, and the work viewing Manifest Destiny in the most benign light.

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I do agree with Amy that the common understanding of American West does not include Pennsylvania. I think Dunning is wrong in her characterization, if only on the grounds of good, clear writing. However, Europeans landed (primarily) in the East, and the only way to expand was west. So, the western frontier moved continuously. I tend to think of pioneers as those inhabiting the far western frontier -- and pushing it farther -- wherever that was. Surely the Ingalls family were pioneers even when they lived in the Big Woods in Wisconsin.

However, I'm grateful for this conversation as my common image of Appalachia is the Kentucky hollows that I've visited, and Appalachian Spring did not seem to fit that image. Knowing that it is set in western Pennsylvania clears up that dissonance for me.

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I guess it depends on the period in which the dance takes place. In the late 18th Western Pa. was definitely the frontier. And much of Ohio was called the "Western Reserve" (claimed by Connecticut, I believe). There's still a Western Reserve University there.

I am always amazed by the way the cliche "it's all relevant" provides solutions to so many questions.

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Look at the names of the cities and counties. You can tell which state claimed which part of the Western Reserve by what names are on them. Warren, for Dr. Joseph Warren, who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill (Massachusetts), Trumbull for the Governor of Connecticut, Washington to honor the Virginia claims and so on. That Timothy Pickering was able to broker a Northwest Ordinance in 1787 was a small miracle in sorting out and assuaging the sensibilities of all the claimant states. About twenty years ago, I co-wrote a comedy sketch called "Woods Trek" that began "OHIO! - the final frontier...." Luckily, it was presented to a large drunken assembly of American historians, so they thought it was very funny.

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And just to add to the confusion, Western Reserve University -- now Case Western Reserve, after a merger -- is in Cleveland, which is in eastern Ohio!

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Don't forget, you from the Western Territories, that in "Rodeo" there's a city slicker girl from "back east" in Kansas City.

Perspective, perspective...... What do people from China think when they first hear that they're "The East" (from someone in San Francisco, say) and the Bay Area native is from "The West?" (rhetorical question posted not for discussion but illustration :) )

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Another fun fact that a lot of people (well, me, for most of my life) don't know is that the word "spring" in the title refers not to a season but to a source of water.

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Oooooh! That IS a fun fact. I, for one, didn't know that. It does clear up another dissonance for me. Thanks. :)

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Was it an American Masters profile of Aaron Copland where I saw it? Copland recalled a woman approaching him and gushing, "Oh, when I hear that music I can just smell the spring and see the Appalachians!" He said that when Graham commissioned it, she gave him no such specifications, and while he was working on it, he called it Martha's Ballet. It was she, taking the phrase from a poem, who dubbed it Appalachian Spring -- because, said Copland, she liked the phrase.

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Here in southeast Florida "the west coast" means the Gulf of Mexico coast of Florida. I learned this when we first came here and I was informed that a plumber could not come to fix a sink because he was "on the west coast for the weekend." Of course I thought of jet-set jaunts to LA or San Francisco -- and VERY high plumbing fees to pay for them -- but it turned out just to be a visit to his in-laws in Naples. No, not the city south of Rome.

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I've always had great sympathy with the old New Yorker cartoon that condensed everything on the North American continent west of the Hudson River into about 2 inches of landmass -- here in Seattle anything on the other side of the Cascade Mountains (about 45 minutes east of here by freeway) is "back East. From Wenatchee (apple growing community) through Minnesota and out to Long Island.

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Another fun fact that a lot of people (well, me, for most of my life) don't know is that the word "spring" in the title refers not to a season but to a source of water.

OH! NO!! I've always heard that zingy cold freshness of SPRING!!! in the music... oh D__! There's even that sound of the earth awakening... OH NO! Now what am I going to do with my poor limping imagination!

was she, taking the phrase from a poem
... so... any chance of someone typing in a verse or so of the poem here?

Link to photo of Appalacian Spring from Noguchi.org

I guess from those sun bonnets I was thinking the piece was set some time in the middle 1800s?(or in a "backward" hamlet at a later time?) I can't quite divorce "pioneer" from "conestoga wagon". Appalachian Spring seems to take place in a settlement. I guess I have this bleak idea of pioneers of people isolated from their neighbors on the desolate prairie. I'll have to watch the whole piece again now....

By the way, it was kind of cool to search Google's image tab for "Martha Graham"... I hadn't realized the web had exploded that far that one would come up with 1,720 results of just images referencing Martha Graham! Even with errors, that's impressive! So I played a little further... Rudolph Nureyev only scored 112 but Rudolf Nureyev scored 1,260... a very photogenic dancer...Balanchine : 2,220

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... so... any chance of someone typing in a verse or so of the poem here?

It's from Hart Crane's "The Bridge," the section called "The Dance." Here's a bit including the phrase Graham used (the dots and dashes are in the poem, they're not my elisions). The narrator is describing canoeing down a river, then getting out and climbing with difficulty because of the "white veil" of spring water coming down.

"What laughing chains the water wove and threw!

I learned to catch the trout's moon whisper; I

Drifted how many hours I never knew,

But, watching, saw that fleet young crescent die,--

And one star, swinging, take its place, alone,

Cupped in the larches of the mountain pass--

Until, immortally, it bled into the dawn.

I left my sleek boat nibbling margin grass ...

I took the portage climb, then chose

A further valley-shed; I could not stop.

Feet nozzled wat'ry webs of upper flow;

One white veil gusted from the very top.

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;

Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends

And northward reaches in that violet wedge

O Adirondacks!--wisped of azure wands..."

Etc., etc., without a period for several more stanzas. I've never quite figured out all of "The Bridge," but this is from the section about Pocahontas, and dance of Native Americans eventually described appears to have nothing to do with Graham's creation that I can see. (I think Graham sad she picked out the phrase "Appalachian Spring" just because she liked the sound of it.)

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I gather that that's Erick Hawkins with Graham in Amy's photo link. And that Merce Cunningham danced a preacher. That, along with the contributions of Copland and Noguchi -- quite a creative parley.

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