Friday, December 19, 2014

Dominique-René de Lerma: Music As An Element Within A Larger Picture

August Wilson and the African-American Odyssey
Kim Pereira
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995)

Dominique-René de Lerma:


Dr. Kim Pereira recently sent me a copy of his August Wilson and the African-American odyssey (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995).  He had been a student in my Black music class, offered at Florida State University during a semester's residence in Tallahassee.  I had been asked only to offer a seminar for graduate music majors, spending the rest of my time on individual research, but I had requested also to have this class, one that would be open to all interested persons, regardless of major or degree sought.  The seminar had only three highly motivated doctoral students while the class of about 25 attracted mostly music majors, one of whom -- soprano Randye Jones -- is now completing her doctorate in Iowa.  Quite unexpected, but welcomed, was Kim, who was a doctoral student in theater.
He is now professor and head of the honors program at Illinois State University.  His concern for Black music history has continued and evolved, as manifest in this publication.
Dr. Pereira came to this country in 1986 from his native India, bringing with him a fresh outlook on Black culture, but he soon saw this as a unit that consisted of many symbiotic elements.  Therein rests  an obligation for us musicians to look no less fervently outside of our bubble, and consideration of the plays of August Wilson (1945-2005) is an excellent starting point, by way of Dr. Pereira's insight.
Nothing proves the point more directly than his view of Wilson's play, Ma Rainey's Black bottom (1982), with a section constructed like a jazz composition: "At the beginning, four musicians sit around chatting, while they wait for Ma Raney to arrive.  One of them tells a story, then they go back to their conversations, until the next story, and so on.  Each story is like a solo performance in a jazz quartet that, though it possesses the characteristics of a 'set piece,' is related to the major themes on an emotional and imagistic level.  As the main thread of the story is resumed, we realize that the solo, far from stopping the narrative, has also contributed to the atmosphere of the play and thus works on a dramatic level.  As the play moves along easily, the improvisatory cadences contain ever-quickening impulses that gather force toward a cataclysmic  ending, like a shattering crescendo."
It thus seems advantageous for the theater devoté to be as alert to musical elements as we are encouraged to identify cultural elements in theater, poetry, and even in the preacher's sermon, to listen to the graphic creations of Romare Bearden.
I was reminded of my class at Lawrence University, when a guest from the English Department visited.  We had been discussing how William Grant Still took the physiology of the classical symphony, dressing it in blues clothing -- that aspiration of the Harlem Renaissance to "elevate" the folkloric.  Dr. Karen Hoffmann then posed Claude McKay's "If we must die" to my students.  I was proud of them -- all music majors, but within the school's strong liberal arts environment -- when they recognized the form of this bitterly militant verse was in the form of a Shakespearian sonnet.

Dominique-René de Lerma

Commment by email:
Dear Dominique,  You continue to honor me with you highlight of my book as you do with your friendship.  Warmly,  Kim  [Kim Pereira]

No comments: