Ballet For Martha
The Appalachian Trail traverses over two thousand miles of the eastern United States, criss-crossing quiescent mountains who hold their secrets close, revealing little of their history save a melancholic beauty that settles on the mind like the mist that drapes their pines. The threshold of the trail is not far from us; we stop there nearly every Autumn on our annual foray to the mountains. Much like Dorothy with one ruby-slippered foot poised above a yellow road, Edward and I have stood staring down this mysterious leafy tunnel as far as our eyes can travel, till all its scarlet gold coalesces in the distance to a fiery, beckoning gem. Occasionally hikers pass us, all freshly pressed and smelling of soap. I can only imagine the adventures they will encounter before, and if, they manage to arrive atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin at the end of the trail.
Being somewhat familiar with this part of the country that bears the name Appalachia, it is difficult for me to conjure up a piece of music that more accurately illustrates a landscape than Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. I have often imagined Copland wandering this very same trail in the months of March or April when all around him drifts the golden green of spring. Did he transcribe the bird song? Did he hear the mountains sing in chorus? He must have done, for to hear this work is to see, and experience, the countryside for which it is named.
Or so I thought.
Truth is, Copland wrote this piece of music never knowing the title at all. He wasn’t thinking of Appalachia, he was merely composing a ballet for his friend, Martha Graham. Indeed, his title for the work was Ballet for Martha - he only found out the name of the ballet the night before its opening. It was to his great amusement that for years and years afterwards, he continued to be praised for so accurately capturing the spirit of a land he never gave thought to while composing his Appalachian Spring. Call it serendipity, call it the Unseen Hand. Call it the shenanigans of fate. It is difficult to ignore the invisible assemblage that often orchestrates our days. How little we see. How little we know.
Just last week, a favourite neighbour came over for a visit and long chat. Over tea and brownies, we discussed a cornucopia of subjects. Being fifteen, her views and opinions were of delightful interest to me and I was tickled to see how closely entwined our conclusions were. She shared with me how so often, when circumstances change or delay her plans, she wonders if perhaps there is a reason. Was she spared an accident by being a few seconds late? Did she happen upon a new friend by a slight altering of her schedule? I loved it that she considers ideas such as these for it means she is living life with open eyes; open eyes that know, without seeing, that there is a benevolence surrounding us, orchestrating our lives for the good.
If you’ve never been to Appalachia in springtime,
close your eyes when you listen to this.
You’ll see it plain as day.