Maslanka Weekly: Best of the Web – No. 83, Old America

Maslanka Weekly highlights excellent performances of David Maslanka’s music from around the web.

David loved to read about historical figures from all around the world, but a lot of his reading focused on American born figures like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. David also loved to read the words of Carl Sandburg and W.S. Merwin, which are rich in words describing old American life and nostalgia. His love of his adoptive Montana homeland sprang in part because of his interest in Native American history. 

This week, we feature performances of three works that contain themes of Old America: California, “Nighthawks” from This is The World, and “Shall We Gather at the River” from Symphony No. 9.


From David’s Program Note:

Music is wonderful. It lets us tell ourselves things we can’t speak out in words. It opens the dream space and lets us dream together. It lets us imagine the world as it really is, a place of vitality, power, and possibility.

We live in fear of destruction, from climate change, nuclear bombs, increasing population, vanishing resources, continuous war. When the troubles are listed like this it is hard to know what we think we are doing with our seemingly simple and innocent music making.

California has always been a place of big dreams. The music of California celebrates the California dream space. There is tremendous beauty here – the forests, deserts, mountains and valleys, the ocean – and also the strength within the people and in the earth to meet the times that are upon us. Music lets us dream, and in that dream is the possibility of a new world, one in which humans live in harmony, within themselves, with all other people, with all other species, with the planet. Is this dream impossible? Are circumstances too complex? Will human nature never change? My answer to these questions is no. The dream starts somewhere. Let our music making be one such place.

Watch below as Jonathan Grantham leads the Amador Valley High School Wind Ensemble in a rousing performance of this piece.

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This is the World – I. Nighthawks

From David’s Program Note:

The overall feeling of This is the World is one of quiet awe at the nature of our world, both the planet on which we live, and the amazing web of life that it supports – not only that but its place, and our place in the universal web of life, the jeweled “net of Indra.”

The Nighthawks painting of Edward Hopper is his iconic contribution to American culture. It is one of my favorite paintings. It captures something absolutely fundamental about the American experience, and that is expressed probably more by the architecture of the picture – the amazing collection of shapes, and the relationship of light to dark, especially the overwhelming darkness – than by the unspoken “story” of the diner and the people in it. My music expresses some aspects of my own take on the “story,” especially the hidden life in the blank windows of the building in the background, but my overall composition is, as well, a parallel to Hopper’s lifelong preoccupation with shapes and light. He managed to convey powerful unspoken human and universal elements though abstract forms.

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1941

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, Art Institute of Chicago

Watch below as Peter Sebold & Fabian Kraus (Percussion) and Michel Hauck & Judith Hock (Piano) give an exceptional performance of this movement.

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Symphony No. 9 – Movement I. “Shall We Gather at the River”

From David’s Program Note:

Symphony No. 9 is a large collection of instrumental songs. There are many influences and underlying elements, but most of them cannot be explained in words. Rather than try, I will simply list some of the things at work:
Time: memory, passing of time, “We flew through the years hearing them rush under us” — W.S. Merwin
Water: cleansing and life–giving power, Shall We Gather at the RiverWhale Story
Nature: our ground, river, ocean, chickadees
Grace: compassion, forgiveness, rest

Watch below as Stephen Steele leads the Illinois State University Wind Ensemble in a hauntingly beautiful performance of this music.

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We would love to hear from you! If you know of any outstanding performances of David Maslanka’s music on the web, please email us at