Why Are We Playing Music That Honors Russia on the Fourth of July?
I'm a traditionalist when it comes to observing customs and culture, except for one July 4th canon.
Across the land, bands and orchestras and their audiences will inadvertently be uplifting Russia in patriotic music meant to rejoice American independence.
Beautiful and rousing, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" has absolutely nothing to do with the former colonists-turned-Americans fighting the British because they wanted to be free from British rule.
Two ultimate high energy musical finales – the medley of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" – have been banded together with Independence Day concerts since Maestro Arthur Fiedler, a master showman, introduced it at the Boston Pops Spectacular along the Esplanade in 1974, adding cannons and church bells to wow the crowd under a night filled sky of colorful fireworks. It was an instant hit and a new national tradition on the Fourth of July, that has become a staple.
But there's irony, this year especially, over whether we should be playing music that celebrates Russia's might, whether it's over Napoleon or the innocent people of Ukraine.
Berklee College alum and musicologist, Jon Marable, mused, "You have to ask as a culture, do we overlook the music's origin in favor of its glitter, as it happens quite often at Christmas, for instance, because we forget the origin and meaning of Christmas, in favor of what we have deemed to be most important."
As for dropping the "1812 Overture" for a different song, perhaps something else as fiery and bombastic, he said, "America likes anything that is spectacular! You have to have an Independence Day program that's big and flashy, the way they have heard it for years and years, and are accustomed to, because in the end, they may not care about the Russian connection."
There's no doubt, Tchaikovsky has pulled strings at Christmas with "The Nutcracker," just as the "1812 Overture" has become an institution with July 4th celebrations, but perhaps we ought to look for another piece of music that expresses "the rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air."
Happy Independence Day!