July 1, 2019. The hope in the "American Dream" is heard in the 2016 album, America Again, by pianist Lara Downes. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has the story.
[MUSIC: Ernest Bloch, "At Sea," from America Again]
Susan Lewis: Lara Downes, an American pianist with Jamaican-American and Jewish-Eastern European roots, plays jazz, classical, and music that crosses genres. The American dream is a recurring theme.
Lara Downes: Our American story, most of the time, begins with someone’s journey to America, journeys made across the ocean and over mountains.
SL: Her CD, America Again, references the 1935 poem by Langston Hughes.
LD: The poem opens, "Let America be America again, let it be the dream it used to be." I just honed in on this notion of the American dream and what it really means. It led me to a lot of different music and a lot of different stories.
SL: Music rooted in places, from the Shenandoah Valley to New York City; music informed by different cultures that make up America.
[MUSIC: "Shenandoah," from America Again]
[MUSIC: Morton Gould, American Caprice, from America Again]
And what Downes calls the conversation between generations: as in Art Tatum’s arrangement of the Irving Berlin song, "Blue Skies."
LD: I digested it, re-interpreted it, re-imagined it from a classical background.
SL: Music expressing the hope and resilience of the dream.
LD: We have this spirit to us that keeps us trying big things, and falling down, and getting up again. I think for me, the music is really reconnecting us with what is beautiful and true and essential about American life.
[MUSIC: "American Caprice" from America Again]
SL: The music of America Again spans the 20th century and beyond, and includes three world-premiere recordings.
Lara's latest release is Holes in the Sky, a compilation album that celebrates women's contributions to American music. It features women composers and performers, including violinist Rachel Barton Pine, songwriter Judy Collins, and pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The title references a quote by Georgia O'Keeffe: "I want real things - live people to take hold of - to see - and talk to - music that makes holes in the sky - I want to love as hard as I can."