CULTURE OF THE UNITED STATES
Ø 1) What comes to your mind first when you hear the words “American culture”? What cultures, do you think, influenced American culture most of all?
American culture is a Western culture, with influences from Europe, Canada, the Native American peoples, African Americans and young groups of immigrants. The United States has traditionally been known as “a melting pot,” but recent academic opinion is tending towards cultural diversity, pluralism and the image of “a salad bowl” rather than a melting pot. Due to the extent of American culture there are many integrated but unique subcultures within the United States. The strongest influences on American culture came from northern European cultures, most prominently from Germany, Ireland and England.
It is important to bear in mind that the United States of America is highly diverse, by way of region. There is also marked diversity within regions, especially in urban areas. The South is entirely different from the Northeast, which is itself in many ways foreign to the Mid-West, which adheres to an entirely different cultural attitude than the West. There really isn’t any single “American” attitude, or “American” style for the simple reason that the country is so extraordinarily diverse.
The formative years of the United States were the late 18th century when the country was founded, and a great deal of American culture is couched in the ideals of the Enlightenment. The Declaration of Independence’s mission statement about securing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the French Revolution’s ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity; and the national motto “E pluribus Unum” (“From many, one”) reflect the country’s values and social development. Another primary influence on American culture is the constant stream of new immigrants, many of whom have fled persecution or oppression in their home countries, and are seeking freedom (including religious freedom) and economic opportunity, leading them to reject totalitarian practices.
By and large, Americans value the ideals of individual liberty, individualism, self-sufficiency, altruism, equality, Judeo-Christian morals, free markets, a republican form of government, democracy, populism, pluralism, feminism, and patriotism.
Ø 2) Answer the questions on the text:
a)Why was the USA called “the melting pot”?
b)Why is there a tendency to call it “a salad bowl” nowadays?
c)Where did the strongest cultural influences come to America from?
d)How does the population diversity influence American culture?
e)What were cultural ideals in the USA in the 18th century?
f) In what way did the French Revolution influence American culture?
g)What is the national American motto?
h)Why do people leave their native countries for America?
i)What ideals do Americans value at present?
Ø 1) Have you ever heard the name of George Gershwin? What sphere of life did he make himself prominent? Is his music popular in our country? Have you heard the names of Dorothy Dandridge and Sarah Vaugan who sang “Summer Time” from “Porgy and Bess” in absolutely different styles?
Ø 2) Read the text and correct the given outline of it:
a)becoming internationally famous with “Rhapsody in Blue,”
b)“An American in Paris” by George Gershwin,
c)the family George Gershwin was born to,
d)writing music and painting,
e)first music practices,
f)in Hollywood: his music for “Shall We Dance?”,
g)a series of songs written in collaboration with his brother Ira,
h)the culmination of George Gershwin’s art: “Porgy and Bess,”
i)musical comedies written in collaboration with Aarons Freedley and Ira,
j)“George White’s Scandals” music by George Gershwin,
k)George Gershwin’s place in the American musical art.
George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn on September 26, 1898. He was the second of four children. Ira, whose sparkling lyrics were so perfectly attuned to George’s music, was the oldest. Another brother, Arthur, followed George. The youngest was their sister Frances, happily married today to Leopold Godowsky. The family moved as a unit, a mutual admiration society that was completely unaffected by temporary failure or dizzying success. Mrs. Gershwin was adored by everybody. “You must meet my mother,” George would tell anybody who called. “She’s the most wonderful mother in the world.” On further reflection, he would frequently add “and so modest about me!”The father, Morris, was one of those restless souls who embarked upon a new business career every year or so; the family was always ready to pull up stakes cheerfully at a moment’s notice. George once figured that he lived in twenty-seven different houses before he finished school. Gershwin père was a lovable and loquacious soul whose accent lost none of its rich and indescribable flavor as the family fortunes rose. His son “Judge” was the apple of his eye. One day after the boys had hit the jackpot he was driving down Broadway in a roadster they had given him, when a cop flagged him for ignoring a red light. “But you can’t do this to me!” he expostulated. “I’m Judge Gershwin’s father!” “Oh, Judge Gershwin,” said the copper, visibly impressed. “Pardon me for holding you up, sir!” New gadgets fascinated him. In the early days of radio, he came to George with an excited report about a new set that he wanted to order immediately. “Judge,” he declared, “on this machine you could hear Havana, London, and China clear like a bell!” “London? China?” echoed George unbelievingly. “I’ll settle for Havana,” replied Mr. Gershwin hastily. When Professor Einstein published his paper on the theory of relativity, George commented, “Imagine being able to put the result of twenty years’ study and research into three pages!” “But I’ll bet it was very small print,” said Mr. Gershwin.
When George was twelve, his mother bought a piano. The idea was for Ira to take lessons, but it didn’t take long to discover that George was the one with music in his soul. At the High School of Commerce, he was pianist for the morning assembly exercises. At fifteen, he was a song plugger for the music publishing house of Jerome Remick. One of his chores took him to Atlantic City, where he pounded out Remick melodies at the local five and ten. Down the Boardwalk, Harry Ruby was doing a similar job for a rival outfit. At night the boys would dine together at Childs and dream of writing songs of their own.
His first song was published in 1916. It was called “When You Want ‘Em You Can’t Get ‘Em,” and it earned him an advance of five dollars. His next few numbers began to carry lyrics by Arthur Francis. That was his brother Ira making his debut as a lyricist, using the first names of his older brother and kid sister as a pseudonym. His first real clicks came in 1919, when he did his first complete score for La La Lucille and wrote a couple of numbers for the opening bill of Broadway’s biggest movie palace of its time, the Capitol. One of the numbers was “Swanee.”
Beginning in 1920, George wrote the music for George White’s Scandals for five consecutive years. A few of the hits of these scores were “Drifting Along with the Tide,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” and “Somebody Loves Me.” Most of the lyrics were contributed by Buddy De Sylva, now head man at the Paramount Studios. In those days, White was the great Ziegfeld’s only serious rival. Gershwin didn’t meet up with Ziegfeld himself until 1929, when he wrote the score of Show Girl. Working with Ziegfeld was perfect training for a siege on Guadalcanal, but that’s another story. After the contract with Gershwin was signed, Ziegfeld went to Carnegie Hall to hear An American in Paris. At the symphony’s completion, Otto Kahn rose and made a brief speech in which he declared that George was well-nigh a genius. “In fact,” said Kahn, “some day he will be a genius, but geniuses must suffer, and George hasn’t suffered yet.” Ziegfeld turned to Larry Hart, who was sitting next to him and said to him, with a sly wink, “He’ll suffer!”
George became internationally famous in 1924, when Paul Whiteman introduced his Rhapsody in Blue at a concert in Aeolian Hall. By now the family was located in a private house on West 103rd Street, where George worked imperturbably amidst a hubbub that suggested Grand Central Station on the eve of a Fourth of July weekend. The Rhapsody was written there in exactly three weeks; George had to meet a deadline! That year saw, too, the first of seven musical comedies produced by Aarons and Freedley, with music by George and lyrics by Ira. Five of them made Broadway history. They were, in order, Lady Be Good, Tip Toes, Oh, Kay, Funny Face, and Girl Crazy. They made stars of Fred and Adele Astaire, Gertrude Lawrence, Ethel Merman, and Ginger Rogers. “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Do, Do, Do,” “Sweet and Low Down,” and a dozen other wonderful songs followed one another in dizzy succession. In addition, Of Thee I Sing, written with George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. George moved to a Riverside Drive penthouse, which became headquarters for a series of wondrous Sunday evening delicatessen suppers that featured Barney Greengrass’ sturgeon and attracted the greatest wits and socialites of the town. That’s when the Gershwin saga really started. George loved to play the piano for hours on end, and naively - also justifiably - took it for granted that nobody wanted to hear anything but his own music.
The work that George Gershwin loved best was Porgy and Bess. He composed it in eleven months and orchestrated it in nine. Its initial production by the Guild in 1935, a bit too stuffy and pretentious, was only moderately successful. When it was revived seven years later, it really came into its own, and its songs seem destined to become part of America’s richest musical heritage; the tragedy is that George wasn’t living to see that come to pass.
George moved to Hollywood in 1936. He wrote the music for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers picture Shall We Dance?, which included one of his best songs. He was working on the Goldwyn Follies when he was stricken by a brain tumor.
The last years of Gershwin’s life were almost equally divided between composing and painting. George took his painting very seriously, and indeed had a genuine talent for it. At a memorable dinner one evening he said, “A man told me today that I need never write another note; I could make a fortune with my palette and brush!” “Isn’t it amazing,” said one awed lady, “that one man should possess a genius for two of the arts!” “Oh, I don’t know,” said George modestly. “Look at Leonardo da Vinci!”
George Gershwin expressed his credo in these words: “My people are American, my time is today. Music must repeat the thought and aspirations of the times.” Six years after his death, his exciting songs are played more frequently than they were during his lifetime. One critic recently remarked, “George Gershwin brought to serious consideration a new idiom in American music, and forever changed its future direction.”
Ø 3) Say whether the following statements are true or false and justify your answer:
a)he incorporated jazz elements in his “Rhapsody in Blue”,
b)the first production of “Porgy and Bess” was not a very big success,
c) at 15 George dreamed of writing his own songs,
d)George loved to play the piano for hours,
e)in the last years of his life he turned totally to painting,
f)the Gershwins, as a family, were extremely friendly and moved as a unit,
g)his mother was a famous actress and was adored by everybody,
h)his father was a restless soul but at 30 years of age the family settled in Chicago,
i)“Music must repeat the thoughts and aspirations of the times,” said George Gershwin.