Monday, August 31, 2009

Nkeiru Okoye, African American Composer, Was A Featured 'FESAAM 2009' Presenter

[Nkeiru Okoye, photo at]

African Musical Arts, Inc. is: “A non-profit parent organization for African Chorus, African Music Publishers and the New Horizons Orchestra.” The Founder and President of AMA, Inc. is Dr. Fred Onovwerosuoke, a Ghanaian-born American composer who is also Editor of its newsletter, “The Voice of African Music.” Volume 16, No. 3 of the VOAM is the issue for Summer 2009, and continues to profile the featured presenters of “The Festival of African and African-American Music 2009” or “FESAAM 2009” earlier this year. Among them is Nkeiru Okoye, an African American composer:

“Nkeiru Okoye, Composer, pianist, and conductor
Nkeiru Okoye won her first award for writing music at the age of thirteen, while a student at the Preparatory Division of the Manhattan School of Music. A 1997 protégé composer for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's 'African-American Composer Symposium,' and a 1995 ASCAP Grant for Young Composers awardee, Okoye has also received recognition from such organizations as the NAACP, the Long Island Composer Alliance, New York Newsday, and the New York State Martin Luther King Jr. Commission. At the age of 16, the native Long Islander received a scholarship to attend Oberlin Conservatory of Music where she studied composition and the piano.

“Okoye traveled to London to work with Pulitzer Prize nominee, Ronald Senator, during the Fall of 1990. The following year, she received funding from the Ford-Mellon Foundation for ground breaking research on Black women composers, through which she authored 'A Finding Aid for the Works of Black Women Composers' and began a collection of works by Black women composers for the Oberlin College Conservatory Library. Okoye's compositions can be described as a collage of American, West African, and European musical traditions. In her score, 'The Genesis,' she uses the orchestra to imitate a talking drum ensemble, while elements of pop and funk were used in 'RUTH' an orchestral choreopoem. Traditional folk dances inspired her latest work, 'Spanish Songs for Tenor and String Orchestra.' The composer's unifying musical message has been well received by diverse audiences.”

“After receiving her bachelor's degree in music compositionin May of 1993, Okoye was awarded a Trustees Minority Fellowship at Rutgers University where she is currently pursuing her doctorate in composition under the tutelage of composer, Noel DaCosta.”

Who publishes the piano music of Arthur Cunningham (1928-1997), African American Composer?

[The Piano Music of Arthur Cunningham; John Ellis, piano; Equilibrium 65 (2004)]

Arthur Cunningham (1928-1997) was an African American composer of jazz and classical music. He is profiled at
The Piano Music of Arthur Cunningham, Equilibrium 65 (2004), was recorded by John Ellis, Professor of Piano and Associate Professor of Piano Pedagogy at the University of Michigan. A visitor to has requested information on the published piano works of Arthur Cunningham:

I came across your web site while looking for piano music by African American composers. I really liked the pieces I heard written by Arthur Cunningham and have been searching for where his piano music is published. As a pianist I would like to perform some of them. Do you know who I could contact that would know which publisher I should contact, or where I could get legal copies? I would very much appreciate any help you could give me. Thank you!”

The final topic on the Arthur Cunningham page at is “Cunningham's Works” by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. The list compiled by Dr. De Lerma includes the publisher for each work which has been published. The majority of the published works are published by the Theodore Presser Company.
These include Concentrics, Night Song and Ostrich Feathers, for example. We hope others will follow the example of the visitor and play the many and varied works for piano of Arthur Cunningham!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma says CD of 'Sonata for Flute and Harp' of Saint-Georges is a First

[Le Salon de Musique de Marie-Antoniette; Ambroisie AM179 (2009)]

On August 27, 2009 AfriClassical posted: “Telegraph: 'Sonata for Flute and Harp' of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 'is a work of Gallic charm'”. We quoted a review in which Geoffrey Norris of the British newspaper The Telegraph called the CD Le Salon de Musique de Marie-Antoniette “classical CD of the week.”

Three tracks of the CD are devoted to a
Sonata for Flute and Harp of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), who is profiled at We were unaware of any other recording of the work. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music, Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin is a musicologist who has specialized in the classical compositions of composers of African descent for four decades:

Yes, this work has not been previously recorded. It betrays a characteristic of Saint-Georges re voice leading, which I solved by the addition of a cello (not an unusual practice of the time). It was thus performed by Anthony Elliott (cello), D. Antoinette Handy (flute), and Geneva Southall (piano) at our Minneapolis conference in 1975.

Soprano & Choral Director Patricia Pates Eaton, Mentored by Irene Britton Smith From Age 6

[Irene Britton Smith (1907-1999)]

On July 23, 2009 AfriClassical posted:
“Irene Britton Smith, African American Composer Who Taught Reading in Chicago Schools for 40 Years.” The post noted: “Today proudly launches a new web page on Irene Britton Smith, who was born in Chicago Dec. 22, 1907 and died in the city Feb. 15, 1999.” Much of the narrative of Smith's career as an educator involves her mentoring of students in music, both in school and in the community. Barbara Wright-Pryor is President of the Chicago Music Association, Branch No. 1 of the National Association of Negro Musicians. She put us in touch with Patricia Pates Eaton, who vividly recalls the guidance she received from Smith:

Irene B. Smith was my first grade teacher at Forestville School who recommended my first piano teacher, Muriel Rose, to my parents when I was 6 years old. She took me to rhythm band rehearsals at her church, Cosmopolitan Community Church, on Saturday mornings when I was 6 years old. She attended my piano recitals and orchestra concerts when I became a member of the All Chicago Youth Orchestra. She enrolled me in scouting and I sat on the citywide girl scout council representing the Cosmopolitan Community Church where Rev. Mary Evans was the pastor. I visited with her every year until the end of her life. When she came to New York on her way to Europe, she visited me. There is no time that I am asked how and why I became a musician that I don't mention her name because I stand firmly on her shoulders. When she went to study with Madam Boulanger, Leonard Bernstein and David Diamond were in her class. She had the photos of all of them in an album. She also taught my oldest brother, Henry and ALL of Jesse Jackson's children. Jesse's children were among her last and they were taught at that little school in Lake Meadows.”

I have just retired from teaching music in the NYC Public School System, however I continue to be the Principal Conductor of the All City High School Chorus and I conduct a community choir, The Brooklyn Ecumenical Choir of Bedford Stuyvesant.”

Patricia Pates Eaton earned a Master of Arts at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City. She received her Bachelor of Music Education from Roosevelt University in Chicago. She describes her duties: “Responsible for all supervisory activities related to the ALL CITY HIGH SCHOOL CHORUS: Administration of the staff, selecting and arranging the music, coordination of all musical programs including an annual performance; fundraising for trips.”

Patricia taught at Wadleigh Secondary School, and at Martin Van Buren, Washington Irving, Grover Cleveland and Andrew Jackson High Schools of the New York City Department of Education. She also taught at Du Sable High School in Chicago. In her role as a Music Teracher, she did the following: “
Directed choirs that received superior ratings in choral competitions; prepared choirs for radio broadcasts, general assemblies, operetta workshops, Broadway and variety shows, coordinated festival pieces with band and orchestral accompaniment; recruited teachers; coordinated after school band program; member of the principals advisory board.”

Patricia Pates Eaton performed as Patricia Pates. As a professional chorister with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, she has performed in productions of
Aida, Boris Gudonov, Cavelleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Peter Grimes and Samson and Delilah. She has also worked with The American Opera Society, Opera Orchestra of New York, Schola Cantorum, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, New York Philharmonic, Symphony of the New World, and the Houston Grand Opera’s Broadway production of Treemonisha by Scott Joplin; and she has toured with the Robert De Cormier Singers and the Howard Roberts Chorale, as well as singing at the “Theatre des Westens,” in Berlin, Germany.

In her career as a soprano soloist, Patricia has “...sung recitals in Chicago and New York; performed roles in the Rome Opera production of the Civil Wars by Phillip Glass, 'X' the Life And Times of Malcolm X by Anthony Davis, Don Giovanni, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Porgy and Bess, How to Succeed in Business, George M, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum, Annie Get Your Gun, and The First Water, a multimedia production encompassing the Black arts, visual and musical.” The musical legacy continues to the next generation. The mezzo-soprano Patrice P. Eaton is the daughter of Patricia Pates Eaton, whose memories of Irene Britton Smith are now a part of

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jeri Lynne Johnson Comments on Post on Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra

[Jeri Lynne Johnson, Founder and Conductor, The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra]

Yesterday AfriClassical posted “Sequenza21/: Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, 'The First Multi-Ethnic Professional Orchestra in Philadelphia.'" We look forward to the orchestra's first season and have added it to the Links page at Today we are happy to present a gracious comment by Jeri Lynne Johnson, Founder and Conductor of The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra:

“Dear Mr. Zick,
I have been a long time fan of AfriClassical and thank you and Prof. De Lerma for all of the amazing dedication and detailed research that you have made available to the world! I have asked our PR person to make sure that your name and contact information are added to our press list and we are honored to be included on your blog and website! Is it alright if we add AfriClassical to our links page on our website?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sequenza21/: Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, 'The First Multi-Ethnic Professional Orchestra in Philadelphia'

[Jeri Lynne Johnson, Music Director, The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra]

Aug 28 2009
“The First Multi-Ethnic Professional Orchestra in Philadelphia Presents the Opening of its Inaugural Season Celebrating Hispanic Heritage
The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra led by Music Director and Founder Jeri Lynne Johnson will commence its inaugural season with a musical celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. This world-class ensemble will perform works by contemporary Latin American composers beautifully contrasted by works from William Grant Still and Beethoven. The first of a three-concert season, the September 19th 7:30pm concert at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater is FREE and open to the public and is made possible through a partnership with The Philadelphia Orchestra and The PA Department of Community and Economic Development.

“TICKET INFO: Tickets, although free, are limited and must be reserved through Ticket Philadelphia (215) 893-1999, online, or in person at The Kimmel Center Box Office. The concert stage will be shared by a diverse selection of masterworks to illustrate that classical music has been a part of the musical heritage of every color and race.” “Highlights of the concert include: Metro Chabacano by Mexican composer Javier Alvarez (b.1956).” “Aldemaro Romero (1928-2007) is one of Venezuela’s best known composers.” “Astor Piazzolla’s (1921-1992) fame as a composer is linked to the allure of his tangos – their bold rhythms and unusual instrumental combinations. In 1950, however, Piazzolla explored a different compositional path.”

“William Grant Still’s Danzas de Panama. Still was an African-American classical composer who wrote more than 150 compositions and was the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra. First performed in 1948, Danzas de Panama is based on Panamanian folk themes and evokes vignettes of indigenous dances performed by candlelight, intricate and percussive sounds of zapatas, or shoe-tapping, and even prayer. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in c minor, Op. 67 is one of the most popular and well-known compositions in all of European classical music, and one of the most often played symphonies.”

“BPCO’s musicians reflect the rich cultural diversity of Philadelphia with the core ensemble consisting of 30 multi-ethnic musicians from the best music conservatories across the nation including the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Manhattan School of Music among others.” “Founder Jeri Lynne Johnson, a graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Chicago, is an accomplished conductor, composer and pianist. From 2001-2004, she was the assistant conductor of The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, where she dedicated herself to bringing inspiring new music to the stage. She has led orchestras around the world including the Colorado Symphony, Bournemouth Symphony (UK), and the Weimar Staatskapelle (Germany).” [Full Post]

Pianist Maria Corley Records CD 'Of the Father's Love Begotten: A Contemplative Christmas'

["Of the Father's Love Begotten - A Contemplative Christmas"; Dr. Maria Corley, piano; Self-released (2009)]

Dr. Maria Corley is an instructor in the Music Department of Millersville University in Millersville, Pennsylvania. We have been following her career for the past five years, since she recorded works of H. Leslie Adams on Twelve Etudes; Maria Corley, piano; Albany Records Troy 639 (2004). On Dec. 25, 2008 AfriClassical posted a colorful account of her friendship with a Croatian pianist she had met on “Broad Street Review: 'My Croatian piano debut' by Maria Thomson Corley.”

Maria has recorded a new CD which she describes in a message to friends and at, where a complete track listing, audio sample and order information are available: “For years I’ve been thinking about recording some of my favorite Christmas carols. I’ve been especially touched by the experience of playing hymns and the peace and solemnity this music conveys. Especially now, with such stress everywhere, these Christmas songs remind us of what it really means to be at peace.

“Two of the arrangements are mine. The rest just touched me deeply. In all, there are 14 tracks on the CD, two with violin and two as vocals. The title, 'Of the Father’s Love Begotten – A Contemplative Christmas' is the message in this album, one full of the spirit of this special season. You all have experienced the spirituality of the hymns I have played for you and in church. I want to share this experience with a larger group of friends and with those who are seeking just such a contact with their inner selves.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Telegraph: 'Sonata for Flute and Harp' of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 'is a work of Gallic charm'

[Le Salon de Musique de Marie-Antoniette; Ambroisie AM179 (2009)]

Rashida Black, Founder/Executive Director of The Myrtle Hart Society, has brought this CD review to our attention:
“Le Salon de Musique de Marie Antoinette, classical CD of the week
Le Salon de Musique de Marie Antoinette. Sandrine Chatron (harp), Isabelle Poulenard (soprano), Jean-François Lombard (tenor), Stéphanie Paulet (violin), Amélie Michel (flute).
By Geoffrey Norris
Published: 11:08AM BST 27 Aug 2009
Ambroisie AM179, £13.70
This enchanting disc is one to be enjoyed in tranquil moments. It conjures up the flavour of the salon of Marie-Antoinette, who counted music among her pleasures during the politically turbulent times at the court of her husband, Louis XVI. Aside from her penchant for the serious operas of Gluck and for the lighter ones of Grétry, Marie-Antoinette liked to play and listen to chamber music, an attractive, varied range of which is enshrined in this programme.

"The harp that Sandrine Chatron plays so stylishly here is a restored Érard dated 1799, six years after Marie-Antoinette was guillotined. But no matter: its character is of the period, and, as Chatron says, its 'crystalline sonority, rich in harmonics, its great responsiveness and its flexibility' introduced particular expressive possibilities and invited a refinement of gesture.

"The effects of this stimulus are a constant joy in Chatron’s performances, notably in a little gem of a sonata by the French harpist and composer Jean-Baptiste Cardon, who left France at the outbreak of the Revolution and, like so many European musicians, pitched up at the court of Catherine the Great in St Petersburg. Another sonata for flute and harp by Joseph-Boulogne de Saint-Georges, composer, violinist, swimmer, skater and fencing instructor, is a work of Gallic charm, and Les Folies d’Espagne by Francesco Petrini attests to his own virtuosity as a harpist.” [Full Post] [Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) performed music with Marie-Antoniette regularly, as is explained on the Saint-Georges page at The CD Le Salon de Musique de Marie-Antoniette is widely available from websites based in the United States. A quick check of,, and showed they all sell it.]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Website For Youth Samples 'Afro-American Symphony'

[William Grant Still, as depicted at the website]

An increasing number of websites present the life and music of William Grant Still (1895-1978) to young people. Today we describe one of these educational resources:
The DSO Kids website of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra says “Games, music, classroom activities, and information about going to the symphony.” The “Listen to the Composers” page at divides classical composers into chronological categories from “Renaissance 1450-1600” to “Modern 1920-Present”. One of the composers in the Modern section is William Grant Still. An audio excerpt of his most famous work, Symphony No. 1 (Afro-American) is provided. The graphics include a brightly colored sketch of the composer, with abbreviated lists of some of his accomplishments, such as the first major production of an opera by an African American composer, Troubled Island. After the title “William Grant Still, Composer” and the name of the work whose audio is sampled, “Afro-American Symphony”, the page reads:

Born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi Died December 3, 1978 in Los Angeles, California
Modern 1920-Present
Famous Works
Afro-American Symphony
William Grant Still was the son of a bandmaster. After William's father died, his mother moved the family to Little Rock, Arkansas. William's mother taught in the local high school and later remarried. William's interest in music was encouraged and he often attended concerts as well as studied the violin. William entered Wilberforce University and joined the String Quartet. As his interest in music grew, he taught himself to play the other instruments in the string family as well as oboe, clarinet, and saxophone. He even arranged music for the college band.

William dropped out of Wilberforce only to continue his musical studies at Oberlin College. Playing oboe in the orchestra for the Sissle and Blake's Broadway hit, "Shuffle Along," he toured throughout the country. He studied composition with Edgard Varese and also with George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music. His Afro-American Symphony, one of his most famous works, incorporated melodies drawn from black folk songs. The success of this symphony established William as a composer. William Grant Still has composed works for orchestra, chamber music, operas, and ballets, as well as songs, piano pieces, and repertoire for band. [William Grant Still (1895 -1978) is profiled at, where a complete Works List by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is also found]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mary Watkins, African American Composer (b. 1939), Part III

[Mary Watkins (Photo by Phillip Brey); Dancing Souls; Kay Gardner, Mary Watkins; Ladyslipper GSOT 120 (2000)]

AfriClassical has previously posted “Mary Watkins, African American Composer (b. 1939),” Part I and Part II. The principal source is the book From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music, written by Helen Walker-Hill and published by the University of Illinois Press (2007). Part II followed the composer's life to the composition and performance in Pueblo of Mary's Potomac Park, a work for full orchestra.

Dr. Walker-Hill tells us: “The major turning point in her career came in 1976, after she met the singer Holly Near at a music workshop and was exposed for the first time to women-oriented music. That year she moved to Los Angeles and took the professional name Mary Watkins. Before long she was working for the Olivia Records Collective, owned and operated by women, where she soon found herself producing records for such artists as Holly Near and Linda Tillery. Watkins then progressed to composing music and performing it with her own jazz combo. She followed the collective to Oakland in 1977.

“In 1978 she recorded her own jazz fusion album, Something Moving, on the Olivia Records label. This recording received critical acclaim and considerable air time, earning her a position on the 'most-played' radio charts. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Performance grant, enabling her to make a second album, Winds of Change, for small combo combined with a 42-piece jazz orchestra.” Mary recorded it live in San Francisco in 1981; it was released on the Palo Alto label in 1983.

“If Something Moving had been well received, Winds of Change brought Watkins, in the words of one reviewer, to 'fame's doorstep.' It was reviewed in Down Beat, MS., and Keyboard magazines, and Jazz Forum placed it among the ten recordings most played on jazz stations.” “Leaving behind the women-only policy of the Olivia Collective, she now featured men as well as women in her jazz combo.” Watkins had a successful reunion with her birth mother in 1982. It influenced Mother's Song, a solo piano piece on Winds of Change, as well as Spiritsong, the next recording she made.”

“In 1986 she composed the first of a long series of scores for important, social-consciousness-raising documentary videos and films: the award-winning Ethnic Notions, followed in the next years by Valuing Diversity, Fighting for Our Lives, Out in Suburbia, Color Adjustment and many more.” Her satirical adaptation of The Nutcracker Suite, The Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie, was performed by the Oakland Dance Brigade each Christmas for a decade. “The music for the Lorraine Hansberry Theater productions of The Resurrection of Lady Lester and The Bluest Eye followed in 1988 and 1989.”

“The commissions and grants kept coming: fellowships from the City of Oakland, the California Arts Council, Meet the Composer; commissions from the American Jazz Theater, the Redwood Cultural Works, Boy's Choir of Harlem, and Sacramento's Camellia Symphony Orchestra. They enabled her to write the large-scale jazz, orchestral, and choral works she loved.” “She taught piano at Holy Names College for a couple of years, and thought about pursuing an advanced degree in order to teach practical harmony and theory.”

“In the late 1990s Mary was still playing concerts with her group, appearing frequently in the Bay Area with the violinist India Cooke. She began a series of concerts improvising with flutist/composer Kay Gardner, performing at the National Women's Festival in Muncie, Indiana, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and other places nationally. Together they put out a CD, Dancing Souls, much of which was recorded live at these festivals.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

'The Dictionary of African Composers' Profiles Meki Nzewi and Many Others

[Prof. Meki Nzewi, University of Pretoria]
“The Dictionary of African Composers by Alexander Johnson
The music life of the African Continent is as rich as it is diverse. Innumerable traditions of indigenous music co-exist with musics imported both from the West and the East, from Europe and Asia. The impact of African music on that of the West is equally undeniable. Filtered through the United States, the music of Black Africa entered indelibly into the western musical consciousness, spawning such diverse progeny as the music of Tin Pan Alley, the jazz and ragtime-influenced works of Gershwin, Ravel and Stravinsky, and the whole of today’s popular music scene.

“And yet: the music of Africa itself remains poorly documented, with only a small number of its composers finding their way into the reference works that most commonly found in the libraries of the world. The present ‘Dictionary of African composers’ aims to fill that gap. The Dictionary will, of course, be continually updated and expanded. Additions, corrections and suggestions are always welcome, and should be sent to Alexander Johnson.”

Sample Entry:
Nzewi, Meki
“Professor Meki Nzewi lectures in African Music at the University of Pretoria. As a cultural scientist, he has undertaken an interactive study of the creative theory and performance practice underlying African traditional musical arts for over 36 years. He has written copiously on all musico-philosophical aspects of African music, and has published four books and 34 articles and philosophical essays on African music, dance and drama.

“He has written, composed and produced 5 music-theatre works, 7 musicals, 3 operas and 3 poetic-dance theatre works. His other compositions include works for orchestra, choir, solo voice, drums and other ensembles. In 2001, the English Chamber Orchestra gave the world premiere of his newest orchestral work during a tour of South Africa. Prof. Nzewi has also published literary works, including three plays, a novel and poems, and has written and produced works for TV and radio.

“As master drummer, he has performed and given workshops throughout Europe and Africa. He is the founder and co-director of the Ama Dialog Foundation for African traditional arts in Nigeria. His creative philosophy and practice aim at continuing the traditional multi-disciplinary approach to creativity, performance and presentation.” [A list of books and articles published by Prof. Meki Nzewi follows the above entry in The Dictionary of African Composers.]

South African National Youth Orchestra: 'the icon of youth classical music in South Africa.'

[South African National Youth Orchestra - Wind Orchestra (Copyrighted: All rights reserved)]

Sophia Welz has brought the South African National Youth Orchestra, with which she is affiliated, to the attention of AfriClassical: “I followed a link to your site from the Sphinx Organization. I am very interested in including as many black composers/performers as I can, that link up to South Africa, on our website. I think it is important to create role models for our young musicians, as well as record this much neglected part of our history.”

Sophia told us of a reference work from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) which was new to us, Black Composers of Southern Africa (1992): Sophia added: “A professor of mine maintained this online dictionary, perhaps you know it?” The Dictionary of African Composers is by Alexander Johnson.

We told Sophia of our vocal music contact in South Africa, the composer and choral director Mokale Koapeng. She replied: “Mokale was commissioned by SAMRO [Southern African Music Rights Organisation] to compose a piece for the National Youth Orchestra this year, so we are in touch. We're setting up various projects for young composers with NewMusicSA and will keep you up to date on those developments.” “I'm working towards completing my degree at the moment - but National Youth Orchestra work keeps getting in the way! It's been a fantastic opportunity to work on the NYO - I like being on the strategy side of things and doing arts administration is surprisingly exciting.”
South African National Youth Orchestra (SA NYO)
“The SA National Youth Orchestra is undoubtedly the icon of youth classical music in South Africa. The musicians range in age from 13 to 25 years. The South African National Youth Orchestra is formed each year at the youth orchestra course and comprises the cream of young South African musicians. Members are chosen on merit and include players from all communities. The standard is high and national and international concerts have received critical acclaim.” “The South African National Youth Orchestra will be doing an international tour to Mexico from 1-10 December 2009. More details on this exciting adventure for the orchestra will be made public soon.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009 Brouwer's Estudios 'in a direct line to the Études for guitar' of Sor & Villa-Lobos

[Leo Brouwer (b. 1939); Leo Brouwer, Works For Solo Guitar; Giovanni Caruso, guitar; Brilliant Classics (2009)]
“Leo Brouwer was born in Havana in 1939, and we can trace his lineage as a guitarist back to Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909). His teacher was Isaac Nicola, initiator of the Cuban Guitar School, himself a pupil of Emilio Pujol, who in turn, studied with the great Tárrega. In 1959, Brouwer won a scholarship for a composition class at the Julliard School in New York. A period in Warsaw changed his outlook on composition completely, and the influence of ‘the Polish School’ upon him and other Cuban avant-garde artists was far-reaching. His work has involved both ballet and cinema, extending to symphonic works in the 1960s. Some of these works pick up on references to the past, Bach is sometimes detected, and the audience is invited to participate with a ‘shush’!

“On this recital CD are his Estudios, or studies. These are in a direct line to the Études for guitar by Sor (1827) and Villa-Lobos (1929). His later works have a simplicity of line, and El decamerón negro from 1981 is an example of this late style.” [The Afro-Cuban composer and guitarist Leo Brouwer (b. 1939) is profiled at]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mary Watkins, African American Composer (b. 1939), Part II

[Mary Watkins (Photo by Phillip Brey)]

On August 17, 2009 AfriClassical posted “Mary Watkins, African American Composer (b. 1939), Part I.” It quoted from the composer's website and from its principal source, From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music, written by Helen Walker-Hill and published by the University of Illinois Press (2007). The post followed her life from her birth in 1939 to her resumption of interest in learning music, after focusing on sports for some time. Dr. Helen Walker-Hill writes: “Besides piano, she played violin in the school orchestra, as well as the cornet and tuba. She played trumpet in the school band and sometimnes did solos in assemblies.”

At 15, Mary and her piano teacher agreed she should enter a piano contest. Her rendition of Schubert's Ave Maria made a powerful impression on the audience but the judges gave her Second Place because of the liberties she had taken with the score. Walker-Hill continues: “She did receive a second prize of a season ticket to the Pueblo Civic Symphony, and the assurance that she had a fine musical sensibility and creative ability.” She was told to play what the composer indicated and find a professional teacher. “Both chastened and encouraged, she determined to persevere, and began studies with a Miss Page, a classical pianist in Pueblo.” The ticket brought her first exposure to live performances of a symphony orchestra.

Mary also won prizes in art and sports, which caused her White classmates to be more accepting of her, but she kept aspects of her African American heritage, such as gospel music, to herself. “Her black schoolmates saw her music as 'uppity' and pretentious, and they made her school days uncomfortable with teasing and ridicule. Mary had infrequent contact with other African American students outside of school and church.

She heard more classical music once she started college. Mary chose to study Music Education and to major in piano. She transferred to a teachers college in Alamosa, Colorado, where she met Edward Dawkins, a soldier stationed in Colorado Springs. They were married in February 1963. They left the area before she could complete her degree, and settled in the Washington, D.C. region where Edward's family was. Her daughter Sharron was born there, but she and her husband separated and she had difficulty supporting and taking care of the infant.

“Then she enrolled in Howard University as a composition student, and sent her daughter to be cared for by her mother in Pueblo.” For the first time in her life, Mary was free to spend time composing music when she chose. “Her teachers were the renowned Mark Fax and Russell Woolen, and her earliest written works date from that time. After graduating cum laude in 1972 with her Bachelor of Music degree, Mary stayed in Washington for several years, refining her jazz skills, arranging, song-writing, playing gigs, and working as musical director and resident composer for the theater group Ebony Impromptu. In 1974 she was divorced from her husband.”

Watkins traveled to Denver for a semester of study at the University of Colorado, and was also coached there by Joe Keel, a composer who played jazz piano. “It was here that she composed Potomac Park for full orchestra. It received a reading by the Pueblo Civic Symphony Orchestra, but unfortunately she was not able to go to Pueblo to hear it."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jason Amos, viola, and Adrienne Taylor, cello, are Community MusicWorks Fellows

[Adrienne Taylor, cello; Jason Amos, viola]

Yesterday, AfriClassical posted excerpts from a farewell letter to students from their violin teacher Jessie Montgomery of the Providence String Quartet and Community MusicWorks (CMW) in Providence, Rhode Island. Heath Marlow comments on behalf of CMW: “Thanks Bill, we'll make sure that Jessie gets word of this. Keep following us, as there are two other African-American musicians this year: Jason Amos, viola and Adrienne Taylor, cello. They are in the second year of 2-year fellowships to work with us.”
Heath Marlow
Director of Development & Artistic Program Adminstrator

Jade Simmons on Sodi Braide: 'Chicago is lucky to get to hear him 2 times this year alone!'

[L-R: Sodi Braide, Cameron Smith, Jade Simmons and Vanessa Cunha;, December 2008]

On August 15, 2009 AfriClassical posted “Nigerian Pianist Sodi Braide is a 'Rising Star' at Ravinia Festival 8 PM Friday, Oct. 30.” As we have previously reported, Andrew Patner of The Chicago Sun-Times and WFMT Radio commented on the day of the post: “Yes, this is great news, indeed! As you know, he had a great success at the Dame Myra Hess concerts in Chicago earlier this year”.

A second comment which speaks well for the Nigerian pianist was made yesterday by pianist Jade Simmons, founder of The Impulse Artist Series in Houston, whose participants in December 2008 are pictured above: “Sodi was exceptional during his Impulse Artist Series concert here in Houston. It was an honor to present him, Chicago is lucky to get to hear him 2 times this year alone!
Jade Simmons, pianist
Founder, The Impulse Artist Series

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'I am changing my position from your Teacher, to your Worldwide Advocate in the Arts.'

[Jessie Montgomery]

AfriClassical has followed the violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery for some time as she served as a Violinist-in-Residence with the Providence String Quartet and Community MusicWorks of Providence, Rhode Island. Now she has returned to New York City to study composition:
August 11, 2009
“Good luck Jessie, and we'll miss you!
Community MusicWorks staff, students, and board bid a very fond farewell to Jessie Montgomery who, after five years in Providence, has relocated to New York City to pursue her dreams as a composer. Below is an excerpt from Jessie's recent letter to her violin and Music Lab students.

“Dear Students,
“This spring marks the end of my term here as your teacher at Community MusicWorks. I want to send my personal farewell to you all and I want for you to know that I will miss you very, very much. I am going to move back to New York City, my hometown, to focus on new creative projects in composition and to team up with old friends in music.

“I am planning to attend school again for a higher degree, to learn to compose music for movies and TV and for the many musicians who live in New York. As you know, I have been composing music the whole time I have been here, and now I want to spend as much time doing that as possible so that I can share even more of my music with even more people.

“New York City is really not that far away, after all, and Sebastian even has me signed up next year for a concert or two already! So this is not a 'goodbye forever' goodbye. Just think of it as if I am changing my position from your Teacher, to your Worldwide Advocate in the Arts. If there is ANYTHING you need as you go through your studies that connects you to places beyond Providence, I will do anything I can to help.
Your adoring Teacher and Friend,

Sanford Allen is First Violinist on CBMR/Albany CD of Olly Wilson's 'Of Visions & Truth'

[Sanford Allen]

The African American conductor and violinist John McLaughlin Williams (JMW) has made a comment on an AfriClassical post, “Leslie Dunner & Kirk Edward Smith Conduct Works of Mary Watkins & Olly Wilson for CBMR/Albany CD.” JMW writes: “I should add that the First Violinist for the recording of Olly Wilson's Of Visions & Truth was Sanford Allen. Allen is notable for his effortless violin virtuosity and for his being the first African-American musician to be made a member of the New York Philharmonic in 1962. He is also the soloist on the classic Columbia recording of Roque Cordero's Violin Concerto, released decades ago as part of that label's pioneering and visionary Black Composers Series.” His Biography as Sphinx Competition Jury Chair of 2004 reads:

“Sanford Allen - Jury ChairViolinist Sanford Allen was appointed Director of the Clarion Concerts in Columbia County's Leaf Peeper Series after the death of its founder Newell Jenkins. Mr. Allen started his study of the violin at the age of seven and entered the Juilliard School of Music at age ten, continuing at the Mannes College of Music under Mme. Vera Fonaroff. In 1962 he became the first black musician ever to become a regular member of the New York Philharmonic. Regarding his recording of Cordero's violin concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Strad magazine said: 'Its virtuoso challenges are thrillingly met by Sanford Allen - a fabulous player who was, incidentally, the first African-American to gain a regular place with the New York Philharmonic in 1962. Despite the challenging nature of the writing, the listener's attention is held effortlessly throughout due largely to the extraordinary commitment and finesse of Allen's playing. Indeed the intensity generated by this impassioned performance is nothing short of overwhelming. Well worth seeking out'. His solo appearances with orchestra have included the Quebec, Baltimore, and Detroit Symphonies and the New York Philharmonic. He served on the advisory panel of the New York State Arts Council and was also a member of the Executive Board of the Kennedy Center National Black Music Colloquium and Competition. In 1998, Mr. Allen gave a premiere performance of Sir Roland Hanna's Sonata for Violin and Piano at the Kennedy Center in Washington, joined by the composer.

Houston Chronicle: 'Pianist Jade Simmons works to expand her music, audience'

[Jade Simmons is a classical pianist who is forging a career between traditional and experimental music. (Michael Paulsen, Houston Chronicle)]

Rashida Black is Founder/Executive Director of the Myrtle Hart Society, whose mission is "Illuminating the Accomplishments of Classical Musicians of Color." She sends this news to AfriClassical:
Pianist Jade Simmons works to expand her music, audience
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Aug. 14, 2009, 3:54PM
Jade Simmons has strapped herself into an evening gown and played Chopin in a packed Atlantic City convention hall large enough for a football game. A gig last month at the Meridian, a nightclub and sports bar on the edge of downtown, was more of a jeans-and-heels event featuring electric beats and hip-hop-infused piano études. This week she performs Russian composer Alexander Scriabin at a Houston art gallery.

“It's a schedule of seeming contrasts that makes sense for a performer with a love of classical music and influences that range from civil-rights activism to the Miss America competition, from ballet to African drumming, from Frédéric Chopin to Missy Elliott. In a competitive field with limited job opportunities and legions of flawless performers, Simmons, 31, is part of a generation of classical musicians who are crafting their own careers and making a living as performers. She is drawing not only on her musical skills but also her talent as a public speaker and a personality with an understanding of how to present herself on the Internet and television.

“With a career 'that doesn't necessarily exist otherwise, you kind of have to carve out your own niche,' Simmons said. Once upon a time, it wasn't supposed to look so hard and was considered unseemly for a performer to promote him- or herself, said Jon Kimura Parker, a successful concert pianist and Simmons' master's degree professor at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. 'We are only just now beginning, I think, to understand a little bit more about everything else that you need to do besides playing the piano well,' Parker said. 'The thing in Jade's case is, and this is critical to me, she has the artistry to back that up,' Parker said.

“At the Meridian gig, Simmons was offering up an unusual electronic repertoire for a classically trained pianist, including parts of 24 Bits: Hip-Hop Studies & Etudes for piano by Daniel Bernard Roumain, a New York-based composer who draws inspiration from genres once separated like oil and water.” [Full Post]

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leslie Dunner & Kirk Edward Smith Conduct Works of Mary Watkins & Olly Wilson for CBMR/Albany CD

[Kirk Edward Smith (Top); Leslie Dunner (Bottom)]

Suzanne Flandreau is Head Librarian and Archivist of the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) at Columbia College Chicago. She was kind enough provide more details concerning the AfriClassical post “'Five Movements in Color' of Mary Watkins Recorded at CBMR With 'Visions & Truth' of Olly Wilson.” The correct title of the Olly Wilson work is Of Visions & Truth. The post presented a comment by the African American conductor and violinist John McLaughlin Williams. Suzanne Flandreau writes:

“Here's a little more detail for you on the Williams post:

“The CBMR is actually the original commissioning agency for Wilson's "Of Visions and Truth." It was commissioned for our Black Music Repertory Ensemble, and it was recorded last week by some of the musicians who originally performed it way back then. Kirk Edward Smith, who conducted it at some of our residencies, was the conductor for the recording.

“Leslie Dunner conducted the Watkins piece, recorded by our New Black Music Repertory Ensemble, a racially-mixed orchestra made up of Chicago musicians. The New BMRE replaced the original BMRE when we wanted a group that was both larger and more flexible for our many performance projects, starting in the late 1990s.

“The Watkins/Wilson CD will appear on Albany Records."

Suzanne Flandreau

'Five Movements in Color' of Mary Watkins Recorded at CBMR With 'Visions & Truth' of Olly Wilson

[Mary Watkins (Photo by Phillip Brey); Olly Wilson]

The African American conductor John McLaughlin Williams has commented today on Part I of the AfriClassical post on Mary Watkins (b. 1939), an African American composer: “
Mary Watkins has just had her large orchestral work Five Movements in Color recorded by The Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College, for release along with Olly Wilson's song cycle Of Visions & Truth.”

Many thanks to Maestro John McLaughlin Williams for his timely and informative comment. Olly Wilson's song cycle Of Visions & Truth dates from 1990. A biographical profile of Dr. Olly Wilson, (b. 1937) is found at

Born St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937, Olly Wilson's early musical training was in jazz piano and classical double bass, as well as composition with Robert Wykes, Robert Kelley, and Phillip Bezanson. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1964. He taught at Oberlin Conservatory of Music from 1965-70. During 1971-72 he lived in West Africa, studying West African music, and has published many scholarly articles on African and African American musics. He is the Jerry and Evelyn Hemmings Chambers Professor of Music at University of California at Berkeley, where he is also Chairman of the Music Department.

Olly Wilson's compositions include works for chamber ensembles and electronic media, but he is primarily known and celebrated as a composer of orchestral music. His works have been performed by most major orchestras of the United States, as well as several European orchestras. Commissions include those from the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Koussevitzky Foundation, Lila Wallace-Readers Digest, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1995 Olly Wilson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.”

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Website For Youth Gives Wrong Name For 'Afro-American Symphony'

[Africa: Piano Music of William Grant Still; Denver Oldham, piano; Koch 3 7084 2H1 (1991)

"The Dallas Symphony Orchestra's educational website for young people is DSO Kids. Composers are divided into chronological categories from “Renaissance 1450-1600” to “Modern 1920-Present”. One of the composers in the Modern section is William Grant Still (1895-1978). An audio excerpt of his most famous work, Symphony No. 1 (Afro-American) is provided. Unfortunately, the sound sample is labeled “American Symphony.” We sent an email to Kristin Carpenter, Youth Programs Coordinator of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, on Aug. 16, 2009:

“Dear Ms. Carpenter, The DSO Kids page on William Grant Still is appealing:
I would like to mention it on my website and blog on African Heritage in Classical Music. However, the audio excerpt from the Afro-American Symphony is incorrectly labeled "American Symphony." I hope you will correct this oversight so young people can fully benefit from this educational resource.”

A copy of the email was sent to the composer's daughter, Judith Anne Still. She operates William Grant Still Music and gives frequent presentations on her father's legacy. Judith Anne Still made this comment: “I am glad that you call people on their errors,...these mistakes are pivotal if left uncorrected.” As of this writing, the error remains at the website. [William Grant Still (1895 -1978) is profiled at, where a complete Works List by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is also found]

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mary Watkins, African American Composer (b. 1939), Part I

[Mary Watkins (Photo by Phillip Brey)]

Mary Watkins has a website, It begins: “Welcome to my web site! I've been playing and composing music for most of my life and will probably continue to do so as long as I am alive. It is like the air I breath, the water I drink and the food I eat. It keeps me alive and healthy. It revitalizes me, expands me and raises my vibration.”

The Biography page opens with these words: “Mary Watkins is a composer and pianist with a vision. Although her training is classical, she moves fluidly and masterfully within and between the classical and jazz traditions, blending them seamlessly and incorporating other styles of music into her original works.” “All of this has led her to write with equal skill for different media, including symphony orchestra, chamber and jazz ensembles, film, theatre and choral groups. She has written many songs. She has also made her mark as an accomplished arranger and producer of numerous albums.”

The principal source for this multi-part AfriClassical post on Mary Watkins is the book From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music, written by Dr. Helen Walker-Hill and published by the University of Illinois Press (2007). Dr. Walker-Hill is a former member of the Piano faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has brought the composer to our attention.

She writes that Mary Watkins was born in Denver, Colorado on Dec. 9, 1939, and was adopted 14 months later by Benjamin and Evelyn Maloney, an African American couple in Pueblo, Colorado. They named the child Mary Maloney. The future composer was three years and nine months old when she began piano lessons with Edith Johnson in Pueblo. The family did not live in the part of the town in which most African Americans lived, so she was keenly aware of the lack of other children of color in her neighborhood.

She had a long-running conflict with her piano teacher about playing by ear. She had perfect pitch. Much of her early musical experience was derived from her family's church and its many activities. At age 8, Mary started playing piano for Sunday school and junior choir. She was given a greater role in the music of the church as she matured. For a few years Mary preferred sports to music, Dr. Walker-Hill writes, and did not enjoy practicing.

Music regained her interest when Mary was 12 or 13 years old. Both jazz and classical music on radio and television began to appeal to her. The author elaborates: “The music of Tchaikovsky and other composers of the Romantic era awakened emotions that almost frightened her with their intensity. When she heard other students in her school who had progressed during the time she was avoiding music, she felt the competitive drive to prove she could play as well as they.”