Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Aaron Copland": His Music Taught America About Itself


I’m Steve Ember.


And I’m Barbara Klein with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Aaron Copland, one of America’s best modern music composers.



Aaron Copland wrote many kinds of music. He wrote music for the orchestra, piano, and voice. He wrote music for plays, movies and dance. Copland also was a conductor, pianist, speaker, teacher and author.

Music critics say Copland taught Americans about themselves through his music. He used parts of many old traditional American folk songs in his work. He was influenced to do this after studying music in France. He said that composers there had a very French way of writing music. He said Americans had nothing like that in this country. So he decided to compose music that was truly American.


Aaron Copland was born in nineteen hundred in Brooklyn, New York. He was the youngest of five children. His parents had come to the United States from eastern Europe. They owned a store in Brooklyn. Aaron began playing the piano when he was a young child. He wrote his first song for his mother when he was eight years old. His dreams of becoming a composer began when he was young.

When he was sixteen, he urged his parents to let him study composing with Rubin Goldmark. Goldmark had taught the composer George Gershwin.


When he was in his early twenties, Copland went to Paris where he studied music with Nadia Boulanger. She was one of the most important music teachers of the time. He returned to New York in nineteen twenty-four.

The famous conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky, learned about Copland's music. Koussevitzky led the orchestra for the first performance of Copland's early work, "Music for the Theater," in nineteen twenty-five. Koussevitzky also conducted Copland's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" in nineteen twenty-seven. This work was unusual because Copland used ideas from jazz music in his concerto.


Copland later wrote the music for two ballets about the American West. One was about the life of a famous gunfighter called Billy the Kid. Copland used music from American cowboy songs in this work. This piece from "Billy the Kid: Ballet Suite" is called "Street in a Frontier Town."



In nineteen forty-two, the conductor Andre Kostelanetz asked Copland to write music about a great American, Abraham Lincoln. Copland wrote "Lincoln Portrait" to honor America's sixteenth president. Copland's music included parts of American folk songs and songs popular during the American Civil War. He added words from President Lincoln's speeches and letters.

"Lincoln Portrait" has been performed many times in America. Many famous people have done the speaking part. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, was one of them. Here, actor James Earl Jones performs in Copland's "Lincoln Portrait."



Also in nineteen forty-two, the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra asked eighteen composers to write music expressing love for America. For the competition, Copland composed "Fanfare for the Common Man." This music is played in America during many national events, including some presidential inaugurations.



Experts say "Fanfare for the Common Man" was an example of Copland's change in direction during the nineteen forties. He began writing music that was more easily understood and more popular. Copland wrote about this in nineteen forty-one in his book, “Our New Music.” He wrote that a whole new public for music had developed as a result of the popularity of the radio and record player. He said that there was no reason to continue writing music as if these devices did not exist. So he decided to write music in a simpler way.


Copland spread his ideas about music in other ways. He taught at the New School for Social Research in New York City and at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of the many awards he received was the Pulitzer Prize. He won it in nineteen forty-five for his famous music for a ballet called "Appalachian Spring." It is one of his most popular works. The last part of the ballet is based on a traditional song, "A Gift to be Simple."



Copland also wrote music for several major motion pictures. He won an Academy Award in nineteen fifty for composing the music for the film, "The Heiress." Then, he began experimenting with what is called a twelve-tone system of composing. His music no longer was as easy to understand, or as popular.

Copland stopped composing at the end of the nineteen sixties. Yet he continued to be active as a conductor and speaker. In nineteen eighty-two, Queens College of the City University of New York established the Aaron Copland School of Music.


Copland was a strong supporter of liberal ideas. In the early nineteen fifties, he and other famous writers, actors and intellectuals were accused of supporting communism. Public opinion changed, though. In nineteen sixty-four, President Lyndon Johnson presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is America's highest award to civilians. Aaron Copland died in nineteen ninety at the age of ninety. But his music lives on.



This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I’m Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for another People in America program in VOA Special English.


Comprehension Check. Choose the correct answer.

1. Aaron Copland's parents were from _____________
a: Italy.
b: New York.
c: Harvard University.
d: Eastern Europe.

2.Copland decided to write music that had a distinctly American Flavor. He was influenced by_____________
a: French composers.
b: Spanish composers.
c: his grandfather.
d: the common people.

3. In "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra", Copland used ideas from _____________
a:motion pictures.
b:Rock and Roll music.
c:Modern day "Rap".
d:Jazz music.

4. A famous conductor from the Boston Symphony Orchestra led the first performance of Copland's work when Copland was ______________
a:only ten years old.
b:in his early sixties.
c:in his twenties.

5. One of Copland's famous works was written to honor an American president:
a:Woodrow Wilson.
b:Jack Kennedy.
c:Abraham Lincoln.
d:George Washington.

6. Aaron Copland wrote a ballet about the American West and the famous outlaw "Billy the Kid". For this ballet, Copeland used ______________
a:folk music .
b:cowboy songs.
c:negro spirituals.
d:children's games.

7. In the nineteen-forties, Copland decided America needed a new, simpler music because of the rising popularity of ___________________
a:baseball and other sports.
b:post war gadgets like refrigerators.
c:radio and the record player.
d:break dancing.

8. "Fanfare for The Common Man" is sometimes played during _______________
a:inaugurals and national events.
b:dance parties.
c:romantic movies.
d:horse races.

9. An heiress is ________________________
a:a woman who dies leaving money to her children.
b:a person who thinks about the past.
c:a woman who inherits money and property.
d:a person who wants to be wealthy.

10. This story is mainly about ______________________
a:Copland's book, "The New Music".
b:a great composer who taught Americans about themselves.
c:a music teacher at Harvard and The New School.
d:a conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

11. Another name for this story could be _______________________
a:"How to Write Popular Music."
b:"French Influences in American Music."
c:"The First Truly American Composer."
d:"Growing up in Brooklyn."

Vocabulary Check. Fill the blanks, then check your answer.

1. Aaron Copland was a strong supporter of ideas.

2. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America's highest award to .

3. In addition to being a composer, speaker, teacher, and author, Aaron Copland also was a . He led orchestras.

4. Copland used parts of folk songs in his work.

5. Music critics say Copland taught Americans about in his work.

6. Copland was to compose American music by French composers whose music was distinctly French.

7. Copland dreamed of a composer when he was very young.

8. When his music was first played, people had never heard this kind of music before. They thought it was very .

9. Aaron Copland wrote two about the American West.

10. Copland's "Fanfare for The Common Man" the composer's love for his country.

1.2. 3.
4.5. 6.
7.8. 9.

Now, listen to Aaron Copland's Fanfare For The Common Man

Agnes de Mille's Ballet of "Rodeo, Scene One" by Aaron Copland

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Antarctica: A Scientific Laboratory Like No Other in the World


I'm Bob Doughty.


And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA(Voice of America)Special English. Today we travel south to one of the coldest, windiest and least populated places in the world, Antarctica. The word "Antarctica" comes from a Greek root meaning "opposite to the north."

This huge continent on the Earth's South Pole covers about fourteen million square kilometers. About ninety-eight percent of this area is covered in ice. Join us as we explore the history of Antarctica and its environmental and scientific importance.



Every year, scientists from over twenty-seven countries carry out research in a place that is like no other in the world. Scientists from many areas of study come to Antarctica. They include biologists, astronomers, physicists and geologists. There are always exciting discoveries being made in this huge natural laboratory.

For example, scientists recently discovered a group of small organisms that appear to have lived for millions of years under the ice. The water under the ice is very salty and contains many kinds of minerals including iron. The bacteria use these minerals to survive. Jill Mikucki led the team of scientists who explored an area under an ice formation called Taylor Glacier. TAYLOR GLACIER

JILL MIKUCKI: "We have a lot to learn from the microbes that survive in these kinds of environments and have adapted to these cold, low-energy systems. They're very efficient."


Not far from Taylor Glacier, researchers for the American space Agency are using the icy Lake Bonney to test an underwater robot vehicle. The vehicle is helping scientists to see for the first time huge areas underneath the lake that were otherwise impossible to explore. Developing this kind of vehicle could be useful for future space operations. Scientists hope this vehicle could permit them to one day explore the icy oceans on Jupiter's moon Europa.


One of the most important subjects studied on Antarctica is climate change. Scientists say the thinning ozone layer over the South Pole makes climate change take place more quickly than in other areas of the world.

Yves Frenot is deputy director of the French Polar Institute. He says that in the Antarctic Peninsula, scientists estimate that climate change has caused temperatures to increase by two or three degrees Celsius over the past fifty years. He says this is a very huge increase compared to what has happened in the past.

Signs of climate change include an increase in rain when there used to be only snow, new plant life, and melting ice sheets. The melting ice resulting from climate change would affect coastal areas around the world. But scientists disagree about how much sea levels could rise if Antarctica's ice sheets continue to melt.

One group of researchers published its findings in Science magazine last month. Jonathan Bamber of the Bristol Glaciology Center in England led the study. The team predicted sea levels would rise by about three meters. This is three meters less than other studies have estimated. Most scientists agree that climate change is a serious problem that requires the attention of people and governments around the world.




There is no official agreement about who discovered Antarctica. Since ancient times, thinkers including the Greek astronomer Ptolemy believed in the existence of a huge continent on the South Pole. They gave a name to this mysterious continent: Terra Australis Incognita, or the "Unknown Southern Land."

The English explorer James Cook came looking for this undiscovered continent in the seventeen seventies. But he was looking for a much larger continent. On his third trip, he and his team circled Antarctica. His boat crossed the Antarctic Circle in three places, but he still failed to sight land. At the time, this was the furthest south anyone had ever traveled.


Around eighteen twenty, crew members on three different ships claimed to have sighted Antarctica. These were the American sailor Nathaniel Palmer, the Russian Captain Fabian Bellingshausen and the British Captain Edward Bransfield. The race by countries to explore Antarctica had begun.

Looking at a modern day map of Antarctica gives clues about its first explorers. In eighteen thirty-nine the American Naval officer Charles Wilkes led an expedition to the continent. He mapped over two thousand kilometers of the continent's coastline. His efforts helped prove that Antarctica was in fact a continent. The Wilkes Land area is named for him.

In eighteen forty-one, the British navy officer James Ross discovered areas now called the Ross Sea and Ross Ice Shelf. Other famous twentieth century explorers of Antarctica included Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, and Richard Evelyn Byrd.



It might seem surprising that a freezing continent with no native human population would be defined by a legal agreement signed by over forty countries. Antarctica is governed by a collection of agreements known as the Antarctic Treaty System.

The main agreement of the system, the Antarctic Treaty, was signed by twelve countries in nineteen fifty-nine. It went into effect two years later.

Seven of the twelve countries claim Antarctic territory, although the United States does not recognize the claims. These seven are Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. The other five countries that signed the treaty were Belgium, Japan, South Africa, the Soviet Union and the United States.


The main goal of the Antarctic Treaty is to support scientific research and the exchange of information. The treaty also guarantees that Antarctica will continue to be used for peaceful purposes and will not become the object of international dispute. The treaty bans nuclear explosions, nuclear waste, and any military activity such as weapons testing. The treaty also does not recognize, dispute or establish claims of territorial ownership by a country.

Since nineteen fifty-nine, thirty-five other countries have joined the treaty. Some countries are voting members, while others are non-voting members.


Sharing Antarctica for science makes sense. Researchers have found that working together in the severe environment saves them time and money. Antoine Guichard agrees. He is part of the National Antarctic Programs.

ANTOINCE GUICHARD: "It is so expensive that if you don't help each other, usually you just don't manage. And now with Antarctic science being really a global science and part of understanding how the world works, it is becoming really vital that everybody works together."


The treaty also calls for countries to gather for Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. The meetings used to be held about once every two years. Now, the group meets yearly. In April, the group met in Baltimore, Maryland. About four hundred diplomats, scientists, and Antarctic program supervisors from forty-seven countries met. They discussed protecting the environment, supporting science, and controlling travel to Antarctica.



Travel was an important subject at the last Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting because the continent has become a popular place for adventurous visitors.

Last year, about forty-five thousand travelers visited the continent. The number of visitors has increased by ten times in the past fifteen years. Large ships that travel to the area sometimes have accidents resulting in leaks of gasoline or oil. These chemicals can have a very damaging effect on krill, sea creatures that are an important part of the food chain in Antarctic waters.

Treaty members agreed to approve rules banning ships carrying more than five hundred travelers. And, the ships cannot bring on land more than one hundred passengers at a time. Rules would also call for new requirements for lifeboats on these ships.


But visitors are not the only concern. More and more scientific research stations are also affecting the environment. There are about sixty research stations on the continent. Jose Retamales is the director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

JOSE RETAMALES: "Half the buildings you have seen, they were not there five years ago. The Chinese station, the Korean Station, they're new buildings. I don't think we should have so many stations in Antarctica."


Research stations are taking steps to protect the environment. For example, they are reusing materials and heating buildings in a more environmentally friendly way. The scientists on Antarctica know better than anyone about the effects of pollution and human behavior on this important treasure of a continent.



This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Bob Doughty.


And I'm Faith Lapidus. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports at Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


The Antarctic Treaty does not recognize or support ________________________ .
a: exchange of information
b: peaceful uses of the continent
c: scientific discoveries
d: territorial claims by countries

2. The increase in the number of visitors to Antarctica has become a concern because ___________________ .
a: Antarctica might become a separate nation
b: the environment might be damaged
c: wildlife might be frightened
d: scientific research could be compromised

3. Antarctica's coastline is more than ____________________ long.
a: one thousand kilometers
b: three thousand kilometers
c: two thousand kilometers
d: seven hundred kilometers

4. The name "Antarctica" comes from an ancient Greek root meaning "__________________ ."
a: the coldest place
b: opposite to the north
c: the least populated land
d: unknown southern land

5. Antarctica has no _____________________________ .
a: human settlements
b: organisms
c: native human population
d: seasons

6. "Microbes" are _______________________ .
a: instruments for detecting life
b: mechanisms for adapting to the cold
c: very small organisms
d: minerals that feed bacteria

7. Signs of climate change do not include ___________________ .
a: the successful test of an underwater robot
b: a huge increase of temperature
c: rain when there used to be only snow
d: new plant life

8. Continued melting of Antarctica's ice sheets would probably cause __________________ .
a: greater windstorms on the mainland
b: a rise in sea levels
c: the growth of forests
d: collisions with ships

9. Wilkes Land Area is named for ___________________________
a: a Russian Captain
b: an American Naval Officer
c: a British Navy officer
d: an English explorer

10. ________________ was not one of the Twentieth Century explorers of Antarctica.
a: James Cook
b: Evelyn Byrd
c: Ernest Shackleton
d: Roald Amumdsen

Scenic Video of Antarctica:

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Luck of Roaring Camp - Bret Harte

Now, the Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.

Our story today is called, "The Luck of Roaring Camp." It was written by Bret Harte. Here is Harry Monroe with our story.



Roaring Camp was the noisiest gold mining town in California. More than one-hundred men from every part of the United States had come to that little camp – stopping there for a short time on their way to getting rich.

Many of these gold miners were criminals. All of them were violent. They filled the peaceful mountain air with shouting and gun shots. The noise of their continual fighting finally gave the camp its strange name.

On a sunny morning in eighteen fifty, however, the men of Roaring Camp were quiet. A crowd was gathered in front of a small wooden house by the river. Inside that cabin was "Cherokee Sal," the only woman in camp. She was all alone and in terrible pain. Cherokee Sal was having a baby.

Deaths were not unusual in Roaring Camp. But a birth was big news.

One of the men turned to another and ordered: "Go in there, Stumpy, and see what you can do." Stumpy opened the cabin door, and disappeared inside. The rest of the men built a campfire outside and gathered around it to wait.

Suddenly, a sharp cry broke the air…the cry of a new-born baby. All the men jumped to their feet as Stumpy appeared at the cabin door. Cherokee Sal was dead. But her baby, a boy, was alive.

The men formed a long line. One by one they entered the tiny cabin. On the bed, under a blanket, they could see the body of the unlucky mother. On a pine table, near that bed, was a small wooden box. Inside lay Roaring Camp's newest citizen, wrapped in a piece of bright red cloth.

Someone had put a large hat near the baby's box. And as the men slowly marched past, they dropped gifts into the hat. A gold tobacco box. A silver gun. A diamond ring. A lace handkerchief. And about two hundred dollars in gold and silver.

Only one incident broke the flow of the men through the cabin. As a gambler named Kentucky leaned over the box, the baby reached up and held one of the man's fingers. Kentucky looked embarrassed.

"That funny little fellow," he said, as he gently pulled his hand out of the box. He held up his finger and stared at it. "He grabbed my finger," he told the men. "That funny little fellow."

The next morning, the men of Roaring Camp buried Cherokee Sal. Afterwards, they held a formal meeting to discuss what to do with the baby. Everyone in the camp voted to keep the child. But nobody could agree on the best way to take care of it.

Tom Ryder suggested bringing a woman into the camp to care for the baby. But the men believed no good woman would accept Roaring Camp as her home. And they decided that they didn't want any more of the other kind.

Stumpy didn't say a word during these long discussions. But when the others finally asked his opinion, he admitted that he wanted to continue taking care of the baby himself. He had been feeding it milk from a donkey, and he believed he could raise the baby just fine.

There was something original, independent, even heroic about Stumpy's plan that pleased the men of Roaring Camp. Stumpy was hired.

All the men gave him some gold to send for baby things from the city of Sacramento. They wanted the best that money could buy.

By the time the baby was a month old, the men decided he needed a name. All of them had noticed that since the baby's birth, they were finding more gold than ever before. One day Oakhurst declared that the baby had brought "The Luck" to Roaring Camp. So "Luck" was the name they chose for him, adding before it, the first name "Tommy."

A name day was set for him. The ceremony was held under the pine trees with Stumpy saying the simple works: "I proclaim you Thomas Luck, according to the laws of the United States and the state of California, so help me God."

Soon after the ceremony, Roaring Camp began to change. The first improvements were made in the cabin of Tommy or "The Luck" as he was usually called. The men painted it white, planted flowers around it and kept it clean.

Tuttle's store, where the men used to meet to talk and play cards, also changed. The owner imported a carpet and some mirrors. The men – seeing themselves in Tuttle's mirrors – began to take more care about their hair, beards and clothing.

Stumpy made a new law for the camp. Anyone who wanted the honor of holding The Luck would have to wash daily. Kentuck appeared at the cabin every afternoon in a clean shirt, his face still shining from the washing he'd given it.

The shouting and yelling that had given the camp its name also stopped. Tommy needed his sleep, and the men walked around speaking in whispers. Instead of angry shouts, the music of gentle songs filled the air. Strange new feelings of peace and happiness came into the hearts of the miners of Roaring Camp.

During those long summer days, The Luck was carried up the mountain to the place where the men were digging for gold. He would lie on a soft blanket decorated with wild flowers the men would bring.

Nature was his nurse and playmate. Birds flew around his blanket. And little animals would play nearby. Golden sunshine and soft breezes would stroke him to sleep.

During that golden summer The Luck was with them, the men of Roaring Camp all became rich. With the gold they found in the mountains came a desire for further improvement. The men voted to build a hotel the following spring. They hoped some good families with children would come to live in Roaring Camp.

But some of the men were against this plan. They hoped something would happen to prevent it. And something did.

The following winter, the winter of eighteen fifty-one, is still remembered for the heavy snows in the mountains. When the snow melted that spring, every stream became an angry river that raced down the mountains tearing up trees and bringing destruction.

One of those terrible streams was the North Fork River. Late one night, it leaped over its banks and raced into the valley of Roaring Camp.

The sleeping men had no chance to escape the rushing water, the crashing trees and the darkness. When morning came, Stumpy's cabin near the river was gone. Further down in the valley they found the body of its unlucky owner.

But the pride, the hope, the joy, The Luck of Roaring Camp had disappeared.

Suddenly, a boat appeared from around a bend in the river. The men in it said they had picked up a man and a baby. Did anyone know them? Did they belong here?

Lying on the bottom of the rescue boat was Kentuck. He was seriously injured, but still holding The Luck of Roaring Camp in his arms. As they bent over the two, the men saw the child was pale and cold.

"He's dead," said one of them.

Kentuck opened his eyes. "Dead?" he whispered. "Yes, Kentuck. And you are dying, too."

Kentuck smiled. "Dying!" he repeated. "He is taking me with him. Tell the boys I've got The Luck with me."

And the strong man, still holding the small child, drifted away on the shadowy river that flows forever to the unknown sea.



You have just heard "The Luck of Roaring Camp," a story by Bret Harte. It was adapted for Special English by Dona De Sanctis. Your storyteller was Harry Monroe.

Listen again next week for another American story told in Special English. This is Shirley Griffith.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What is a "Couch Potato?" Listen and Read.

Now, the VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stories.

Some unusual words describe how a person spends his or her time. For example, someone who likes to spend a lot of time sitting or lying down while watching television is sometimes called a couch potato. A couch is a piece of furniture that people sit on while watching television.

Robert Armstrong, an artist from California, developed the term couch potato in nineteen-seventy-six. Several years later, he listed the term as a trademark with the United States government. Mister Armstrong also helped write a funny book about life as a full-time television watcher. It is called the "Official Couch Potato Handbook."

Couch potatoes enjoy watching television just as mouse potatoes enjoy working on computers. A computer mouse is the device that moves the pointer, or cursor, on a computer screen. The description of mouse potato became popular in nineteen-ninety-three. American writer Alice Kahn is said to have invented the term to describe young people who spend a lot of time using computers.

Too much time inside the house using a computer or watching television can cause someone to get cabin fever. A cabin is a simple house usually built far away from the city. People go to a cabin to relax and enjoy quiet time.

Cabin fever is not really a disease. However, people can experience boredom and restlessness if they spend too much time inside their homes. This is especially true during the winter when it is too cold or snowy to do things outside. Often children get cabin fever if they cannot go outside to play. So do their parents. This happens when there is so much snow that schools and even offices and stores are closed.

Some people enjoy spending a lot of time in their homes to make them nice places to live. This is called nesting or cocooning. Birds build nests out of sticks to hold their eggs and baby birds. Some insects build cocoons around themselves for protection while they grow and change. Nests and cocoons provide security for wildlife. So people like the idea of nests and cocoons, too.

The terms cocooning and nesting became popular more than twenty years ago. They describe people buying their first homes and filling them with many things. These people then had children.

Now these children are grown and have left the nest. They are in college. Or they are married and starting families of their own far away. Now these parents are living alone without children in their empty nest. They have become empty nesters.


This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Jill Moss. I'm Faith Lapidus.