How to play……. ‘Fanfare for the Common Cold’

As the title of this piece suggests, it is inspired by Aaron Copland’s famous ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ – and the first thing I do when I start teaching this piece to a student is to ask them to listen to Copland’s work and tell me what they hear in it and what instrument plays the opening figure.

In this tongue-in-cheek take on Copland, the opening motif is unashamedly borrowed from his famous work. Aim for a bright, shiny ‘trumpety’ sound here. It’s marked forte but it should not be a harsh forte: you want a clear, brass sound. Keep it strictly in time, with the fermatas (pauses) adding drama. A longer pause between the end of this section and the start of the next section gives extra dramatic effect.

The next section (from bar 5) is marked mf, and we definitely want to hear the change in the dynamic. The texture is thicker here, suggesting more brass and woodwind instruments, and a snare drum, perhaps. Go for a soft staccato rather than a short, crisp sound. One of my students came up with a neat ditty to help with the rhythm here:

“Gi-gan-to-saurus sit-ting on a mat”

The second time this figure appears (bar 13) watch out for the change in the rhythm. Again Eli’s ditty is helpful:

“Gi-gan-to-saurus, eating up his tea!”

The following section (from bar 17) has a warmer feel and a softer texture. It should be strictly in time, suggesting a march. Again, the dynamic change needs to be highlighted. The left hand (marked tenuto and staccato) should have a deep “growl”, to give emphasis and suggesting a bass drum. The right hand is marked legato, not easy to pull off, given the chords, but careful “walking” of the fingers through these notes should produce a joined up effect. Allow a pause before the re-entry of the opening ‘trumpet’ figure for dramatic effect.

The coda (from bar 17) is a great opportunity for some virtuoso affectation with its glissandi and low bass notes. This is the build up to the “sneeze” at the end! Play the glissandi on the nail with a sweeping, stroking motion and lift the hand off the keys at the end: not only does this produce a better sound, it adds to the drama of the piece and looks good! Make the bass fortes “growl” in reply. Remember to hold the final chord for its full value.

This is an entertaining and enjoyable piece, full of humour and “musical jokes”. It should be played with real panache and bravura to capitalise on this.

Here’s Ben, who’s been learning this piece for just over a term:

Fanfare for the Common Cold

And here’s Copland’s original:

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One thought on “How to play……. ‘Fanfare for the Common Cold’

  1. Pingback: Orchestrating Mozart…. « The Cross-Eyed Pianist

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