By William Schuman
Celebrating Aaron Copland's birthday has for me become virtually an avocational pursuit. At the time Aaron was sixty I was president of the Juilliard School and had the satisfaction of organizing a grand festival of his works. For his seventieth there was a special program at Lincoln Center organized by his publishers, who for both birthdays gave splendid parties after the performances. It was my great pleasure for his sixtieth and seventieth (as it will be for his seventy-fifth) to have served as master of ceremonies, introducing the brilliant colleagues who came to pay tribute.
As each Copland milestone approaches, his close friends and colleagues feel a compelling desire for a laying on of hands, a desire to demonstrate their respect and gratitude for the remarkable composer and their admiration and love for the wise and compassionate man. For his seventy-fifth, we're better organized than ever before. We even have the Aaron Copland Seventy-Fifth Birthday Celebration committee. We're ready to welcome Aaron into that venerable group of American masters which already includes Harris, Piston, Sessions and Thompson.
Our committee members have assignments to insure that every segment of the music community is aware of this important event. Performers, educators, critics, broadcasters, organizations, public officials and friends are being requested to make appropriate efforts. There is no doubt that the response will be a natural outpouring of affection.
There will be many celebrations (there have already been several). In New York City the big party will be given by the MacDowell Colony. Aaron has a special feeling for the Colony. He has served as its president and is presently a member of the Colony's board of directors, and he has often enjoyed the ideal working conditions the Colony provides the artist. (The first time Aaron was a Colony Fellow was in 1925. Others that year included Henry S. Gilbert, Roy Harris, Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, Stephen Vincent Benét, DuBose Heyward, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sara Teasdale and Elinor Wylie.)
The MacDowell event on November 12 will begin with a Copland program at Alice Tully Hall, which will include the world premiere of a choreographic work by Pearl Lang set to the Sonata for Violin and Piano. Excerpts from films with Copland music will be shown, and the recent Duo for Flute and Piano and the choral work "In the Beginning" will also be performed. After the concert there will be a gala party at the Lincoln Center Library and Museum for the Performing Arts including a preview of a Copland exhibit opening on his birthday two days later.
What, I sometimes wonder, does Aaron think of all this fuss. Certainly he cooperates and, in fact, is often called upon to participate as conductor (which he loves) or as a speaker (which he must love because he does it so well). In discussions he is ever the professional, as though the project did not concern him especially. Always his reassuring presence: the lack of guile, the absence of false modesty and the serenity that bespeaks the inner security of a man fulfilled.
If we can't know what Aaron feels, what about us, why do we make these efforts? After all, nothing we do can really add to his fame, his acceptance or the esteem in which he is held.
I think we do it for ourselves. What other reason do we really need but our own recognition that to lavish praise on Aaron gives us all joy and satisfaction and a heightened sense of identity with a man who is one of the glories of American music.