March 22, 2022

Catholic University Stages Copeland’s The Tender Land, Transcribed by a University Faculty Member

Aaron Copland, left, and Murry Sidlin in 1987
Aaron Copland, left, and Murry Sidlin in 1987

After being delayed two years due to the pandemic, Maestro Murry Sidlin, professor and former dean at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music (now the School of Music, Drama, and Art), will conduct his chamber ensemble transcription of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land at Catholic University March 24-27. Copland authorized and approved this version, which was recorded by the Koch International Classics label. Here Sidlin shares his thoughts on the composer and his music.

In my opinion, Aaron Copland is still the best composer we have had, who clearly and passionately illuminated the American spirit in music. The Copland sound has become the American sound. We hear it on the nightly news and on Sunday morning talk shows. A lot of his music quotes folk tunes; a lot of his music takes folk tunes and disguises them; and a lot of his original music is folk-like. He tried to get into the depths of the American soul in music.

The Tender Land was his only full-length opera. It’s his longest composition and his most extensive vocal writing. It got off to a bad start — it had a huge orchestra in the pit and a small group of singers on stage, so in my estimation it was out of balance. In the pit was a Wagner opera, and on stage was a kind of Mozartean chamber opera. I rescored it with his permission — it’s his music, I just helped it along a little bit.

It takes place on the prairie, during the Depression, when life was hard. It’s the story of a girl who’s the first in her family to graduate high school, and she becomes the hope of the family, and also a symbol of the era. How can we ever live without hope? No matter how bad things get, we must hope to find the solution, and we must be inspired by our faith. A lot of American music may seem melancholy, but I think that when you dig deep, there’s a wonderful optimism in the majority of American music.

The Tender Land is a beautiful work, and it was my privilege to present Copland with a reconfigured composition.

The Tender Land will be performed March 24, 25, and 26 at 7:30 p.m. and March 27 at 2 p.m. in Ward Hall’s Recital Hall. Tickets may be purchased in advance online.

MEDIA: To attend the production or arrange an interview with Sidlin, contact the Division of Communications at

The Tender Land will be showing March 24-27 at Catholic University