The American Series is an initiative of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra to explore the rich tapestry of American music. This multi-year program includes performances by all organizational ensembles: the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, GSO Chorus, GSO Jazz!, and the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra.

The aim of this series is to capture the quintessential essence of the wide reaching American experience, and to use the music as a means of outreach and collaboration into differing communities.


Georgia Symphony Orchestra

Saturday, February 18, 2017
Marietta Performing Arts Center

America, Vol. 1 is the first concert in a new series exploring American music. Throughout the multi-year initiative, you’ll experience the music you love to hear, and music that rings true across all the GSO ensembles. Excitement, exhilaration, the depths of solitude, and more – the first works in our series are bound by their directness of expression and genuine approach to connecting with listeners. Barber’s iconic Adagio is unforgettable in this special setting with the GSO Chamber Chorus.


Hanson: Symphony No. 2 “Romantic”
Barber: Adagio for Strings/Agnus Dei with the GSO Chamber Chorus
Copland: Old American Songs with the GSO Chorus


Program Notes

Born in Wahoo, Nebraska, Howard Hanson (1896-1981) did much to promote American music, and not just his own. After graduating from Northwestern University at the age of 19, he taught for a few years, then spent three years in Rome after winning the Prix de Rome. While in Rochester, New York, to conduct his “Nordic” Symphony No. 1, Op. 22, Hanson’s dynamic personality and administrative skills caught the attention of George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, who had just endowed a music school at the University of Rochester. At 28, Hanson became the first director of the Eastman School of Music, where he founded the Institute of American Music at Eastman, a project that led to the performance of music by many contemporary composers.

Inspired by the Romantics, notably the symphonies of Finland’s Jean Sibelius and the symphonic poems of Franz Liszt, Hanson wrote music that was much more traditional and conservative than that of his contemporaries. Of his five symphonies, one of the most important is his Symphony No. 2, Op. 30, the “Romantic,” of 1930.   Of Symphony No. 2, Hanson wrote: “The symphony for me represents my escape from the rather bitter type of modern musical realism [that] occupies so large a place in contemporary thought. Much contemporary music seems to me to be…. entirely too cerebral. I do not believe that music is primarily a matter of the intellect, but rather a manifestation of the emotions. I have, therefore, aimed in this Symphony to create a work that was young in spirit, lyrical and romantic in temperament, and ample and direct in expression.” Joseph Machlis writes: “In an age opposed to sentiment and rhetoric, this symphony is unashamedly sentimental and rhetorical.”

Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 is in three movements, its cyclical nature reflected in the recurrence of musical ideas first heard in the opening movement. An atmospheric Adagio precedes the first movement proper, an Allegro moderato, in which dramatic fanfares alternate with more lyrical sections, among them a “chorale” for strings and solo horn. A brief coda quietly closes the movement.   The second movement, Andante con tenerezza, opens and closes with one of Hanson’s most memorable and Romantic melodies. The middle section, based on motives heard in the first movement, is interrupted by florid woodwind passages. The final movement, Allegro con brio, summarizes the entire symphony as it recalls thematic materials from the first and second movements, like the first movement alternating drama and lyricism. A final fanfare builds to the symphony’s conclusion.


Samuel Barber (1910-1981), born in Westchester, Pennsylvania, was a true American prodigy, playing piano at six, composing at seven, and entering the Curtis Institute of Music at 14. He began as a pianist and a vocalist but it was as a composer that he made his mark. Although he wrote in a variety of styles - “It is said that I have no style at all," he said - like Hanson he rejected the austere style of his contemporaries and it is his melodies, such as those found in the beautiful Adagio for Strings and Knoxville: Summer of 1915, which are truly memorable. His works include three operas and a ballet as well as works for orchestra, chorus and solo voice, and piano. Barber's single organ work, “Wondrous Love,” is a set of variations on a shape-note hymn.

The Agnus Dei is a choral arrangement of the composer's Adagio for Strings, itself a string orchestra arrangement of the second movement of his String Quartet, Opus 11, written in 1936. The orchestral version was often performed by conductor Arturo Toscanini, and its sustained melodic lines and lush harmonies were used to great effect in the film Platoon. Barber received several requests for arrangements of the Adagio and transcribed the work for chorus in 1967, using the Agnus Dei text. In this work, phrases usually begin with a single voice, followed by others which fill out the underlying harmony, as a step-wise melody slowly rises and unfolds toward an intense climax. To quote J. Peter Burkholder: “The sense of suspension, of slowed-down time, creates an impression of deep feeling that can scarcely be borne...”


Brooklyn-born Aaron Copland (1900-1990), who first composed in a modernistic style, in the 1930s set out to cultivate an “American” music that was simple and direct, with generally traditional melodies and harmonies related to folk and patriotic subjects. Inspired by the Shaker tradition (Appalachian Spring), the Old West (Billy the Kid and Rodeo), and wartime patriotism (A Lincoln Portrait and Letter from Home), he broadened the appeal of serious music in the United States, also writing for children and high schoolers, and providing film scores for adaptations of works by Americans Thornton Wilder (Our Town), Lillian Hellman (North Star), Henry James (The Heiress) and John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men). Copland believed that the creative spirit manifested itself in the music of “our America.” “…the creative act,” he wrote, “affirms the individual, and gives value to the individual, and through him to the nation of which he is a part.”

Copland’s first set of Old American Songs was written in 1950 at the request of English composer Benjamin Britten for performance at that composer’s Aldeburgh Festival; the second set followed in 1952. The songs range from folk ballads, lullabies, and revivalist hymns to popular theater numbers. Copland’s selection of songs, personally researched from early sources, gave new life to tunes almost forgotten and prompted a renewed interest in American folk music.

Set 1: “The Boatman’s Dance” is a minstrel show tune, an “original banjo melody” written in 1843 by Daniel Decatur Emmett, who later composed “Dixie.” Copland designed the song to reflect the Ohio River landscape, as demonstrated by the call and echo effect employed prior to each verse. A version of “The Dodger” appeared in the collection Our Singing Country published by John A. and Alan Lomax. This song was supposedly used in the campaign leading up to the 1884 presidential election won by Grover Cleveland. Copland reduced this song to three essential verses, “The Candidate,” “The Preacher,” and “The Lover,” changing the song’s rhythm and tempo to allow for dramatic singing and a lively accompaniment. “Long Time Ago” is a sentimental ballad and minstrel song, its lyrics adapted by American poet and songwriter George Pope Morris in 1837, with English composer Charles Edward Horn setting the words to music. “Simple Gifts” is a Shaker hymn dating from the mid-1800s, its text and melody quoted by Edward D. Andrews in The Gift to be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers of 1940. Copland brought the tune to prominence when he used it as the basis for a masterful set of variations in his ballet, Appalachian Spring. In the playful nonsense song, “I Bought Me a Cat,” a children’s song which originated in the British Isles, singers and orchestra venture outside traditional boundaries as they imitate the sounds of barnyard animals.

Set 2: “Little Horses,” a children’s lullaby originating in the South, and possibly of African-American origins, is based on “All the Pretty Little Horses” as found in the Lomaxes’ Folk Song: U.S.A. “Zion’s Walls” is an American shape-note tune and revivalist song. Copland also used the tune of “Zion’s Walls” with different words in “The Promise of Living” from his opera, The Tender Land. Its original melody and text were credited to John G. McCurry, a farmer from Hart County, Georgia, who published the song collection The Social Harp in 1855. “The Golden Willow Tree” is a version of “The Golden Vanity,” an Anglo-American ballad also set by Benjamin Britten Copland's version is based on a performance by Justus Begley (with banjo accompaniment), recorded for Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in 1937. “At the River” is a tender hymn tune written by Robert Lowry, American literature professor and Baptist minister, that dates from 1865. It was later sung in memorial concerts for both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. “Ching-a-Ring Chaw,” an optimistic “ditty” characterized by syncopation and quickly sung syllables, is a re-writing of a minstrel song found in Brown University’s Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays.


- Michaelene Gorney



The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, Don Michael Randel, ed., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England, 1996.

The Concise Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Music, Nicolas Slonimsky, ed., Schirmer Books, New York, New York, 1994.

Joseph Machlis, The Enjoyment of Music, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, New York, 1977.

Howard Hanson: Symphony No. 2 “Romantic,” Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwartz, liner notes by Steven Lowe, NAXOS American Classics CD 8.559701.

Canton Symphony Orchestra, Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 (Romantic), by Howard Hanson, Program Notes by Kenneth C. Viant,

Library of Congress, .

Aaron Copland, Copland on Music, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, New York, 1960.

New Mexico Philharmonic, Aaron Copland: Selections from Old American Songs (1950-1952), program notes unattributed,

The Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, Old American Songs program notes by Jonathan Gentry, February 28, 2011,

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Copland (1900-1990), “Old American Songs,” program notes by Steven Ledbetter, annotator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1998,


GSO Jazz!

November 4, 2017
Earl Smith Strand Theater

The perennial favorite, Big Band night kicks off the 2017-2018 GSO Jazz series. A continuation of the GSO’s exploration of American music, this concert features the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Gordon Goodwin, Maria Schneider.



Georgia Symphony Youth Orchestra

December 17th, 2017
Bailey Center for the Arts

Leroy  Anderson Blue Tango 
Leroy Anderson Serenata 
Henry Cowell Hymn & Fuguing Tune No. 
Joan Tower Made in America 

Georgia Symphony Orchestra

April 20, 2018
Ray Charles Performing Arts Center

April 21, 2018
Marietta Performing Arts Center

Volume 4 of the GSO’s multi-year presentation of American music explores black American composers including the world premiere of Moonlight Waltz by the GSO’s own N. E. Wheeler, and the Georgia premier of Daniel Bernard Roumain Human Songs and Stories and William Grant Still’s And They Lynched Him on a Tree.

Joining the GSO Chorus for this performance are artistic partners the Morehouse College Glee Club, Spelman College Glee Club, Georgia Spiritual Ensemble, Oral Moses, and the Uzee Brown Society of Choraliers.


Jonathan Bailey Holland Motor City Dance Mix
N. E. Wheeler Moonlight Waltz*
Adolphus Hailstork Shout for Joy
William Grant Still And They Lynched Him on a Tree**
Daniel Bernard Roumain Human Songs and Stories**
*World Premiere
** Georgia Premiere