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A hoedown is a square dance, or a gathering where a square dance is featured. The word is commonly used to describe any country or hillbilly type gathering, generally one with fiddle and banjo music. Hoedowns were originally harvest festivals of sorts, a gathering held in the fall as the crops were brought in. The farmers who attended would put their hoes down and come to a dance, hence the word "hoedown".

Hoedown is also used to describe a certain type of country/folk music as well. In order for the music to fit together smoothly with the square dance caller, the tunes must have a certain beat. Hoedown songs are based around four beat phrases, with the accent on the first beat. If you tap your foot to the music of a hoedown song and count, it will sound like this:
    • ONE, two, three, four
      ONE, two, three, four, etc
  • In old time fiddle contests, a hoedown tune is often mandatory. Some of the hoedown songs that are more familiar include Turkey in the Straw, Orange Blossom Special, and Rocky Top Tennessee.

    I can't dance to save my life, so I'm gonna talk about beef instead.

    Aaron Copland wrote the music for the ballet "Rodeo" in 1942 as a further expansion of his 'ain't rural america great?' theme. "Fanfare for the Common Man," a piece of music that's about as inspirational (or accessible, depending on your level of musical cynicism) as you can get, was also written that year. 1942 was also the United States' first full year of being thoroughly involved in World War II, The Just War, making it a good year for patriotism all 'round. None of this mattered nine years later when Copland was hauled in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and labeled as a communist of course, but hey. Times change; what was once the pinnacle of American patriotism rapidly became a sign of something suspicious in some fool's twisted little world.

    And now, fifty years later, "Rodeo" is used to sell beef.

    Not the whole ballet, of course, just the last bit: the "Hoe-Down." Originally scored for string orchestra (and eventually re-scored for a full symphony orchestra before being reduced to a violin and piano arrangement) the "Hoe-Down" is the big ol' American wedding party, full of noise and laughter and, of course, dancing.

    The piece is written in a fairly straight-forward ABA format with a slower middle section (the newlywed's first dance) sandwiched in between a boisterous, energetic theme and its refrain. It's written in a harmonically open style that lets the syncopated nature of the melody shine through while only hinting at affirmed tonalities. It's fun to play, too, full of the kinds of slides that string players never get to use in classical music, and its rhythmic personality is infectious as hell. The only other thing I can say to describe this particular piece of music is: you'd know it if you heard it.

    Unfortunately, it's also been played to death and, like it or not, it hasn't aged well. While works in the same vein have managed to keep some semblance of their self-respect (I'm thinking specifically of "Rhapsody in Blue," here) the "Hoe-Down" sounds like the musical version of one of those awful stereotypes The South hasn't been able to shake since the American Civil War. It's cheesy and trite and, when taken away from its balletic origins, completely unnecessary from any standpoint other than a musicological or pedagogical one.

    It is, in other words, as American as apple pie or, if the Cattleman's Beef Board has its way, as American as steak, and lots of it.

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