Poll: Which Piece Best Captures the Spirit of Labor Day?

Friday, August 30, 2013

A worker takes in a crate of produce from the fields at Glebocki farms. (Courtney Dudley for WNYC)

Poor Labor Day. Like Thanksgiving, it has never had its own music.

Other holidays have festive pieces and thematic lyrics. But go to a Labor Day concert and you get a lot of Americana: patriotic songs, songbook classics, and a dose of Sousa.

But throughout 400 years of classical music, more than a few composers have addressed work in its myriad forms.

In Verdi's rousing Anvil Chorus, workers bellow "So, to work now! Lift up your hammers!" Virgil Thomson's The Plow That Broke the Plains was the soundtrack to a New Deal documentary from the 1930s, about unchecked development in the Great Plains. And Schumann was one of many composers to have found inspiration in country life with "The Happy Farmer."

Still other composers have been inspired by the collective spirit of labor: Gershwin's "Nice Work If You Can Get It," Joan Tower's Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, Eric Coates's march "Calling all Workers."

Take our poll or tell us about your favorite in the comments box below. We'll be playing select labor-themed pieces all day Monday on WQXR.


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Comments [12]


I always like the hymn - Come Labor On - with the end of the first verse "Go work today" music by Thomas Tertius Noble.

Sep. 02 2013 01:38 PM
John Duryee from Cranford, NJ

In honor of Labor Day, how aboput "Ol' Man River"?

Sep. 02 2013 11:52 AM
eyoung from South Slope


The Cause of Labor is the Hope of the World
Johann Johannson

Sep. 02 2013 11:13 AM
JOE R from New York

Song of the Volga Boatmen - Balakirev (from traditional)

Sep. 02 2013 11:07 AM
Barry Owen Furrer from Petticoat Junction

"John Henry" comes to mind as I am conductor with a one track mind who was well trained.

Sep. 01 2013 02:41 PM
donald dukky from queens

I concur that the best labor day song would be "IM A WORKING ON THE RAILROAD". CHEERZ, DONALD. Very difficult to find link to send you this comment.

Sep. 01 2013 01:31 PM
TK from NYC

Thought of Rzewski as soon as I saw the title of your poll, and glad to see him listed, although not registered in your results.

Aug. 31 2013 07:28 PM
james santa-mo from Hartford, CT

I've been working on the railroad is a hard labor day song!

Aug. 31 2013 02:31 PM
Kit from USA

16 tons by Merle Travis, sung by Ernie Ford. It exemplifies the deep way we are all owned by the company store - corporations - buying from the people we work for, owing to the banks they created for us workers, and being hard presed to live on the "social security" we bankroll (and they threaten to take away) so they don't have to pay enough wages to allow us to provide for our own old age.

Aug. 30 2013 03:10 PM
George from Manhattan

Fanfare For The Common Man.The title says it all.

Aug. 30 2013 09:53 AM

"Ol' Man River" - Oscar Hammerstein & Jerome Kern

"Tote that barge
Lift that bale"

"You and me, we sweat and strain,
Body all aching and racked with pain"

That's work, all right.

Aug. 30 2013 09:06 AM
Kevin McAleer from Berlin

My candidate is "It Take a Long Pull to Get There" from Gershwin's PORGY & BESS - the fisherman of Catfish Row going out to do justice to their town's name.

Aug. 30 2013 06:20 AM

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