Monday, April 6, 2009

Rhapsody in Blue

I have a love for the music of George Gershwin. I first discovered his music when I was 10 or 11. I was rooting through my Mom's CD collection looking for something new to listen to. You see, even at a young age I really enjoyed music, classical especially, and did everything within my power to find new and interesting pieces to listen to. When I pulled out the CD that said "An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue," I asked my Mom if these were classical songs. When she told me they were, I immediately put them in, because HOW COOL was the idea of an AMERICAN composer? (I had yet to discover the works of Aaron Copeland, who became another favorite.)

When I put it in the CD player, the first track (of the only two on the CD) was Rhapsody in Blue. I was captivated from the first moment. The initial trill of the clarinet in its lowest register and then the subsequent slide up to the top of the register was something I'd never heard before. There was something magical about it. It was bluesy and sounded to me more like jazz than classical music. Then the full orchestra came in and introduced a second melodic theme that again, didn't strike me as being classical. However, this was different than any jazz I'd heard since there was a full string section accompanying it. I continued to listen, fascinated by the sounds I was hearing. There was a very prominent piano part which I fell in love with, being a piano player myself. One of the melodic themes I recognized, which was WAY cool for me. I'd heard it in a United Airlines commercial. It was probably one of the first times I began to recognize classical themes being used in popular culture.

As I grew up, this piece became different things to me. As a music student in middle and high school I was taught about the makeup of orchestras, bands, jazz bands, etc. I played the tenor saxophone in school and was a little saddened to learn that the traditional orchestra did not contain this instrument, nor any of the other saxophones. Then I thought back to that day in elementary school when I first discovered Rhapsody in Blue. I had listened to it countless times since then, and the saxophones are obvious within the context of the piece. So I asked my teacher "well, what about Gershwin?" I was taught that he was a mostly jazz composer, but definitely had classical influences within his pieces, and chose to fuse the two with the first outcome being Rhapsody in Blue.

While in college studying saxophone, I still maintained my piano skills, and one day while perusing a music store came across a solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue. Since I wasn't taking lessons at the time, I attempted learn it on my own. It was then that I truly discovered the genius of Gershwin's writing. This piece is incredibly complex, and it was really fun for me to analyze the themes and see how they intertwined. I wasn't able to get the piece to a level suitable for performance, but I was able to garner a greater understanding of what was going on.

Yesterday I received an email from the director of a band I used to play with. As it turns out, they will be performing Rhapsody in Blue on May 5 and their tenor saxophone player recently had surgery. It looks like he won't be able to make the performance, so the director asked me to fill in for him. Of course I jumped on the opportunity. What an exciting thing for me to do - I now have the opportunity to perform one of my favorite pieces of all time! I look forward to my first rehearsal tomorrow night, and I'll be sure to report back.

Now, for your enjoyment - Rhapsody in Blue in its original form... with George Gershwin himself playing the piano :)


  1. Honestly, this is my favorite piece by Gershwin. Every time I hear it, my soul takes flight. I instantly stop what I'm doing and close my eyes, allowing the music take me to a beautiful place where nothing but the notes reign over me.

  2. Despite being trained in strict classical music, I would still say, when pressed, that Gershwin is my very favorite composer.