On January 4, 1924, Ira Gershwin read in the local paper of an upcoming concert in Boston on February 24th that was going to attempt to answer the question "What is American Music?" (Ironically, the judges picked to determine this were Rachmaninoff, Heifetz, Zimbalist, and Gluck. Or maybe they were all foreigners to make them more objective. The answer is still lost to history.). In the last paragraph, it was mentioned that George Gershwin was currently working on a jazz concerto for the event.

This was news to Gershwin. When he called Paul Whiteman, the concert organizer the next day, Whiteman explained that he had kinda sorta announced the concert before inviting Gershwin in order to get the jump on his competitor Vincent Lopez, who was also planning a jazz concert.

Gershwin couldn't back out without damaging his reputation, but he complained to Whiteman that one month was not enough time to write a concerto. The two ended up agreeing that Gershwin would submit a Rhapsody instead, which is in a less strict form. He could also use the services of Ferde Grofe, Whiteman's arranger and composer, for orchestration.

While on the train to Boston, the rhythms of the locomotive inspired Gershwin, and by the time he reached his destination they had given him an epiphany: "...the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end" (his words). He began writing the piece on January 7th, and finished it on February 4th. A bit of trivia: The famous Clarinet opening was cribbed by Gershwin from a tune book of piano pieces.

The piece was, of course, a smash, outshining all the other attempts at "jazz" the concert could offer. Gershwin later chose to orchestrate the piece for a standard concert orchestra, which he also did with Grofe.

Condensed and Rewritten from the liner notes of my CD George Gershwin: The Complete Centennial Edition, with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. The notes themselves were written by Edward Jablonski.

We had a fire at our house, a major conflagration that came close to destroying the entire edifice, but the firemen got there in time to break out all the windows and save the place from exploding. The living room was gutted, and when my first son came home to discover this tragedy, he sat in the living room and pounded out Rhapsody in Blue on the baby grand piano, the only piece of furniture left in the room, with the wind howling through the broken picture windows.

The next morning my second son came in and shyly said, "Mom, I had a dream last night. I dreamt I played Rhapsody in Blue. He was only about nine and just beginning piano lessons, but his eyes were full of awe.

"You can someday," I said, "if you work hard on your piano lessons, you can make your dream come true."

He said no more about it, but he worked. We never had to tell him to practice the piano. He didn't spend hours a day on it, but he was steady. He practiced every day. Music did not come easily to him and I worried a little because, even with all his work, the sound came out stilted. Circumstances gave him very little encouragement. His big brother was more interested in demonstrating his own talent than in drawing out his brother's and, of course, being older he always sounded better to objective listeners.

Somewhere along the line, though, a change occurred, and the notes my second son played began to sound like music instead of noise. I got him a recording of Rhapsody in Blue for Christmas one year saying in the note, "for when you're ready." He appreciated the gift because he didn't know I remembered his dream, but he was still far from being able to play it. Once in a while, through the years, he. would get the music out and try it, but he always had to put it back. It was too hard and would just discourage him. He is, after all, seven years younger than his brother.

Meanwhile he continued his daily practice through Für Elise, through The Golliwog's Cakewalk, and even into Rachmaninoff's Prelude in D Minor, and the years slid by.

One day I said to him, "Why don't you try Rhapsody in Blue? You haven't tried it for a while."

"It's still too tough for me," he replied. With the years had also come wisdom and perspective, and he now realized how difficult the music is.

"Oh, go ahead and try, " I replied. "You have nothing to lose." So he did, and much to his surprise found he could play parts of it. Then he began in earnest, working longer hours on his music now. As he began to penetrate more and more of the difficult parts, he persuaded his music teacher to allow him to concentrate on it until finally that was all he studied. He worked on it for at least a year.

I realized somewhere along the line that his dream was different from mine. My dreams always included an audience. "Everybody laughed when I sat down to play!" His dreams had to be focused on the piano, however, or they would not have persisted. People are not much interested in hearing that kind of music performed by an amateur. A person with a sensitive ear either goes to a concert or turns on hi-fi, and less sophisticated ears want to hear popular songs. He kept on practicing all by himself. He memorized the entire piece, and by then he could play it well, not with talent exactly, but certainly with skill.

One night my husband and I had guests coming for a couple of tables of bridge. One couple was late, and someone asked my son to play while we were waiting. He played The Rhapsody all the way through. The late couple came in during the performance and, observing the absorbed attention of the group, quietly blended their listening.

It was the best he had ever played it, and as I listened my heart swelled near to bursting. Not only did I love The Rhapsody, but I also loved the performer, and only I knew what had gone into that accomplishment. We all applauded when he had finished, and he left us to our game, busy already no doubt with new goals of his own..

Will each goal in his life continue to blend with the next? Surely The Chambered Nautilus must have been written for such as he.

"Build thee more stately mansions, 0 my soul
As the swift seasons roll.
Let each new temple, nobler than the last
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast
Till at length thou art free
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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