The 15-odd years that witnessed The Great Depression and World War II was a period of extraordinary social, economic and political turmoil. There were few times in our country’s history that were as hard. Yet those years also witnessed one of the richest, most vital and longest-enduring outpourings of American popular culture this country’s ever known. In the world of music, Broadway matured, Hollywood came into its own, jazz moved into the mainstream of American life and even, for a time, became the popular music form, and “the American songbook” exploded and thrived. And that music was and remains very, very good.
Our theme for the 17th annual Oregon Festival of American Music arose out of our contemplation of these two apparently disparate facts…and our tendency to keep them separate in our minds. When we hear the words “Great Depression” we think of Woody Guthrie, not Woody Herman. When we read “Hard Times” we recall Yip Harburg’s “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”, not “Over The Rainbow”. And when we think of the era’s dance halls, night clubs, theaters and movie houses, we hear a voice in our heads (our high school or college history teacher, perhaps?) telling us that these were just places folks could escape from the real world outside.
Upon reflection, we don’t agree. Those times were tough, yes. But Americans then weren’t letting it get them down. And we think that comes out in their music. It wasn’t escapist. It was, in fact, their reasoned, principled, response. It was the expression of their indomitable spirit.
When we hear the stories and remembrances of the folks who lived through those times, it is not the difficulties that stand out so much as the extraordinary strength of character with which people by and large faced them. It is almost as if that generation of Americans were singularly determined not to let the hard times get them down, not to dignify personal loss, injustice and world crisis with any sign of weakness or self-pity. Sure times were tough. But they would find a way to care for their families, protect their country, help each other and
others throughout the world, and do what was right in spite
of any amount of hard luck. It is this spirit that has inspired some to call the Americans who lived through those years
“The Greatest Generation.”
Our thought here at The Shedd Institute is that our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers who lived through the Great Depression and World War II were able to cope well with those times largely because of how they saw their world, of what they believed in and valued, and of the principles they had been taught to live by. These beliefs, values and principles of living, we would suggest, were expressed through and shaped by the popular songs and music, literature and discourse that made up their world. It is no wonder that the music of the period has had such staying power. There is still a lot we can learn from it.
We dedicate Oregon Festival of American Music 2008 to The Greatest Generation… to our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers who faced the hard times of the Great Depression and World War II, confronted them, lived through them, rose above them, and made our country and our world a better place..
Festival Jazz Director Ken Peplowski, welcomes guest artists Dick Hyman, Maria Jette, Clairdee, Ian Whitcomb, Shirley Andress, Byron Stripling, Red Holloway, Chuck Redd, Derek Smith, Rod Fleeman, Marty Grosz, among others, for 9 days of concerts, recitals, films, talks, youth and senior music camps.
The songwriters, composers, jazzmen and bandleaders the festival will focus on include Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, “Fats” Waller, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, The Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman among many others.
Finally, this summer's festival once again features two fully-staged, all-new musical productions: the Royal Shakespeare Company’s nearly-verbatim re-creation of M-G-M’s 1939 classic motion picture THE WIZARD OF OZ (with its timeless songs by Harold Arlen & E. Y. Harburg) and Lerner & Loewe’s 1947 musical fantasy BRIGADOON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call The Shedd Ticket Office at 541-434-7000.