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Length: c. 5 minutes

About this Piece

When I received a commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to write an overture to open a Bowl concert featuring all American music, the title of my piece became completely obvious. I knew I could call it “All American” and find something to write about that would very much come out of my interests and would be lovely for a summer evening. But, I certainly didn’t know what exactly the content would be. My first instinct was to go to patriotic music, something well-known, like Sousa or another very American anthem and play with that as motivic material.

An idea jumped into my head – I have been thinking a lot about the pervasive invisibility of women composers in music history. We tend to believe that there were very few, if any, women composers in past centuries, and that we are now a product of the advancement of women in all professions. But I’ve begun to think that maybe there were women composers, lots of them, and that their works have been unrecognized, un-amplified. I set out looking for patriotic songs by American women composers. Much to my own surprise, I found not one or two, but hundreds.

I have taken three of these songs and used them as thematic material in what has become a very American anthem called All American – the italics being significant.

There is still a Sousa quote that sneaks in, and hidden references to other works, but do listen for the very patriotic melodies of Mildred Hill (the composer of the best known song in the English language, “Happy Birthday”), in her song “March on, Brave Lads, March on!,” Emily Wood Bower’s “Your Country Needs You,” and Anita Owen’s “’Neath the Flag of the Red, White, and Blue.”

All American is dedicated to these women. Underneath these quotes is an uneven but propulsive rhythm and melody. For me, this is an analogy to women’s advancement, moving forward in a positive direction, but always with a little bit of a trip, a hiccup.

This propulsion is powered by percussion instruments, many of which are derived from kitchen tools partnered with very traditional band percussion. You’ll hear a baking sheet playing along with the snare, silverware used instead of a triangle, pots and pans used instead of tubular bells, a butcher block played with a meat tenderizer, trash bins joined with orchestral toms, and my favorite, my beloved Le Creuset 5-quart braiser used as an anvil. Please enjoy All American.

—Laura Karpman