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About this Piece

For a biography of John Adams, one of Minimalism’s shaping spirits and LA Phil Creative Chair, please see this page.

Adams wrote American Standard in 1973, during his first year teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He had become fascinated with the music of the British composers Gavin Bryars and Cornelius Cardew, founder of the Scratch Orchestra, a collaborative ensemble open to amateurs and collective improvisation. “Cardew’s ideas from his ‘Scratch’ period were fresh, playful, and humanistic,” Adams wrote in his memoir Hallelujah Junction. “American Standard, my response to this ‘people’s aesthetic,’ had three movements, each of which was a deconstruction of a ‘standard’ American musical form. ‘John Philip Sousa,’ the first movement, was obviously a march. The centerpiece, ‘Christian Zeal and Activity,’ was a familiar hymn tune suspended in the ether. And ‘Sentimentals’ was a trope of an old familiar jazz tune. I treated each of these forms radically.”