NANM Awards Gala: [Left to Right]
Joseph R. Taylor, Dr. James Lent, Annelle Gregory, John Malveaux
John Malveaux of
“The Politics of Music-Part 1”
July 27, 2014
The National Association of Negro Musicians 2014 Awards Banquet was held Wednesday, July 24, 2014 at the DoubleTree Los Angeles Westside Hotel. Joseph R. Taylor was one of numerous recipients in different categories. Dan Ellen Joseph shared information of Joseph R. Taylor’s years of teaching music in public schools, private instruction, music director and conductor of youth orchestras in Compton/Watts/Los Angeles communities, professional musician, and conductor of community orchestras to earn the Music Education Award. Future international concert violinist and current freshman at USC Thornton School of Music Annelle Gregory and pianist Dr. James Lent performed “Romance and Hungarian Dance” by Sergei Rachmaninoff in tribute to Joseph R. Taylor.
I attended the NANM Awards Banquet specifically to honor Joseph R. Taylor for a reason not mentioned by Dan Ellen Joseph in her introduction or in the acceptance speech of Maestro Joseph R. Taylor.
In 1978, I befriended American classical composer Roy Harris. The first commercial recording by an American record company of a symphonic composition was the CBS recording of Roy Harris “Symphony 1933”. Roy Harris “Fifth Symphony” was dedicated to the valor of the Russian soldiers who were our allies in World War 11. Roy Harris was subsequently selected as a member of the State Department’s first cultural exchange with the Soviet Union 1958. He became the first American to conduct a Russian orchestra when he conducted his “Fifth Symphony” in the Soviet Union. Roy Harris and his family became tragic victims of McCarthyism after he refused to stop a United States performance of the “Fifth Symphony”. His career was greatly damaged by a boycott of his name and music. He even had to relocate after physical threats against his family including young children.
Roy Harris “Bicentennial Symphony” or “14th Symphony” premiered at the Kennedy Center for three days, February 10-12, 1976, with the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Murry Sidlin. In my opinion, the “Bicentennial Symphony” is the strongest musical statement on U.S. History, slavery, and race relations ever made by an American composer. The work was written for orchestra with large chorus. The chorus carries the larger part of the work with passages from the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation as well as original passages.
The introduction is a musical representation of dawn to daylight. The first movement is a setting of the Preamble of the Constitution. The second movement is an exposition of the bitter disagreement about slavery between the North and the South. The third movement is a statement in music about the ferocity of the Civil War, brother against brother. The fourth movement is a musical setting of Abraham Lincoln’s “Freedom Proclamation”. The fifth movement is a musical setting of new attitudes of free black people. The coda is a setting of portions of the Preamble of the Constitution proclaiming freedom “for all of us”.
A critic mauled the premiere performance and perhaps most of the 1976 audience misinterpreted the work as an indictment instead of a celebration. The subject of slavery, especially in realistic description, had been keep out of the concert halls. I speculate that Roy Harris believed the Emancipation Proclamation along with other mentioned documents were the great achievements to spotlight for the 200th birthday of our nation. I further speculate that the elite audience at the Kennedy Center may have expected an achievement such as walking on the moon to represent our nation’s 200th birthday instead of the ending of slavery. Reviews, discussions, and even mentions of the premiere performance at the Kennedy Center are scant and non-existent.
In response to my inquiry, the administrative office of the National Symphony Orchestra insisted that an archival recording was not made of the performance. Renowned cellist Rostropovich performed separately on the same program. The Harris Symphony was scheduled to be performed the following week-end by the Dallas Symphony. The story was told by the Dallas Symphony that the score was “LOST IN FLIGHT” and the respected “Third Symphony” was substituted for the “Bicentennial Symphony”. The Kennedy Center premiere included a chorus of 100 singers from Texas.
On a different note, Aaron Copland's “A Lincoln Portrait” was slated for Eisenhower's Inaugural Concert. But days before the concert the composition was removed from the concert. A Congressman offered the explanation "The Republican Party would have been ridiculed from one end of the United States to the other if Copland's music had been played at the inaugural of a president elected to fight Communism."
My friendship with Roy Harris embraced Johana Harris. Each time I visited their home, Johana treated me to a short piano recital in a spacious room with a striking view of Pacific Palisades and the Pacific Ocean before Roy entered the room.
After Roy’s death, I asked Johana Harris for the rights to publicize, promote, and perform the “Bicentennial Symphony”. The rights were granted to me and Johana’s assistant forwarded the original copy drafted by Johana or her assistant to the University that commissioned the “Bicentennial Symphony” and held the original score in their library archives.
On another note, if the South had won the Civil War, we could not have elected the current second term President. I hear the Confederate mentality in the current opposition to President Obama. Dr. Stephanie McCurry argues in her book “Confederate Reckoning” that the confederacy created its own demise by excluding women and Blacks who were then the majority of the population.