Rhapsody in red and black

»  Adapted from the August 2009 issue of Louisville Bar Briefs (Focus on Legal Education)
and the September 2009 issue of
Kentucky Bench & Bar   «

George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, as interpreted in Fantasia 2000.


Rhapsody in Blue, opening glissando

The "famous opening clarinet glissando" of Rhapsody in Blue "has become as familiar as the start of Beethoven’s Fifth." Frederick D. Schwarz, Gershwin’s Rhapsody, 50:1 American Heritage (Feb./March 1999). I regard George Gershwin's 1924 breakthrough classic as the most distinctively American musical composition in our country's vast repertoire. In its vigor and its versatility, Rhapsody in Blue is also a fitting metaphor for legal education. Here at the University of Louisville, we conduct our Law School as a Rhapsody in Red and Black.

Musicians define a rhapsody as "a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, color and tonality." The composition of Gerswhin's Rhapsody certainly captures this musical form's "air of spontaneous inspiration" and "sense of improvisation." Inspired by the "steely rhythms" and the "rattle-ty bang" of a railroad train, Gershwin imagined at once "the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end," as "a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness." Ron Cowen, George Gershwin: He Got Rhythm, Wash. Post (Nov. 1998).

A more appropriate anthem for Kentucky's leading metropolitan research university could scarcely be imagined.

When new students arrive at the Law School, they bring with them the richness of their experiences. In turn, the faculty, staff, and adminstration of the Law School promise our students an experience that will transform them for good. Over the course of a thousand days, our students will find innumerable moments of inspiration. From a moment of Socratic scrutiny in the classroom to the intensity of law review or moot court work, from the pathbreaking Samuel Greenebaum Public Service Program to the new University of Louisville Law Clinic, our students will weave together the crucial elements of their introduction to the law and to the legal profession. With their professors and with each other, with partners on campus and in our community, our students will forge bonds that will last a lifetime.

The kaleidoscopic ambition of Gershwin's Rhapsody reflects the breathtaking scope of the careers that begin with the study of law at the University of Louisville. Our graduates span the country and all walks of life within the legal profession, in business, and in public service. Whether they do so with Fulbright Scholarships or one-woman boats, our graduates cross oceans. Judges, trial lawyers, counselors, venture capitalists, community bankers. Musicians, authors, mothers, and fathers. Their sucess, in its diversity and its depth, has one thing in common. It all starts here.


The word rhapsody traces its origins to the Greek words ραπτειν and ω*δη. ω*δη is perhaps the more familiar of these words, serving as the root of many musical terms, from melody to nickelodeon. The truly distinctive root is ραπτειν, which most narrowly denotes sewing or stitching. Ραπτειν strongly connotes the act of bringing together, as best typified by this word's most prominent use in the Septuagint. "A time to mend, a time to rend," said The Preacher. Καιρος του σχιζειν και καιρος του ραπτειν. To our students, we extend the warmest welcome to the study of law. May you make of your life in the legal profession a glorious rhapsody in red and black.