top of page

Aaron Copland's Fanfare for Grand Rapids

Copland 1.jpg

Aaron Copland, the Dean of American composers

Who hasn't heard Fanfare for the Common Man, composed in 1942 for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra? However, few people know that its composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) also wrote a fanfare for Grand Rapids.


Copland was commissioned by the city of Grand Rapids to write a fanfare for the 1969 unveiling ceremony of  La Grande Vitesse (loosely translated as "the Grand Rapid") by American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and the dedication of its location, Vandenberg Center plaza. 


Calder's outdoor sculpture was the first work of American art to be commissioned and financed by both federal and private funds. His large red stabile La Grande Vitesse soon became the symbol of Grand Rapids and was the site of GRSMA's popular "I Got Rhythm" video in 2011 to showcase the importance of our musicians to the west Michigan community. 

Copland 2.jpg

GRSMA musicians performing underneath the Calder in 2011 (Photo credit Martin Hogan)

Inaugural Fanfare received its premiere by the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS) on Flag Day, June 14, 1969, under the baton of then Music Director Gregory Millar. While Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man only calls for brass and percussion, Inaugural Fanfare added the woodwind section to that ensemble.


Currently available by the British music publisher Boosey & Hawkes (, Copland's three-minute fanfare for Grand Rapids was revised in 1975 for the city's installation of a rooftop Calder painting located near the site of La Grande Vitesse.


The GRS continued its connection with the composer, releasing an all-Copland CD in 2000 (during David Lockington's first year as Music Director) and programming Copland's Third Symphony for the orchestra's 2005 Carnegie Hall debut performance. 


During their 92nd season, the GRS performed Fanfare for the Common Man several times. In September 2021, Copland's popular piece opened the dedication ceremony of the newly-renovated Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park. The grandness of this fanfare was appropriate to mark the completion of the massive $115 million expansion project for west Michigan's largest non-profit organization.

The iconic fanfare also was included on the GRS February 2022 Classical Series concerts.

Copland 3.jpg

GRS Music Director Marcelo Lehninger and the GRS brass and percussion sections take a bow after their performance of Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" in DeVos Hall. (Photo credit: Luis Avila)

It was fortunate that our city was able to secure both a sculpture and a fanfare by two leading American arts figures in the 1960s. While La Grande Vitesse eventually became the symbol of the city, perhaps Grand Rapids needs to claim its own theme song too.

bottom of page