"Taps" was sounded, God was applauded and Abraham Lincoln's words were read last night on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. There were an estimated 22,000 people there to hear Aaron Copland lead the National Symphony Orchestra in a history-making concert, at the end of which he relinquished his baton to read Lincoln's words.
The orchestra whispered "Taps" toward the close of "Decoration Day" by Charles Ives. The scene that Ives describes in his music was reproduced, if only on a slightly larger scale, last night, Ives Speaks of a Decoration Day celebration on the square of a small New England town, with sounds coming at the listeners from all directions.
That's the way it seemed to me last night, as I sat on an old sandstone wall that has been there for over a hundred years, and heard planes taking off from National Airport, and cars quietly driving along nearby streets, while walkie-talkies called for "407, 407."
God was applauded around about 10 minutes after 8 when master of ceremonies Willard Scott thanked Him for making the rain stop. At about 6 p.m., there had been a minor downpour, though not one big enough to scare away more than a few of the hundreds who had come early to snag the best spots. Some just huddled closer under their plastic protectors.
As the drizzle slackened and the sky brightened, streams of enthusiastic listeners poured onto the grassy area from every entrance. Babies in strollers were lifted over the stone walls while their elders came over sedately, some in wheelchairs.
By 7:15, Capitol police were willing to estimate the crowd at around 8 to 10,000; an hour later they would not even guess how many more had arrived. It was announced at the end of the concert that 22,000 had attended.
They were banked along the terraces of the Capitol or sitting along the steps, leaving space for those who wanted to walk up and down. All across the damp grass, blankets and waterproof spreads were hosting families or singles and couples with everything eatable from elaborate dinners to Pappy Parker boxes.
Along the outer fringes there were some who wanted to hear the music in solitude. One young man was perfectly happy on a stone bench reading Allen Ginsberg's "Reality Sandwiches."
Copland led the orchestra through his own "Fanfare for the Common Man," Samuel Barber's overture for "The School for Scandal," the Ives, and Gershwin's "An American in Paris." Returning again to his own music, this extraordinary man, who was greeted by the audience more than once by a unanimous standing ovation, led his Clarinet Concerto, in which Loren Kitt played as if the music had been a part of himself for a lifetime.
When it was time for the final work of the evening, Copland brought out Gerhard Zimmermann, an associate conductor of the St. Louis Symphony, who conducted Copland's "Lincoln Portrait."
At that moment last night, Copland would have been entitled to a very specific satisfication had he remembered that in 1953, his "Lincoln Portrait" had been denied performance on the Inaugural Concert of President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President-elect Richard M. Nixon, when a petty congressman from Illinois ordered the National Symphony to remove the work. But last night, it was the one, inevitable closing to the evening.
Facing the now illuminated Capitol, Copland read the text which he chose years ago, ending the evening with what seemed to take on new life and new meaning in that setting:
". . . that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." It was for all who heard it, for the orchestra, and for Copland, a fitting close. CAPTION: Picture, Waiting for the NSO concert, by James A. Parcell-The Washington Post