Listening to Iowa and the New World Symphony

Listening to Iowa and the New World Symphony

There are three elements to how I study an album: repetition, solitude, and walking. Whether it is Johnny Cash, Taylor Swift, or Handel’s Messiah, those three elements remain the same. I listen to it straight through on repeat, listening not only to each song but to how the album functions as a whole. I like to listen alone so that I can give my attention to the songs. And, I want to listen while I’m walking (or driving) so that I can hear it in the context of the world—looking at people, places, and things while I connect the songs to what I see.

My present album obsession is Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9, better known as the “New World Symphony.” Summer is the perfect time of year to listen to it, as Iowa lent inspiration to the composition. Dvorák spent the summer of 1893 in Spillville, Iowa. Matthew Leimkuehler writes:

The Winneshiek County hills and song of the red-winged blackbird stirred Dvorak to produce his “American Quartet,” Neely said.

It’s also rumored that in those months he polished what would become one of the world’s most popular symphonies, “New World Symphony.” He’d premiere the piece later that year at Carnegie Hall.

Iowa’s summer beauty is at its peak right now. So, I’m walking around a nearby lake, listening to this symphony. As I listen, I’m looking at Iowa and seeing what fits the mood and instruments of any given part. What landscapes, wildlife, weather look like this music? It’s amazing how many scenes you’ll find for which this symphony can be the soundtrack. (Try it driving backroads with the windows down or listening to it at different times of the day.)

This might be a good activity for children. Put on this recording—maybe outside on the deck or at a park, or inside when it is dark or raining. Have the children draw the landscapes, animals, and weather that comes to mind as they listen.

This exercise helps me know my music, my place, and myself better.