Aaron Copland didn't like his famous nickname

Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland
Erich Auerbach | Getty Images 1965

Throughout 2017, Minnesota Public Radio will celebrate 50 years on the air by sharing highlights from our archives, connecting Minnesota's past to its present. | This story originally aired on March 15, 1973.

Aaron Copland, the seminal 20th century composer whose work, including "Appalachian Spring" and "Fanfare for the Common Man," helped define the sound of American orchestral music, calmly ordered his omelette without onions and a salad with French dressing at a Minnesota diner in 1973. He was in Minnesota to conduct the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The demeanor of his interviewer — Minnesota Public Radio reporter Connie Goldman — didn't quite match.

"Listen," she told Copland, "I'll feel better if I tell you the truth: I'm really nervous about this interview."

"Why? Why should you be nervous?" he asked.

Goldman had been studying Copland's career before their chat. Something about his decades of composing, conducting, scoring films, writing and teaching left her in a bit of awe.

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"It's just awesome to sit here at lunch with the 'Dean of American Composers,'" Goldman said.

"That's just a name that somebody pinned up," Copland said. "It doesn't mean a thing."

Nicknames are meaningless, said Copland, who died in 1990. But his New York Times obituary headline, the first paragraph of his Wikipedia page and his posthumous biography all refer to him as the "Dean."

"Do you hate it?" Goldman asked over that Minneapolis lunch.

"I'm not fond of it ... it tends to, what shall I say, categorize you," Copland said. "You're stuck on a shelf and it tends to finish you off. There's no place to go."