'Irrational Exuberance': Music Inspired by Greenspan

Outgoing Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan once used a colorful phrase to describe the unbridled enthusiasm of stock market investors: "irrational exuberance." Robert Pound, an associate professor of music at Dickinson College, thought the phrase would make a great title for a piece of music.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Part of Allan Greenspan's job as Fed Chairman was to inspire confidence in the economy. Turns out he also inspired a classical music overture. And Renee Montagne spoke to the composer.

RENEE MONTAGNE reporting:

This is a piece called, yes, Irrational Exuberance. And it was composed by Robert Pound. He teaches music at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Professor Pound, good morning.

Professor ROBERT POUND (Composer and Professor of Music, Dickinson College): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, Allan Greenspan Overture.

Prof. POUND: Right, Fed Reserve Chairman, not exactly what you think of when you think of a new piece, I suppose. But the title was so captivating. I heard in, I guess it was 1996, when he first said it, and just thought this, this has to be a piece of music.

MONTAGNE: That famous expression of Mr. Greenspan's was used, at the time, to suggest the tech stock boom of the '90s...

Prof. POUND: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...was possibly a bubble. Were you thinking bubble?

Prof. POUND: I, I think I was. I think the kind of mentality that he was trying to describe of a whole society of people blithely investing themselves in something that might be very short-lived seemed to kind of capture a sort of spirit that I might want to express into music.

MONTAGNE: And the first section's called Giddy Recklessness.

Prof. POUND: It's just very energetic. It's childlike in its optimism and energy. It's mostly centered in the highest instruments of the orchestra, very high and bright sound. The second section is not completely oriented, a little disoriented, I suppose, I should say.

MONTAGNE: Would we be looking for a reflection of the ups and downs of the economy or the stock market?

Prof. POUND: Not so much, you know, there was an article that suggested that the second section was the gloom that came afterwards. I didn't really intend gloom at all in the piece. We, of course, know Greenspan for the famous Greenspan-speak. Of course, he's thinking in numbers, and he's thinking in terms of the economy as a fairly cold thing that he's meant to analyze.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, numbers and music are related. Maybe not the hard, cold numbers of the stock market.

Prof. POUND: But proportions and relations, certainly, and even in rhythm. And that's very much a mathematical aspect of music.

MONTAGNE: Life Delirious is the last of the five sections of this overture.

Prof. POUND: This section was supposed to have water-like images, waves. And then it ends in the state of mind well before the 2001 crash.

MONTAGNE: Not to press this, the analogy, but there it sounds like, something like an opening bell, or an opening triangle.

Prof. POUND: Could be opening bell, or a very, closing bell on a great day.

MONTAGNE: Thank you, Robert Pound for talking to us about your piece of music.

Prof. POUND: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Robert Pound is an Associate Professor of Music at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. His overture, Irrational Exuberance, was inspired by outgoing Fed Chairman, Allan Greenspan.

YDSTIE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR news with Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep. I'm John Ydstie.

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