program notes by composition > V > Variations on a Shaker Melody

Variations on a Shaker Melody

Aaron Copland

The ballet Appalachian Spring tells the story of a newlywed couple living on a pioneer settlement in Pennsylvania during the 1800s. The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, a fundamentalist Protestant religious sect, were known as Shakers due to the ecstatic nature of their worship services. Strict believers in celibacy, Shakers acquired their members through conversion. This musical excerpt from the ballet is recognizable as the tune for the song “Lord of the Dance.” The initial statement of melody is followed by five variations in which the musical material is explored with changes in instrumentation, rhythm, layers of accompaniment and countermelody.

Aaron Copland (1900–1990) was a composer, teacher, writer and conductor. He was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, often referred to as Populist and which he labeled "vernacular." Copland’s suspected political sympathies brought him Congressional scrutiny during the McCarthy era, and blacklisting, despite his many works which made a virtue of American values.

Last updated on March 25, 2014 by Palatine Concert Band