[Black Composers Series; Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor; Natalie Hinderas, piano; Sanford Allen, violin; Sony Music Custom Marketing Group DSO-1111 (2002). Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma worked closely with Maestro Paul Freeman on the CBS Black Composers Series on LP in the 1970s; parts of those recordings has been made available on this CD.]
On November 3, 2009 AfriClassical had a phone interview with Professor Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin. He is a highly accomplished oboist, educator and musicologist, and the author of more than 1,500 titles. Dr. DeLerma has devoted the past 40 years of his long and fruitful career to the study of Black Classical Composers and Musicians. For the past seven years he has been principal adviser for AfriClassical.com, to which he has made available his research files on the lives, compositions and recordings of the composers and musicians featured at the website.
It's a real privilege and honor to be able to interview you on a career which includes four decades of research on Classical Composers and Musicians of African Descent. You have provided an extremely detailed vita on http://www.casamusicaledelerma.com and I'll provide that link in the interview. Your instrument that you played was the oboe, is that right?
I believe you studied with a very famous oboist named Tabuteau?
He was only one of many that you studied with, right?
There were not too many of them. Actually the teacher who taught me the most was a violinist, Joel Belov. I took lessons in phrasing with him, and he told me when I started he didn't know anything about the instrument. Didn't know about fingering, didn't worry about reeds or anything of that sort, just with the sound. That completely transformed me. In fact, when I went after the end of that year to Tanglewood, which was then a hotbed of conservatism, I was auditioned and I was told I sounded like I come from Philadelphia! I hadn't even been to Philadelphia yet!
I gather that was not a compliment?
It was not intended to be, but I thought it was a wonderful one!
Excellent! Did you have further dealings with Tanglewood?
No, that was the last. I just went that one time.
You have an extended list of your professional and faculty appointments. Are there some highlights that you would like to concentrate on? I know Morgan State seems to hold a very special place in your heart?
Yes, it really does. That was a good experience for me. I had some marvelous victories and an awful lot that really didn't work out. But to be involved in transforming a kid from the ghetto into an international star really was a wonderful victory!
What was the instrument?
Actually they were singers. The guy I'm thinking of in particular, although there were others, entered Morgan as a Wrestling major!
Is that right!
Yes, and in fact, he's in the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Yes, but he came to me and he started talking about Music, and he had this tremendous voice like natural-born singers have, just speaking voice, and so I got him in class and played for him an aria from Mozart's “Abduction” for bass. He had never heard a bass and he was one! That's the situation with so many Black schools. Fisk University had a crack track team, didn't even have a field! So here's this guy, a bass, never heard one until he got in class with me, and went on his own the very next week down to D.C. to see the opera, which he liked very, very much. I got him to go to Curtis, where he got his Bachelor's degree, and then he entered the opera program at Juilliard. In 1980 I think it was, Jimmy Levine called him up and said he wanted him at the Met! Kevin Short is his name. He stayed with the Met; he's still there, I think he's still on the roster. But he left the United States by 1985 and has had endless engagements throughout Europe. Living in Switzerland now, just doing all kinds of roles. He had won the Met auditions when he was 21, and was told he was too young!
Is that right?
Yes, so he tried again, and won. But a great guy!
So you had the opportunity to see him go from an Athletic student to a Music student at the Met at the level that they would require?
Right. At the end of his first year with me, it was Summertime, and Baltimore can be awfully hot and humid, and I had air conditioning so I invited him and some other students to come over repeatedly, and we went through the libretto of “The Barber of Seville” in Italian, learning and diction. So Kevin was introduced to Italian at this point, and we also did “The Marriage of Figaro” in class, then I saw him in the role of Figaro, fantastic production, when he was at Curtis. I remember, in fact he remembers coming to my house and just sitting there transfixed for the entire video of Verdi's “Macbeth”. He said he didn't know anything about opera at the time, and it was all new to him, and all exciting. I know that I passed by the room several times. He hadn't moved an inch throughout the entire thing! So he was readily receptive to being transformed like this.
He just had to be given a slight push in that direction?
Well, you know, I felt with all of the students there as well as for students elsewhere, that there's always at least one opportunity for them to break loose. With those students who recognized that opportunity and took advantage of it, they managed. Others ignored it and fell by the wayside. I had another student at Morgan who had been doing church music all of her life up until then. She was about 18. She came in and auditioned with a Puccini aria, and I got her into my office afterwards and I said “You're sitting on a million-dollar voice.” She smiled, and said “Thank You.” I said “That's not a compliment, that's an obligation!” She went on – I left soon after this – but she went on to study in New York and was voted the most promising student at Juilliard! Since then, she's had private coaching with Leontyne Price, and she's just a lovely, wonderful person who had not done any damage to her voice doing Gospel music earlier, and still of course hasn't given up that repertoire, but she's an outstanding singer, really. Her name is Kishna Davis.
Are you still in touch with her?
Yes, I am. Not as often as I would like to but probably a little more often than she would like!
Those are some very powerful memories, it sounds like?
Yes, and I had others you know who were in backup groups for Stevie Wonder and such.
Any others you would like to mention?
I would just say, as far as Morgan is concerned, it really is a vocal school. We had a marvelous Voice teacher there. Of course their Chorus was very, very well known. It attracted an awful lot of people with an awful lot of talent! Not all of the talent really got developed the way the teachers would like it to have taken place, but I know that Kevin said Morgan had more vocal talent than Curtis and Juilliard put together!
Is that right! Did the school have the resources that the students needed?
The school had no resources, really! Things have changed a great deal now. I went back a couple of years ago, and saw a brand new building that was the most advanced building architecturally of any Music School I've seen anywhere in the world.
That's saying something!
It really is! And its thanks to the Legislature, and to an acknowledgment of the accomplishments of the school.
Wow, that certainly is impressive and sounds very appropriate!
Well for example, one of three recital halls they had was taken over for the entire season by the Baltimore Opera Company. That was quite an exciting thing to have the city opera company going to a Black campus for its productions!
I bet that set some precedents and gave some people some first experiences!
I'm sure it did, yes!
It sounds like a wonderful opportunity that was opened up by that. What other highlights would you like to mention in your career?
Well, I think probably the real climax, fittingly, came with my association at Lawrence because I encountered students who already had a very strong background, who were very motivated, didn't have to be turned on, and had the liberal arts background to be motivated and do research, and performance also.
So Lawrence has a Conservatory of Music as a branch, does it?
There are two parts of the University; one is the College and the other is the Conservatory.
Although there's a lot of scholarship money available, it's a very expensive school with a very restricted enrollment, 1,200 students. And almost one-third of the student body probably are Music majors. But there are also very strong people in Philosophy and Physics and Languages and things of that sort.
Are you considered part of the College or the Conservatory?
Of the Conservatory.
Has that been true from the beginning?
Right from the beginning, right. I was brought here by the Dean who had been a former student of mine at Indiana.
Well that's a good recommendation!
That was after you were Director of the Center for Black Music Research, wasn't it?
Yes, really I'm a small town boy, and Chicago was just too much for me.
How long were you in that position?
Did you meet some of the Black musicians affiliated with the school, like Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, for example?
I had met him before. I'm not sure that I really met so many new people. I had known most of the composers and a lot of the performers before that.
So it was not a new thing for you?
Did you meet William Grant Still?
Do you recall anything that you can mention about that?
My thoughts on him have changed. At the time, it was in the Sixties and the climate was pretty militant at the time. Still seemed to be awfully conservative, but I think now that his vision was far-reaching. This idea of the fusion of cultures I think is terribly important in his thinking and what actually has taken place, but I know that he read a paper to all of these young Turks, and it did seem very much old-fashioned at the time but I think he was right all along.
He seems to be most known, in symphonic terms, for the “Afro-American Symphony” and to a lesser extent for Symphony No. 2, the “Song of a New Race,” but his new CD brings out a different side of him, doesn't it?
The “Afro-American Symphony” is a very, very strong work and it really is the culmination of the aspirations of the entire Harlem Renaissance in music.
What happened after that was certainly no diminishing of his powers, or energy or direction, but that work came at just exactly the right time when it was really needed.
It seems to me that it played a different role than his later works.
I think you're right about that, yes.
In fact the very titles of the Fourth and Fifth, the “Autochthonous” of the U.S. and the “Western Hemisphere” would suggest a wider perspective.
That's very true and even in that regard I feel that he was, without intending to be, in somewhat of a vanguard, because looking at the works of all the composers, up to a point, they were dealing with slavery and the plight of the people and so on, and gradually they began to address universal issues. Possibly the first instance of this was Talib Hakim's "Visions of Ishwara”, which has nothing to do with Black History but has more to do with a broader concept. It's on our Columbia set. In more recent times the composers seem to be giving a little bit less attention to Black History and more to World History and world concepts.
Do you see that as a natural progression, or perhaps a diversion?
No, I guess it's sort of inevitable. I don't think it's a diversion.
Did you encounter R. Nathaniel Dett?
No, he died before I knew what was going on. He died in 1943; I was still in high school!
You must have known T.J. Anderson?
Would you like to say anything about him?
Oh, this is a fantastic guy! We met through a mutual friend when we were both in Oklahoma, and we've been on very close terms ever since. T.J. has always given me advice even when I didn't ask for it! I spent some time with him when he was living in Nashville, at which time he was just beginning to give attention to “Treemonisha,” which would have taken place in Nashville had it not been that Robert Shaw offered him the Composer-in-Residency with Atlanta and I was there in Atlanta for the premiere of “Treemonisha,” which was a fantastic experience.
You actually witnessed that, in the audience?
Well that's wonderful that you can give a first-hand account of something that was that significant!
It was an absolute revelation in talent! It was sort of like “Shuffle Along”, or like “Porgy and Bess”, because all of a sudden here is this talent that we had not suspected existed coming in and really doing their thing! Simon Estes, Louise Parker, the tenor Seth McCoy, and the Katherine Dunham Dancers and the singers from Morehouse and Spelman – that was a tremendous experience! And the audience I think was about half Black. And I don't know that I've ever gone to another performance when people left it with a big smile on their face – it was really great!
I notice that The New York Times reviewer put a lot of emphasis on the final number, the Slow Drag?
Yes. It's sort of a production number; it doesn't really fit that much in the plot. There are some problems with the plot; there can be some criticism about it, but it's a very fitting conclusion to the opera.
This reviewer Harold C. Schonberg said “This Slow Drag is amazing, harmonically enchanting” and so on.
Oh, I think he's right, yes! I had great admiration for what he had to say, always! The Times critics are tough, but they're rarely wrong, and very frequently provocative.
Did you have a chance to see any of the professional productions of “Treemonisha”?
No. That story got a little bit muddy. When I was in Atlanta for the performance, we went to a party at someone's house afterwards and T.J. said to me that he was going to make money from “Treemonisha,” and he didn't need money, so he wanted to establish a foundation to aid scholars and performers, and asked if I would be on the board of directors and I said “Of course.” Well, not too much time went by before I got a phone call from Columbia Records, and I just mentioned in passing, “Well of course you're going to do T.J,'s version.” They said “No, we're going to use a staff arranger,” and I thought to myself, “Oh, God!” Then I got a call from Louise Parker who was in Detroit, and she said that she was there to do “Treemonisha.” And I said “Is T.J. there?” She said “No, we're doing Gunther Schuller's version, which we had done at Tanglewood the previous Summer, and now we're going to go to Houston and do it.” Well, Louise didn't get cast for the role of Monisha in Houston. It was Betty Allen who took it instead. But there was even still another version that was done at Wolf Trap during this period, and there were a lot of hurt feelings that came about because of this.
Oh, is that right?
So was there a feeling that it would have been more appropriate for T.J. Anderson's orchestration to be used?
Well there was nothing wrong with it, and it was done. And I sat right by Vera Brodsky Lawrence who had gathered together all of the Joplin materials for the Duke Public Library publication, and I sensed that she had some reservations, and I believe that she's the one that suggested to Gunther Schuller that a new version might be possible. I frankly don't see that much difference in the two versions. I see nothing wrong with what T.J. had done.
I wanted to see if there were a couple of other people that you recall interacting with. One is Hale Smith?
Oh, Lord! Good Hale! I met Hale when he came to my house in '69 I think it was. He had been picked up at the airport by one of the workers and I met him at the door and he said, “Man, I thought you was blacker than I was!” We spent a lot time right then and there during that visit just talking. I remember one time we were up until maybe three or four o'clock in the morning, talking! Hale loves to talk, bless him, and he's always got something to say. From then on – well whenever there was a meeting of the people – composers or researchers or panelists of any sort, jurists, Hale and T.J. were always there and I was always a part of it, so we got pretty thick.
I'm not sure about Hale's health; has it declined?
It seems to me it was almost ten years ago he had a stroke which was debilitating, and I don't think he's been able to do anything since then. I know that I heard at the time that he was unable to talk, I don't know if he's improved or not, but I know that this was – aside from being unable to do any more composing, this probably was a real pain for him, because he loved to talk, which always was a problem at panels, because Hale would get on the microphone and keep talking, and it was worthwhile for sure, but we just sort of sat there as part of the audience!
You didn't have the balance of everyone participating?
No, but we tried to get involved!
I see. Another person that I think you may have encountered in your teaching career is Samuel Akpabot? Were you both at Kent State?
I never met him.
But we were in touch with each other and he submitted a chapter for one of the books that I was working on, and I was surprised a couple years ago to find out that he had died. In fact I was just working on his entry this morning in that book.
I believe 2000 was the year of his death.
In fact, you let me know because I didn't have that information up on my website!
You pointed out that he had gone on to the ancestors.
Did you know Alvin Singleton?
Oh yes! I knew him in the Sixties also, before he spent so much time in Europe. And I saw him again not too long ago after he came back to this country. He looks exactly the same!
I can see that too in his pictures.
Yes. Very much like Billie Taylor, the pianist.
I thought it was a fantastic experience he had on his tour of Albania!
Yes, he seemed to have been very fortunate to have gotten an awful lot of wonderful breaks, and this thing in Europe was awfully good for him too!
Are you still in touch with him?
I can be! I just don't have time really to get in touch with everybody that I would like to!
Another person that I know you're more familiar with is Akin Euba.
Yes. He also had a stroke, incidentally, a couple of years ago.
I was surprised that he was back in action with his conference at UCLA last month.
Oh he was? I was meaning to find out about that.
I can't give you the specifics, but I was told by Fred Onovwerosuoke that he had made a tremendous recovery.
Oh, I'm glad to know that! It's very good to know that. He's just a tremendously important person!
He seems to have not only been involved with the African Pianism and drumming and rhythm, but with ideas of Musicology that stress the intercultural relationships.
This last conference at UCLA seems to me to have been a real triumph! On his Art Music nights he had Girma Yifrashewa from Ethiopia, with whom I've been in touch for several years.
I had a chance to interview him while he was in the country.
They had Dawn Padmore, soprano from Liberia.
And her accompanist was Richard Thompson, the British-born Black pianist.
And Maxine Franklin, originally from Jamaica, pianist.
So they really drew people from different places and Girma told me in the interview that he performed music of Rachel Eubanks, which was entirely new to him but he appreciated the cultural initiation into someone else's type of music.
That's good! I tried to get some communication with her. I never received a response. I was on good terms with her brother, who was a baritone who I taught at Morgan.
Maxine Franklin's brother?
Oh, I'm sorry; Rachel Eubanks!
No, I met Maxine in London. We had a gathering in London. She wanted to know about piano music by Black Composers, and she came to the hotel where I was staying. We had a long talk, and afterwards, we took a walk along the Thames River, which thrilled her to death. I mean here she'd been living in London for I don't know how many years, and had been so busy teaching, and doing her own thing, that she hadn't done any sightseeing!
Is that right! Another person I wanted to ask you about was Adolphus Hailstork?
I believe he's nicknamed “Dolf”?
I tried to hire him while he was working on his doctorate. I'm glad he didn't accept it! Very bright guy! Another person I tried to hire was Horst Boyer, who was working on his doctorate at Eastman at the time, and I had met him in Canada. Tremendously articulate person! He's retired now from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst I believe it is, but really is, I guess, the major authority on Gospel Music!
Is that right!
I think you also know Regina Harris Baiocchi?
How did you come into contact with Regina?
Oh, gee, I don't know! Maybe I didn't know her until I got to Chicago, but I'm not sure about that.
But anyway, you knew her when you were in Chicago?
Yes. And she's the one that I was going to get in touch with to find out about Hale, because I think she'd studied with Hale for a while, and was on very close terms with Hale and Juanita.
I see. Did you ever have contact with Arthur Cunningham?
Yes, I did! I don't remember when I met him.
But you did have an opportunity to meet him?
His recording, “The Piano Music of Arthur Cunningham was done by John Ellis of the University of Michigan.”
It's at the website and gets a fair amount of attention.
It was reviewed by one of Cunningham's former students, who is a colleague of mine.
Is that right?
Are there other people you can think of that you'd like to mention?
Well, Ulysses Kay, George Walker...
Anything you'd like to say about either of them?
The last time I saw Uly was somewhat of an accident. We were both at Penn State, and it was not a coordinated visit, and I was walking down the hall, and there in this little room was Uly meeting with some students, and he called me in, and proceeded to continue talking about what had been on his agenda, and he said he really never quite understood the Civil Rights Movement. That during the time of the protests, he was in London, writing to his wife, complaining about British hotels and food, which shows he's got some good taste, and his wife was upset with him because she meanwhile had been put in jail for protesting in a Civil Rights activity, and she was not Black!
Wow! He has an avid follower in Kevin Scott, the conductor!
Oh, he really does! Yes, that's true!
In fact there's a recording project, a long-term project that Kevin has been working on.
And then you mentioned George Walker. How did you happen to come in contact with him?
I guess I met him in Baltimore in the early Seventies. During the time that he was teaching at Peabody, he came down I think every week, and we got together on those events.
There was a performance of his music that I attended there. I visited him at his home in – I think Teaneck is where he lived. Yes, I mean he was a discovery that Paul and I both made, when we heard his “Lament” for string orchestra, because this had been written some years earlier, and it was such an extraordinarily moving piece of music that we had to find out what else he had written! He had been writing an awful lot...
But that was not awfully well known.
He seems to have had some recognition in the last few years, for works such as his "Violin Concerto"?
I don't know the piece, but I imagine he wrote it for his son.
That's what I understand. It was to be premiered this Fall I believe.
I believe next month.
Oh, I'm sure it's very difficult!
That would be characteristic, then?
Yes. He made a statement to me one time that I think sums up his aesthetic integrity. He said "I never repeat a success!"
And that really is awfully true because from one work to another of his, he is constantly working with different problems.
That's not something you hear all the time!
Another person I would like to ask you about is Julius Williams?
We have met, I don't know where it was, a couple of times. I think really all that I can remember speaking to him about was Tchaikovsky's orchestration!
I see. He has quite an event coming up in Shanghai. He's on the Final Jury, he and a professor from Russia, for the "Rivers Composition Competition."
I think it's December 7 that he's scheduled to do that.
I forgot to mention, when we were speaking of students, the youngest oboe student that I ever had in my entire life. He was 11 years old and I found out that the problems he had really were with a bad instrument. I took a great deal of interest in him. When he was a junior in high school, I gave him his lesson in French. When he was a senior in high school he had scholarships all over the place, and in the year 2000 won the Pulitzer Prize in Composition. At the time I was trying to get him interested in Contemporary Music, he got as far as Debussy and stopped! He wouldn't listen to anything else!
That was contemporary enough for him!
Who was that?
His name was Lewis Spratlan and he teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
I see. Wow, you evidently played a significant part in getting his career back on track, with his instrument for one thing, getting it so that he could play properly.
Yes, and he was actually, before he left Miami, he was in the orchestra.
The Miami Symphony Orchestra?
Yes. So he improved very quickly.
It sounds like it.
But he had scholarships to Princeton, Yale and Harvard, offered to him when he was a senior in high school, and he accepted Yale.
Wow, who could say that!
I neglected to mention that I met the son of two very remarkable colleagues who joined me at Indiana University. Anthony Shipps was appointed Librarian for English, and Jan Shipps, also with a Ph.D., was a specialist in Mormon Piolitical History, although not a Mormon. Their son, then in high school, was Steve, a violinist and, like his parents, a long-time good friend. I encouraged him to perform at the annual Black Music Conferences that I held, thus introducing him to the music of Black composers. His career evolved with enormous speed, and he has been for some time Professor of Violin at the University of Michigan, with a brilliant reputation. One of his students was Aaron Dworkin, and Steve Shipps passed on his interest in Black composers, which, Aaron has said, opened up a new world for him. We all know what then developed!
Have you had an opportunity to hear about Wynton Marsalis, who is having his “Blues Symphony”...
Yes, and I think that is probably the third biggest event, and I'm glad that Bob Spano is conducting this work. I first heard about Wynton when I was at Columbia Records and the head of Jazz and Pop told me about this trumpet player at Juilliard that he had encountered who was just fabulous, playing both classical and jazz. And I thought to myself at the time, “Well that doesn't work!” And he said “What I want to do is have a record, one side a concerto, and the other side some jazz!” And I thought to myself “Oh, that's a gimmick!” I said “What's
the guy's name?” He said “Marsalis,” and of course I spelled it “Ma-r-c-e-l-l-u-s,” like the former First Clarinet player with Cleveland.
Then, amidst really a good bit of controversy, Marsalis emerged. I heard his earlier jazz recordings and I thought they were very clean and very much within the tradition. I admired him from the standpoint of aesthetics but the thing that really turned me on, I was coming back from my publisher one time, driving through New Jersey. I had the radio on and here was the - I don't remember which trumpet concerto it was but I thought to myself "That guy is fantastic! Who is this?" And I found out it was Wynton Marsalis. I personally feel that he is maybe more important in classical music, but I have heard some of the music that he's written and I think it's awfully, awfully good! He clearly is a power, I mean a political power as well as a musical power, and has been for a long time. But I suspect that this "Blues Symphony" probably will be a very important work. It's destined to be recorded right away and appreciated by a lot of people.
I really enjoyed the brief samples that he put on Facebook.
He put samples from the first two movements, and he explained how he had multiple rhythms going on at the same time, to relate different events that were happening in the History of the United States at the same time. It was quite impressive!
Well, I had lunch with his father, Ellis, in New Orleans and the minute I walked into the restaurant I knew this was Wynton's father! Looked just like him, just like Wynton in every regard, the way he looked, the way he moved and everything. And this guy is a fountain of information. He knows who's playing organ at which church, for example, a little church in the South, and I figure that, at least initially, much of Wynton's knowledge came from contact with his father. It's a fantastic family!
Yes, so many successful musicians!
Yes, and I heard Branford on an intermission with the Metropolitan Opera, speaking only about opera!
Well that certainly speaks well for him!
Just briefly getting back to Wynston, I understand from his website that he has over 70 recordings!
I'm not surprised!
And 18 of them, according to him at least, are classified as classical!
So how many people currently recording classical music have 18 recordings, let alone have 70 total!
Yes, yes! Well there's been an effort for such a long time to cross over, if there ever really was a distinction in the minds of some people, it's not just Duke Ellington; it's James P. Johnson and many individuals who previously or even recently made their name in jazz have done more than flirt with an orchestra! And the opposite has been true also. To try to get an understanding of music, not just American music but especially American music, without an understanding of jazz, makes real problems! I am concerned about those schools that separate jazz from non-jazz, that the instrumentalists need to have both experiences. They really need it! Hale told me for example that when his work "Contours" was performed by Cleveland it was not awfully impressive but when it was played by Louisville the players recognized the jazz influence and the music really came to life! And I had that experience with that "Short Symphony" of Howard Swanson, which was recorded by Metropolis about 1950 I think it was, and I thought "My God, this is horrible music, just notes and notes and it means nothing!" And then I heard a performance in Southern Illinois and I realized how good the music really is!
That's amazing, that such a difference can be brought out!
Oh yes, yes!
On a very recent note, did you see the excellent review that Eliesha Nelson has received for her viola work of Quincy Porter?
I just read that this morning, yes.
That's about as good a review as a performer can get!
It called her a "ravishing violist" and so on! It catches your attention when you see the cover where she's standing in Lake Erie!
Even so, I hope she will explore some music for viola by Black composers.
I see. That would certainly be a good development.
There do seem to be more and more succeful Black violists. For a while, it seemed that Nokuthula Ngwenyama was getting a lot of the attention, but there are several others!
Well the violist is very frequently ignored anyway!
That's true! I just did an interview a few months ago with the person who was coming in as the new President of the American Viola Society.
Who is that?
Juliet White-Smith at Northern Colorado.
Oh yes, yes! Well I remember, speaking of that, I met with William Primrose and I mentioned George Walker to him and his face just lit up and beamed with so much pride and joy at hearing George's name mentioned again!
Dr. White-Smith went to represent the United States in South Africa, for the International Viola Congress this Summer. She called her new CD "Fashionably Late." I asked her why and she said "Well, I'm 47!" The full title is "Fashionably Late: Juliet White-Smith Debuts!" That's on the Centaur label.
What else would you like to talk about?
Well, there's always Dave Baker!
He's quite a combination of classical and jazz!
Yes, and he didn't start out that way! He's one of these figures that has made the change without ignoring the past, whatsoever! An extraordinary composer! A very improvisatory personality. Just a real charmer! It's no wonder that he attracted the attention of Joe Gingold and Janos Starker! I remember when Joe Gingold did the premiere of Dave's "Violin Concerto" with jazz band it was on the second half of the program and the non-jazzers stayed out in the hall during the first half, or if they were in the hall they put their hands over their ears!
But having the benevolent attention of Joe Gingold really attracted their attention in an obligatory fashion!
And of course what Starker's done with Dave has been monumental! The Concerto, the Sonata, when it was first done in New York, Starker did also music of other composers, including Debussy. Ant the critics said that the most impressive work was Dave Baker's Sonata!
Is that right!
Wow! I don't want to forget to go back in history a bit if we can adjust the centuries briefly to talk about Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges?
Things seem to have progressed somewhat since Rachel Barton made the first C.D. 12 years ago. I believe you made the first U.S. LP of Saint-Georges?
As part of the CBS Black Composers Series?
My Professor at Indiana was Paul Nettl. He had escaped from Czechoslavakia after the Nazis came it, and was Jewish, and I studied with him, gee it was only about 10 years or so after the War was over, and as I look back that guy has been so influential still, every day, on my life, on my thinking! I didn't know it at the time, and only gradually began to realize it, but he never once made a comment that was anti-German! But he did take every opportunity he could to speak about minority composers. People from Yugoslavia, for example. And this may be the first time that I heard of Saint-Georges. In '69, the first time I went to Paris, I got copies of everything the Biliothèque Nationale had - all of Saint-Georges' music. I've still got it! And that is where the material came from for that first LP on Columbia.
But there have been so many other things that have taken place that I put it aside, and I do have an awful lot of that music ready for publication, including his one complete opera. But there have been so many other demands on my time I just can't get around to doing everything!
Is that "L'amant anonyme"?
Yes. But it has been very gratifying to see the enormous amount of attention he has gotten in recent times!
He seems to have gotten much more attention in the country of France!
Well, he is a French composer!
Right, but he's also African American, at least technically!
Yes, but the French regard him as being a French composer!
He's part of French History, and I understand that!
But I wonder if we'll be able to get more American recordings? There are relatively few, I mean the one that was done by the Coleridge String Quartet in Boston, but there haven't been very many. Mostly they've come from Eastern and Western Europe!
Yes, you're right! Speaking of that Coleridge group, William Thomas, who is the cellist of the group and really the head of the Quartet, not much else, taught at Phillips Academy in Andover and he's done an awful lot of research both on Saint-Georges but especially on Coleridge-Taylor, and unfortunately he had to resign his position a couple of years ago because of health problems. Very young, an awfully good cellist, a very good Quartet, an awful lot of enthusiasm. I attended some of their rehearsals and it's just fantastic to see how they all cooperated, and how John really was such a good First Violinist for the group.
Well that's interesting that you had a chance to see that!
Not many people would have that kind of experience. I interviewed him about his tenth and eleventh CDs! Now the National Symphony of the Ukraine apparently is quite pleased to have the attention that he has brought to them!
I would think so, yes.
He did a very interesting work for a composer who was new to me, Deon Nielsen Price.
Yes. Price is someone I have yet to explore.
Yes, quite an intriguing, eclectic CD, with things like the "Yellow Jade Banquet", where she tries to tell the story of the different civilizations that have lived and worked on a particular piece of land on San Francisco Bay.
It's subtitled "Tour de force" for clarinet and orchestra, and her son, Berkeley Price, plays the clarinet and the basset horn.
But Cambria Recordings asked John McLaughlin Williams to conduct most of the works. One is conducted by Berkeley Price.
John McLaughlin Williams was pleased to take part in that; he thinks a lot of Deon Nielsen Price. And one of the things that I think has made him successful is the balance, and whether they are majority or minority composers is not really the key point. It's the interest that the music has for him. I wanted to mention - we talked about recordings of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor - I frequently listen to his "Symphony in A Minor" that was done in 2005, released in 2006.
I haven't heard it yet.
It's on the same CD as Frederic Cowen's CD, "The Idyllic."
And I actually enjoy both pieces. I also frequently play The Nash Ensemble, that did the "Piano Quintet" and the "Clarinet Quintet."
The "Violin Concerto," the versions I have are by the Johannesburg Philharmonic and by the London Philharmonic.
I find both of them quite good and interesting.
Well I am enormously impressed by the "Clarinet Quintet," which I know, and the "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast." I think they are splendid works! He certainly was extraordinarily gifted from a very early age!
I recall the Works List that you did for the Black Music Research Journal.
I still have it as a reference. It's quite comprehensive.
All of those are out of date now!
Well, they were comprehensive!
I would like to ask about some of the people with whom you have worked closely, like Fred Onovwerosuoke?
Yes, I didn't know him really until the year 2000 when I began attending the conferences that he held. Tremendously well organized, an awfully sweet guy, and of course we've gotten much closer since. I have yet to dig into his knowledge and ideas in as much detail as I intend to, but he's all over the place, my goodness! He's constantly traveling, constantly producing new works, conducting, getting grants. You know it is incredible all that he is accomplishing so quickly! It is a very vibrant career!
How did you come into contact with Mike in London?
Oh, Mike Wright?
We both attended the William Grant Still Conference that Judy Still had in Flagstaff in about 1995-96, something like that.
I see. You know she has another one coming up this month.
Yes, she sure does!
Being in Mississippi, the state in which Still was born, seems quite appropriate!
I hope they think so!
The town of Natchez, at least formally, seems welcoming.
Yes, I think that's good. I am working with a doctoral student at the University of Southern Mississippi who said he's going to be there, and I suggested that he take the whole student body and faculty there! But he knew all about it. It's going to be a big affair, I am sure of it!
When did you first make contact with Rashida Black?
When she was working with Rachel Barton, Rachel sent her and Jules Lai up to meet with me, and they were here for two days and we just fell in love right away! And Jules actually had worked for me, as best he could, there in Chicago. Rashida and I have been in close contact as she has been with just about everybody else in the world! I have no idea how on earth she formed a nonprofit organization overnight, because I looked into that and it's an awfully complicated process!
There is a lot involved!
I even approached the head of our Board of Trustees, who is an attorney, about some assistance, and he provided me with bibliographic references and that was it! I decided that "No sir, I can get too much done while I am trying to fill out all these forms and everything."
Yes, I can understand that! Well, I can't end the interview without thanking you for the opportunity to benefit from all of the research that you've done over 40 years and that you've allowed me to present to the world on the website and in the blog!
Well you've done an awful lot! I mean you've attracted people that otherwise we wouldn't even know about! You have taken advantage of it, such as with the Vocal Art people!
I was telling them that I'm not able to help them, but I was copying the emails to you, and you began compiling a manuscript!
Yes, I have a couple of thousand pages on that and I had to put it aside. I can only work on one project at a time really as far as today is concerned. I've got so many books and materials that I've just got to get rid of, and I can't get rid of them until I've captured the information that I need, and that's all directed really to the composers right now.
But after that, I've still got a book that's almost ready on Irving Schwerke, the guy to whom Still dedicated the "Afro-American Symphony." I want to get that off to Oxford as soon as I can, but have still got little things to do like photocopy the Christmas greeting to him from Duke Ellington, and things like that. I am not throwing away any of the references of the singers, but that's beginning to pile up! I want to get to it so quickly and with so much enthusiasm, but I can't let myself get too diverted.
That's absolutely understandable, but I did want to mention it since you extended yourself to take advantage of that material, rather than let the context go.
Well there are other things that have been stimulated by you and those who have written to you. The matter of pianists, for example, has to be treated.
Well, I really want to thank you again!
Okay, thank you!
Conservatory of Music
Morgan State University
Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Black Composers Series
Comments by email
Thanks for the plug. I hope to get volume 2 of Ulysses Kay's music as soon as I can find the funds!
Merci et Compliments! http://halleyjc.blog.lemonde.fr/ Jean-Claude HALLEY
Thanks, Bill. Regards. George Walker
What a wonderful interview, and tribute to a true scholar, whose contribution to music history has been and continues to be invaluable! Thanks so very much for sharing this. I'll pass it on. H. Leslie Adams
Thanks Bill, it was interesting. He is certainly a major scholar of black music. I completely agree with Dominique's assessment of Still's vision concerning the fusion of cultures as being ahead of his time. Dominique's work is indispensable; may he have many, many more years to continue it. John McLaughlin Williams
Nicely done - great to have this up! Prof. Janet Anthony, Lawrence University Conservatory
Nice interview. It was great to read about your work with all of these wonderful composers. Thanks for your support of Arthur's music! Sincerely, John Ellis
Thanks for thinking of me and keeping me in your loop. It was a pleasure to read the interview and reconnect with an invaluable musical voice. Regina Harris Baiocchi