Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

'That Could Have Been Our National Anthem': The Power Of 'Fanfare For The Common Man'

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

And finally today, we're going to revisit a story from NPR's American Anthems series. You hear the word anthem, and you think of something big - something that unites listeners, a celebration - but also maybe something that challenges them. Aaron Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man" was composed in 1942, and, since then, it has been heard everywhere - in movies, at sports events, political rallies, celebrations and memorials. NPR's Mandalit del Barco looked into why this song continues to command so much attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Aaron Copland began his fanfare with dramatic percussion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

DEL BARCO: It heralds something big, exciting, heroic. Then simple trumpet notes ascend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

TERENCE BLANCHARD: It's a piece that feels like it was written by God and not by a human.

DEL BARCO: Jazz trumpet player and composer Terence Blanchard.

BLANCHARD: Whenever I hear it, it stops me in my tracks, and it makes me reflect - on the goodness of man, really. And I know that sounds corny for some, but it really makes me think about, at the end of the day, you know, most people in this country are good, God-fearing people. Honestly, that could have been our national anthem (laughter). It has that type of spirit to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

DEL BARCO: By 1942, the U.S. had entered World War II, and composer Aaron Copland was inspired by a speech Vice President Henry A. Wallace gave to rally Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HENRY A. WALLACE: Some have spoken of the American century. I say that the century on which we are entering - the century which will come into being after this war - can be and must be the century of the common man.

(APPLAUSE)

DEL BARCO: And the common man deserved a fanfare, Copland once said, remarking, it was the common man, after all, who was doing all the dirty work in the war and the army.

DAVID HOLLIS: I'm David Hollis, and I live in Hubbardsville, N.Y., and I'm the editor of Truckers News.

DEL BARCO: NPR asked listeners to reflect on Aaron Copland's Fanfare.

HOLLIS: You know, the public utility in Michigan. My mom worked a number of part-time blue-collar jobs. And they deserve to be exalted by a piece of music like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

BILL FULLMER: I'm Bill Fullmer. I live in DeWitt, Mich., and I am retired from the State Department of Mental Health. And there are rich people and CEOs that are in the limelight, and they get a lot more attention. And it's easy to forget that it's the common man that is making everything work.

SINGH: "Fanfare For The Common Man" has been performed for presidents, to honor victims of September 11. And it's been played in space.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHANNON LUCID: Good morning, Endeavour. And a special good morning to you today, Eric.

ERIC BOE: Good morning to you, Shannon, and the rest of the team that supports us.

DEL BARCO: In 2008, NASA pilot Eric Boe chose it as wakeup music for his crew of astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

BOE: What it made me think about is that, holy cow - I'm in space.

DEL BARCO: Boe says he first heard the fanfare when he was studying at the Air Force Academy. He calls it magical, like his voyages above the globe.

BOE: You're going around the planet once every 90 minutes and just looking at the Earth and how beautiful it is and the thin layer that we call the atmosphere that's protecting the planet and then hearing this great music that goes with what's going on down below.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

DEL BARCO: Back on Earth, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones have used the piece to open their concerts. And 1970s British progressive rockers Emerson, Lake and Palmer came up with their own version.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER PERFORMANCE OF "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

DEL BARCO: Drummer Carl Palmer is the only living member of the band. He still plays the fanfare at shows. He says bandleader Keith Emerson once met with Aaron Copland in Switzerland and played him the basic intro to ask for the composer's blessing.

CARL PALMER: And he thought it was OK. We were a little bit worried about playing to him the actual rock section of it where we were ad-libbing and having some fun. When we did play him that version, that's the version he said he wanted to hear. And he said, at least you've done something different with it. That works for me. Go ahead, guys. I wish you the best of luck with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER PERFORMANCE OF "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

DEL BARCO: Composer Aaron Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man" has inspired other composers, and it has become a kind of national anthem for so-called common men and women.

LYNN GILBERT: My name is Lynn Gilbert, and I live in Bristol, Maine. My career was in IT for a utility company. And in spite of the current political landscape, I guess I still believe that there is an American dream of peace and prosperity for everyone. And music that soars and inspires like this piece does brings hope for the future. It's powerful, it's direct and it's really just American. I love it. Thank you, Aaron Copland.

DEL BARCO: All of that in a piece that's under four minutes long.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

DEL BARCO: Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.