Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dominique-René de Lerma: Dissertation Topics

Paul Freeman

Dominique-René de Lerma:


While putting on what I hope is the fine tuning of a comprehensive bibliography of dissertations on Black music, soon to be published by William Grant Still Music, I was struck by the absence of critical studies in areas of interest to readers of these blogs.  Perhaps some of these are in progress, in which case I'd welcome the news (, now again active after a dead period).  In a few instances there are senor figures who might be willing to assist in the research.  In other cases, documentary materials are held by such major archives as the Schomburg Center in New York, the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago, the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans, or the E. Emma Azalia Hackley Collection in Detroit.
It was gratifying when, during an intermission of the 1972 première of Treemonisha when I was approached by Addison Reed.  The challenge for a dissertation on Scott Joplin I had posed in Black music in our culture (1971) was soon to be realized he told me in The life and works of Scott Joplin, which he completed in 1973 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Leontyne Price (born in 1927) comes to mind immediately.  A few books, countless articles, and several taped interviews will offer materials on her life and repertoire, while a major service would be a detailed discography of her many LPS, CDs, DVDs -- with a careful notice of reissues.  It is most surprising that no comprehensive discography of her exceptional career has thus far been attempted.
After decades of performances and recordings in Detroit, New York, Helsinki, London, Prague, Denmark, Baltimore, Chicago, and Canada, jet-set conductor Paul Freeman (born in 1936) has retired to British Columbia.  His 9 LP Black composers series for Columbia Records was a historic milestone reviving or introducing works by composers from the 18th and 19th centuries, and proving many contemporary figures with award-winning recorded performances.  A detailed study of his work would be a contribution of most major historical significance.
The career of violinist Sanford Allen (born in 1939) would include his years with the New York Philharmonic, which was followed by an extensive solo career and work in the recording studio as a sideman with many figures outside of the concert hall.
In a like manner, we lack studies on George Shirley (born in 1934) and Mattiwilda Dobbs (born in 1925).  She indicated to me that she has a closet filled with documents on her career.  
Personal interviews are no longer possible with William Warfield (1929-2002), although his autobiography was issued in 1991.  That is sadly the case also with William Brown (1938-2004), who left no biography, but was endlessly engaged in recitals and operas, and was one of the most recorded of all Black artists, who went through his undergraduate days at Jackson State with attention only to R&B.
Musicologist Arthur R. LaBrew (born 1929) has published many volumes based on his searches through little-known primary documents and has been a major force in Detroit's musical and scholarly life.  He is one of the many important graduates of the Oberlin Conservatory (whose archives, readily available, offer still other avenues to explore -- including the school's importance in the early history of Fisk University).
Chicago's Center for Black Music Research holds massive collections on many figures, regardless of the idiom in which they were active.  The work of impressario Wendell Wright (1921-2000) is richly documented there, along with those artists -- in their youth (Ben Holt) or full professional bloom (Mattiwilda Dobbs) -- he booked to for the recitals at the series he held in the little (very high) Episcopal church, buried deeply in the ghetto of West Baltimore.  He was an avid warrior for civil rights in music and doubtless the constant headache of the administrators of the Baltimore Symphony and Baltimore Opera, as well as the area's newspaper music critics.
The Center also holds the musical materials of the enigmatic Talib Rasul Hakim (1940-1988), a composer of raw talent and mystical orientations, adopted from Islam.  Also among composers not noticed in the literature is Berkeley's Olly Wilson (born in 1937), notable not only for his compositions and scholarly explorations, but also for his work as an aesthetician, which readily brings to mind T. J. Anderson, previously treated in Bruce Thompson's dissertation, Musical style and compositional techniques in selected works of T. J. Anderson (1978).  A lot has happened in the past 30 years.
The impact of Sylvia Olden Lee (1917-2004), as pedagogue and vocal coach, clearly merits attention.  She taught at the Curtis Institute and was a long-time coach at the Metropolitan Opera, colorfully and without hesitation speaking her mind on areas of her expertise, with no illusions or pretense, and very "country."
Natalie Hinderas (1927-1987) was a delight personally and figure of most substantial importance in piano and education (Temple University), who championed composers only then less well known, and resurrected classic figures from the history.
Aspects of the Middle Ages and (Italian) Renaissance have often been the subject of graduate papers at a time when American musicology did not include more recent subjects.  The manuscripts of libraries and monasteries in Europe have provided transcriptions of work by figures still anonymous. The border has since been enlarged,  to a remarkable extent by the "Black mafia" -- as students at the University of Michigan termed themselves -- who, as they joined faculties all across the country, did their curricular subversions, opening the doors for such studies as suggested here. 

Dominique-René de Lerma

No comments: