The GWB: A Rhapsody in Steel

By Ashley Germinario, Media Relations Staff

Over the years, the clinks and clanks of the majestic George Washington Bridge have inspired musicians and composers to express their musical skills in highly creative ways.

From the early days of the bridge’s construction, musicians felt an immediate connection to its large steel beams, its classic structure and the sounds the great span produced. The legendary American composer Aaron Copland was inspired by the rhythmic sound of the bridge’s construction; the low-pitched drill of the GWB during its construction made an appearance in his “Symphonic Ode,” which debuted in 1929, two years before the bridge opened.

The very first Pulitzer-Prize winner for music, Bronx native William Schuman, also expressed his endearment for this landmark through song. His triumphant 1950 composition “George Washington Bridge” illustrates the impact the architecture of someone’s birthplace can have on the creative mind. These musicians have the ability to take in what they see, and convert that into music that lights up the imagination.

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“Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied, assuming different moods depending on the time of day or night, the weather, the traffic and, of course, my own mood as I pass by,” Schuman once wrote.

To listen to Schumann’s ode to the GWB, as performed by the United States Marine Band:

Besides inspiring onlookers and musicians, the GWB is a work of art in itself. Othmar Ammann, the bridge’s brilliant chief engineer, had a vision that took the GWB from a mere idea to a functioning facility that handled more than 5.5 million vehicles in its first full year of operation. The bridge originally was to be encased in stone, but the prohibitive cost and the advent of the Depression during construction made it an unaffordable luxury. Today, it supports more than 103 million vehicles per year, making it the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge.

At the bridge’s opening ceremony in 1931, John F. Galvin, then chairman of the Port Authority, proclaimed, “this massive structure is as beautiful as it is graceful. It is a dream of 75 years come true. It is the first over-water connection spanning this great river between Manhattan and the rest of the North American Continent. It is truly one of the world’s wonders and a marvel of engineering skill.”

As Schuman would later put it: “It’s difficult to imagine a more gracious welcome or dramatic entry to the great metropolis.”

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