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Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland

Crotonville (the northern most neighborhood in Ossining, NY) was home to the legendary composer Aaron Copland. He lived and wrote in his home on Shady Lane Farm Road from December 1952 until he moved to Peekskill in 1960. The modest clapboard exterior belies the rugged beauty of the wooden interior of this converted barn (New York Times, 8/11/85 "Return to Shady Lane" by Helen Barolini). It was during his time here that he wrote the opera "The Tender Land", among other works. From this, the movement titled "The Promise of Living", is quite stirring and deals, in part, with the theme of neighbors working together hand in hand. The main theme of the opera concerns suspicion and persecution of innocent outsiders. This theme could be said to characterize the years that Copland lived in Crotonville. Soon after he moved in, he was summoned to testify at the McCarthy hearings and accused of being a communist. Not to mention that he was a gay jewish composer from the city suddenly living with his poet/librettist boyfriend in a barn in an Irish/German working class neighborhood in Westchester.
I expect some of us ran into Copland in Frank's Crotonville Deli without even knowing it. This home, sadly, was razed by General Electric in 1987 for a corporation baseball field. In 1975 I performed in a dance piece choreographed to his "Rodeo" during an evening show by the Ossining High School modern dance club. Alas, Copland did not see it despite his proximity in Peekskill and his generous nature toward students because we didn't think to invite him until after it was over. (But, I was thrilled to once see him at the Aspen music festival in 1976.)

Note: photos and quotations excerpted from "Copland Since 1943", by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis Published by St. Martin's Press1989.

Aaron Copland in his Crotonville home studio on Shady Lane Farm Rd.

Copland writing about his Crotonville home.

"I stayed in the Berkshires until mid-September, when I returned to Erik's Greenwich Village apartment to work with him on the opera [THE TENDER LAND]. On weekends, we went house hunting, and in November, I found a house in Ossining, New York, called Shady Lane Farm. It was a remodeled barn just one hour up the Hudson from New York City, near Croton, with a nice view of the river. Tod Perry wrote from Lenox (10 November): "Congratulations on the house. I didn't know composers ever bought houses. Seems very unusual, but an excellent idea." Erik and I got busy buying furniture and drapes and trying to convince the telephone company to install a phone. I moved in on the first of December 1952. The next day there was a big snowstorm, and there I was snowbound without a telephone! After getting settled, I had a big housewarming party (10 October 1953). I was thrilled to have a place of my own, and I lived at Shady Lane Farm for the next eight years.

I finally owned a house, my opera was beginning to take shape, a piano piece was in the works, and two books about me were in preparation for publication. Nineteen fifty-three held promise of being a fine year. But, these were the years of the Cold War, and of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Of all things, I became a victim of a political situation! I tried to carry on as usual. I conducted my Third Symphony in Minneapolis (Feb. 1953) and finished Old American Songs II. I even attended the opening of Lenny's show, Wonderful Town. Afterward I wrote to Verna; "Looked to me like a smash hit. He was wearing Kooussie's cape at the opening!" But I lost a great deal of time and energy (not to mention lawyers' fees) preparing to defend myself against fictitious charges. It was not a happy time. What can one do but go through it and carry on.?"

Copland with Leonard Burnstein

Copland with Jackie Kennedy

Copland portrait

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