When I say Las Vegas, you might think:
Britney SpearsThe Rat Pack
But when I say Las Vegas, I think:
- Aaron Copland
- Simple Gifts
- Martha Graham
Not what you’d expect, I know. But it was in Sin City that I was introduced to the most beautiful song that has stayed with me ever since.
Years ago on my first (and only) (and last) trip to Las Vegas, my friends and I had tooled around town checking out all the free shows the casinos had to offer, but the only one we found worthwhile (read: not cheesy) were the fountains in front of the Bellagio. In the middle of the eight-acre lake that is supposed to be Lake Como in Italy, water dances to songs ranging from Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady” to the theme from the Pink Panther. If you can stop yourself from wondering how they engineered this feat (1,200 spritzers shooting water 460 feet in the air), you can be swept away by the magnificence of the choreography.
Inspector Clouseau would be proud:
We must have stayed at the fountains for an hour or more absolutely captivated by the water ballet. My favorite by far was “Simple Gifts,” which is an excerpt from “Appalachian Spring,” a score by Aaron Copland. In a city of excess I felt the song as cleansing and pure. I can only explain it as tunnel vision. The kind I get when I write fiction. I was so consumed by the experience I blocked out everything and just let the melody wash over me. In the middle of Las Vegas, that’s saying a lot.
As you all know, I don’t play any instruments (at least not in a way that you would enjoy), nor do I have much experience with classical or operatic music, so my appreciation of “Simple Gifts” is a personal aesthetic. Who can explain why some songs feel like a homecoming? Why some connect me to a wordless place in my soul?
Only later would I learn that Copland had written “Appalachian Spring” as a ballet for Martha Graham in 1944 (and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945). “It was a piece that expressed hope and possibility despite the hard times and sacrifice still ahead,” said Jocelyn Gonzalez with WNYC, Studio 360. The score is not lush, but it still feels powerful. Actually, I think the term openness is better. It feels open. “Appalachian Spring” is designed to build to the melody known as “Simple Gifts” which was taken almost directly from a Shaker hymn called ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple.
Recently “Simple Gifts” came on my shuffle player and for some reason I was transported back to the Bellagio all these years later. Then the opening lines of a short story popped into my mind: It was two a.m. They’d now been up for nearly twenty-four hours. Married for four. Yet they stood at the edge of the lake, unable to tear themselves away… I don’t usually write about what I’m writing about, but I am struck once again by how inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of places. Everything I experience has a cumulative effect and percolates (love that word) at its own pace.
Here you can listen to the lovely Alison Krauss singing the Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma on cello. Her clean, crisp voice matches the melody perfectly.
This post was written for the weekly writing challenge.
Have you ever had a heart-felt reaction to a song? Has a song ever inspired you in some way?
Have a great weekend, everyone!