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Making Beautiful Music Under the Stars at Ravinia and Tanglewood

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. This week -- making music under the sky. Steve Ember and Faith Lapidus tell you about two of America’s best known open-air music parks.


It is late summer at Ravinia Park, in the American Midwest, near Chicago, Illinois. The night is hot. But the wind cools the darkness. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is performing Symphony Number One by Johannes Brahms. Thousands of people are in the park.

A husband and wife sit on the ground, far from where the music is coming. Their two little boys look at picture books. When the sky becomes dark, the boys sit close to their parents. Every so often, they all look up, beyond the trees, at the stars. The sound of the Brahms music surrounds them.


As someone once said, "Music played outside, especially after dark, is one of the great pleasures of summer." Millions of Americans attend outdoor concerts each summer. The concerts are performed at parks across the country.

Some American music parks serve as the summer home for a city orchestra. At these parks, musicians may play well-known classical music, like the Brahms symphony. Or they may play folk music, jazz or popular music.

Ravinia Festival park is about thirty kilometers north of Chicago. The park has a large area of open land where people sit on the ground. People also can sit inside, in a pavilion. The front and sides of this kind of building are open so everyone can see the performers.

The music of some of the great composers floats out from the pavilion into the summer darkness. Listen as Betty Buckley sings "How Long Has This Been Going On?" by George Gershwin.


People have been enjoying summer on this same land for almost a century. During the early nineteen-hundreds the area had a baseball field. There were rooms for eating and dancing. And there was an open-air theater.

An early version of the present Ravinia Festival opened in nineteen-eleven. By nineteen-nineteen, it had become a summer home for some of the world’s great performers. Over the years visitors heard performances by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. For people who liked jazz, there were Benny Goodman, Harry James and Lionel Hampton.

The great economic Depression forced the Ravinia organization to close in nineteen-thirty-one. But several years later, businessmen formed the Ravinia Festival Corporation. They brought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the park in nineteen-thirty-six.

One of the most famous conductors to lead the symphony orchestra at Ravinia is James Levine. He was appointed music director in nineteen-seventy-three. He was thirty years old. He continued serving at Ravinia until nineteen-ninety-three.

Ravinia’s fame has now spread far beyond the city of Chicago. There is good reason to believe that Ravinia will be offering summer music in the park for many years to come.


Another of America's most famous music parks is called Tanglewood. The Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood is in the Berkshire Mountains, in the northeastern state of Massachusetts. It is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Boston Pops Orchestra also performs at Tanglewood.

Listen as John Williams leads the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus singers in the traditional spiritual, "Deep River."


Tanglewood exists mainly because of Serge Koussevitsky. Born in Russia, he earned great success in Europe as a musician. He also formed his own orchestra. Then he came to the United States.

Koussevitsky began leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra in nineteen-twenty-four. His dream of presenting music in a beautiful mountain area came true in the middle nineteen-thirties. That is when he led the Boston orchestra in its first concerts at Tanglewood.

Koussevitsky also helped open the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in nineteen-forty. The center has provided classes for some of America's most promising music students. One was Leonard Bernstein, remembered as one of the country's best composers and conductors. Bernstein himself later directed students at the music center.

Another famous American composer, Aaron Copland, served as Koussevitsky's first assistant director at Tanglewood. The two men prepared programs of music written by composers hundreds of years earlier. They also prepared programs by modern composers who wrote pieces for the Boston Symphony. And the orchestra played the works of two composers Koussevitsky had helped make famous in Europe: Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.

Over the years, Tanglewood has also won praise for presenting operas. Here is music from one of these traditional stories told through song: "Falstaff,” by Giuseppe Verdi.


Classical, jazz and folk music all are popular at Tanglewood. We leave you now with the music of Bill Crofut of the United States and Benjamin Luxon of England. They sing the American folk song "Simple Gifts" combined with the British "Lord of the Dance."


Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus.

And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.