This summer, the Interlochen community is celebrating Aaron Copland, one of the most respected composers of the 20th century and arguably the greatest American composer of all time. The summer-long multi-disciplinary festival will honor his contributions to American culture through a series of concerts, lectures and presentations. These events also present a great opportunity for us to remember Interlochen’s history with the esteemed composer.
Copland made his first visit to Interlochen in May 1967, during the closing month of the Academy’s fifth year and it was a remarkable milestone for the young school. While the Camp’s national reputation was well established, some still regarded the Academy as an experimental offshoot of the summer program. Copland’s arrival on campus did a great deal to shift perceptions about the Arts Academy, making it clear that the school was equally capable of attracting world-class talent.
Copland gave lectures on his own music and other contemporary composers before conducting the Wind Ensemble in a performance of Emblems. The choir performed excerpts from "The Tender Land" with Kenneth Jewell conducting. Dance instructor William Hug, choreographed Dance Panels, a ballet in seven sections, and the Academy orchestra performed the orchestral suite from the Ballet Appalachian Spring and other repertoire. The composer also worked especially closely with music composition students.
Copland returned just three years later for Camp in 1970. On July 12, he conducted Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, and the national music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha-Sinfonia presented Copland with its "Man of Music" Award. Copland also conducted the World Youth Symphony Orchestra in a performance of three of his own compositions: Danzon Cubano, music from the film Our Town, and the Tender Land Suite, for which the choir joined the orchestra on stage.
For the students and faculty, it was certainly a memorable experience to work alongside an artist with an international reputation. Ironically, nearly five decades after his visit, the the most memorable aspect of Copland’s visit was not his artistic mastery but his kind and generous nature. We contacted some of the people who worked with Copland to share some of their memories. Here are just a few of the responses about what the experience meant to them.
"I grew up in New York City and went to a performing arts high school before I came to Interlochen. I remember my teacher in New York expressed some serious misgivings about leaving the city to go study music in the northwoods. And then here comes the biggest figure in American music. It was unbelievable. It was one of those 'pinch me' moments. Even at that age we all knew what an icon he was. He had our total attention and it helped us mentally prepare for professional life because we knew we had an experience like that with Copland. He was very generous with his time and attention for the students. He was kind but very business-like; he treated us like professionals."
"I was on the violin faculty for many years. It was a little shaky in those early years and we all felt like pioneers. We all left good jobs to work at the Academy and we were all experimenting and taking a chance. I had always loved Copland’s music and was pleased to discover that he was also so nice and easy to perform with. We really enjoyed playing with him. It just seemed that he was so modest; he made you feel comfortable."
"There was something about Interlochen - the moment you got there you knew that anything could happen. We would walk up and down the concourse and see photos of prominent artists who had visited Camp and it was our expectation was that it would be part of the Academy too. When Copland came to the Academy, I was impressed with his ability to work with a lot of high school kids. We were hoping to impress him - maybe we flattered ourselves at the time. But he was patient with us and it was a wonderful experience. I performed with Copland conducting the orchestra and later - I performed with Copland as a dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company."
"He was a kind and very accessible musical teacher. He was able to describe exactly what he wanted to hear from us. I was impressed because even though he was famous, I thought of him as a composer - not a conductor. But he was a very skilled conductor - and there was no egotism or celebrity about him."
"I have nothing but fond memories about the experience. He was not a difficult person in any way. I am sure that our performance of his sextet was not the most polished that he had ever heard, but he was still very accommodating and gracious."