Word of the Month: Hoedown


David Zapatka

Listening to classical music this morning as I do every morning and evening, I heard Aaron Copland’s familiar Hoe-Down classic. I’ve always thought a hoedown was a country-style social gathering with dance and music. Right on track, the upbeat and catchy Copland tune comes from his score to the ballet Rodeo, which premiered in 1942. Classical music and a country hoedown seemed like an interesting combination so I decided to research hoedown as our word this month.

Hoedown ˈhōˌdoun/ noun a social gathering at which lively folk or square dancing in duple meter takes place. First known use – 1841

Etymology – From American English meaning a dance based on the movements of hoeing corn and potatoes. This was the primary entertainment at hoedown parties held in the fall in the American Midwest and Appalachia.

Hoedown used in a sentence:

Partly recorded in Nashville, Golden is dusted with fingerpicked guitars and double-time hoedown refrains and liberal use of the word whoop. — Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, “Telling the Pop-Star-Goes-Country Story Again.”

The free, toe-tapping, foot-stomping hoedown, from 1 to 3 p.m., features live music, garden tours, wagon rides and complimentary ice cream. — Korky Vann, courant.com, “Bluegrass Bash Celebrates National Ice Cream Day.”

The actual hoedown dance itself is in quick movement like a jig, schottische, reel or clog dance. When I lived in the Missouri/Arkansas area, my friend DeVoe Gregory, an accomplished fiddler, and I would occasionally attend a fiddlers’ convention where there were fiddlin’ contests. In contest fiddling a hoedown is a tune in a fast 2/4 time. Traditional fiddler hoedowns of the 1940’s and 1950’s have evolved into a piece of music called a patter call, a call that is spoken or chanted rather than sung to the tune of a popular song.

Aaron Copland’s Hoe-Down was inspired by the music of Kentucky fiddler Bill Stepp and was popularized when the dance episodes were performed by the Boston Pops conducted by Arthur Fielder. Mr. Copland copied Mr. Stepp’s music almost note for note as the principal theme in his tune. It became even more famous through television advertisements by America’s Beef Producers with the slogan, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”

Although I love the original Copland piece, my favorite cover is the even more upbeat version performed by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on their Trilogy album. Then came Bela Fleck and the Flecktones who covered the song on their outstanding Outbound and Live at the Quick albums. Jazz musician Oliver Nelson covered it on his The Blues and the Abstract Truth album. As you can see, hoedown music is loved not only by those dancing in the mountains of Appalachia or in the fields and on the farms of the Midwest, it is loved across a wide array and genre of musical appreciation.

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