This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Air and Simple Gifts" arranged by John Williams

My favorite part of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Perhaps what made the piece so profound -- besides the fact I knew all the words to the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" due to my upbringing as a choir boy in the United Methodist Church, not bad for someone who's been an atheist since age 12 -- is that noon passed during the piece, meaning that under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, Obama became president during the performance.

Air and Simple Gifts is a classical quartet by American composer John Williams composed for the January 20, 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. The piece was first performed at the inauguration in Washington, D.C. by Anthony McGill (clarinet), Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Gabriela Montero (piano). It was the first classical quartet to be performed at a presidential inauguration. It was performed immediately prior to Obama taking the oath of office.

Williams based the piece on the familiar nineteenth century Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts," by Joseph Brackett. The source piece is famous for its appearance in Aaron Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring. Williams chose the selection from Copland, one of Obama's favorite classical composers.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
The piece lasts a little under four and a half minutes. It is structured in roughly three parts. The first section presents the "Air" material, consisting of a spare, descending modal melody introduced by violin, pensively explored in duet with cello and piano accompaniment. The entrance of the clarinet, playing the "Simple Gifts" theme, signals the beginning of a small set of variations on that melody. The "Air" melody at first intermingles with the "Gifts" theme, though it is supplanted by increasingly energetic variations. Midway through, the key shifts from A-major to D-major, in which the piece concludes. A short coda reprising the "Air" material follows the most vigorous of the "Gifts" variations. The piece concludes with a unusual series of cadences, ending with chord progression D-major followed by B-major, G-minor and finally D-major.

And what else did John Williams write? That's right ...

... which proves Barack Obama is not just president ... he's a Jedi.

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