Florence B. Price is featured at AfriClassical.com
Margaret A. Bonds is featured at AfriClassical.com
Undine Smith Moore
Betty Jackson King
Mary Lou Williams
A Remarkable Journey Rewrites the Classical Music Canon
Portland Chamber Music's Anya Kalina on the Importance of African American Women ComposersBy Robert Ham
THE CLASSICAL MUSIC CANON is full of dead white men. Just look at the events schedule for most symphony orchestras or opera companies, even in a progressively minded city like ours. That sad truth has been ingrained in the musical world for centuries.
Though many were trained at the world's most respected conservatories, names like Florence Price, Undine Smith Moore, and Margaret Bonds are still virtually unknown to even the most dedicated appreciators of modern classical.
That's what makes PCM's upcoming recital such a vital event for music lovers in Portland. Taking place at the Community Music Center on Saturday, March 5, the performance, A Remarkable Journey, will include works by the aforementioned composers as well as pieces by Betty Jackson King, Mary Lou Williams, and Mary Watkins. The evening will also feature photographer and writer Intisar Abioto, known for her curation of the Black Portlanders photo project, who will tell the life stories of these women, many of whom had to overcome some heartbreaking obstacles to get their music heard.
"They had to deal with so much," says Kalina. "Florence Price was the first African American woman to have a piece performed by a major orchestra in a major city, but had to run with her kids from an abusive husband. Margaret Bonds was a soloist with the Chicago Symphony while still dealing with a great deal of discrimination and fighting with depression. It's those details that make you wonder how they were able to write such beautiful music."
And so many of their compositions are breathtaking. Price's Adoration, one of the pieces that PCM will be performing, has a hymn-like quality, with long, stately chords that hang in the air like bulbous clouds against a dark blue sky. Troubled Water, written by Bonds in 1967 and based on the spiritual "Wade in the Water," feels rooted deeply in the ground and suffused with strongly felt agony and hard-won salvation.
A Remarkable Journey: Music by African American Women Composers
Portland Chamber Music at Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis, Sat March 5, 7 pm, $10 suggested donation, all ages, pdxchambermusic.org