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Copland’s Hoe-Down

CoplandAaron Copland (1900-1990) was born in Brooklyn, New York and at the age of 15 decided to become a composer.  In the 1920’s, Copland studied music in Paris with pianist Nadia Boulanger.  Returning to the United States in 1924, Copland not only wrote classical music but also worked hard to convince fellow Americans to listen to it.
Copland wrote music of all kinds, including orchestral music, choral works, and solo songs.  His most popular works include folk elements, weaving traditional American songs and jazz themes. The ballets Billy the KidRodeo, and Appalachian Spring are among his best known works incorporating American folk elements, jazz rhythms, or country fiddle tunes.

American Ballet Theatre - Rodeo

Ballet: a type of dance that developed in France in the 1700s. In music, a ballet is the music performed to the dance choreography.

Some of the best known ballets include The Nutcracker and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky, The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, and Appalachian Spring and Rodeo by Aaron Copland.  The ballet, Rodeo, tells the story of a cowgirl who is in love with a cowboy, The Head Wrangler, and she spends a lot of the ballet trying to get him to notice her. At the Hoe-Down, she chooses another cowboy, The Champion Roper, to be her dance partner.


“Hoe-Down” is an excerpt from the ballet Rodeo.  Aaron Copland composed the music for Rodeo and famous dancer, Agnes De Mille, choreographed the dance.  The version of Rodeo that symphonies play has four parts:

“Buckaroo Holiday”
“Corral Nocturne”
“Saturday Night Waltz”

Many of Aaron Copland’s works have traditional American folk tunes in them.  In Rodeo, Aaron Copland again used whole folk tunes -not changing anything about the melody!  The main tune in “Hoe-Down” is based on a version of the folk song “Bonaparte’s Retreat”.

Hoedown1 hoedown2

Listening activity

Listen to Hoe-Down and to “Bonaparte’s Retreat”. How are they the same? How are they different?


Featured Instrument: Xylophone

  • The xylophone is an instrument in the percussion family.
  • Members of the percussion family make sound by something being hit or shaken.
  • Percussion instruments are some of the oldest instruments and are often made of wood, metal, plastic, animal skins, and other materials.
  • The xylophone is made of wooden bars arranged lowest to highest that are hit with mallets.
  • The xylophone is popular around the world, but particularly in Asia.

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