Thursday, May 2, 2013

American Gothic now set to music

It was only a matter of time when it would happen. After all, American Gothic has been the focus of numerous parodies, advertising gimmicks and the backdrop for social commentary, so why not set it to music? Composer and Cedar Rapids native Michael Daugherty decided to do just that.

This weekend, May 4 and 5, Iowa Orchestra (formerly the Cedar Rapids Symphony) will give a world premiere performance of Daugherty’s “American Gothic,” a 20-minute tribute to Grant Wood and American Gothic, at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on May 4 and at West High School in Iowa City on May 5.

A trip to the Iowa City area doesn’t fit into your travel plans? Not to worry as Orchestra Iowa, along with the premier of Daugherty’s “American Gothic,” will be at Bridge View Center in Ottumwa on Sunday, May 12 for a 3 p.m. performance. Cost a concern? Shouldn’t be as admission is free at the Bridge View Center.

According to an article by Diana Nollen in, Daugherty composed the arrangement as a “homage to Eastern Iowa’s most famous artist, Grant Wood.”

Shortly after being commissioned by Orchestra Iowa to write the piece, Daugherty, a professor at the University of Michigan and Grammy-award winning composer, took some time off and revisited his roots—Eastern Iowa, what he calls “Grant Wood country.”

According to the article, he also visited the Art Institute of Chicago to view the original painting, which influenced his final composition.

“‘The thing about the painting is that it’s a mystery. No one really knows what it means. People never really understood Grant Wood as an artist either,’” he says. “‘Some people took him seriously, (some critics) thought he was an amateur, partly because he was using the Midwest as his inspiration.

‘I thought it would be interesting to explore, ‘what does it mean to be a composer like myself, coming from Iowa,’ and also, ‘what are some of those hidden secrets in that painting’ — to explore that in a musical way.’”

As reported in the Hooplanow article, the result is a musical rendition of Wood and American Gothic.

“Daugherty’s musical artwork paints sonic images in three movements, beginning with “On a Roll,” which he describes as ‘a rollicking melody with colorful orchestration,’ evoking the rolling hills of Jones County, so prevalent in Wood’s paintings.

The middle section, “Winter Dreams,” is inspired not only by Wood’s black-and-white lithographs, but also by the bleak winters of Willis Daugherty’s rural Iowa youth, marked by soaring snowdrifts. It features the haunting sounds of alto flute and violins.

The final movement, “Pitchfork,” reflects the dour look of the duo in “American Gothic” and Wood’s wit. Daugherty kicks up the tempo with ‘very fast and very, very way-out bluegrass music.’ He calls it ‘a window into my contemporary musical vision of ‘American Gothic.’ ”

To view and listen to Daugherty and violinist Luke Witchger perform a preview of the final movement of the composition click here.

At Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Ottumwa, Orchestra Iowa will also perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “The Rock” and Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in D Minor in addition to Daugherty’s “American Gothic.” For ticket and additional information to the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City performances click here. For additional information to the performance at Bridge View Center click here. Remember, the concert at Bridge View is free.

Time to make plans for June at the American Gothic House Center

As mentioned last week, there are three events at the Center that are rapidly approaching.

In conjunction with “American Gothic Days” in Eldon, the American Gothic House Center is holding an art contest, a 5K run/walk and a 20-plus mile bike ride. Registration for the run/walk and bike ride can be done on the day of the event (the run /walk on Saturday, June 8 and the bike ride on Sunday, June 9) but to save a few bucks early registration is in order.

If registered for the 5K run/walk and the 20-mile bike ride by May 24, registration is $15; afterwards the fee is $18. Click on either event for more information and the entry form.

As for the art contest, there is no entry fee but the artwork must be submitted with entry form by Tuesday, June 4. For more information and the entry form click here.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center

The American Gothic House Center strives to become financially independent through gift shop revenue, sponsorships, and by establishing an endowment fund. Funds raised in this campaign will be used to match the Iowa Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grant and will become endowment funds to support the Center's annual operations. As a subscriber to the weekly newsletter, you have already shown support for the American Gothic House Center. I invite you to strengthen your role in the valuable experience we provide the community by making a contribution to our fund drive. Click here to give your tax deductible gift, or head to our website for more information. Thank you to all who have donated so far!
        Our Mission: Integrating the puzzle pieces of American Gothic
300 American Gothic St | Eldon, IA 52554 | 641-652-3352 |

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