Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Composer Regina Baiocchi and the Late Hale Smith, Part 2

(Part 1 ended with Regina's return to Chicago after a year at a Catholic boarding school in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.)

I left there and went to Paul Laurence Dunbar Vocational High School in Chicago, and that's where I really realized that I could do this; I could become a composer, I could become a writer. I always knew that I wanted to be a composer before I knew what it was, because I had been writing songs probably from age 7 or 9. My teachers at Dunbar High School were very supportive. I was able to write things for small string ensemble, for marching band, for jazz band, and I played trumpet and French horn..
You wrote for all those ensembles yourself?
I did! I started because I have a very distinctive and often described as impeccable handwriting.
It was very natural for me to become a copyist. Often I would copy the parts for my teacher who arranged things. In Marching Band we played all of the popular tunes. In other words, whatever was on the Billboard charts, like a James Brown tune, he would arrange that for Marching Band. I would copy the parts and when I first started out I was copying and, as any copyist will tell you, you're going along copying and all of a sudden you see this note - that basically says now you've switched from being copyist to arranger and they say "Oh do this for so-and-so; do that for blah-blah! And once I passed the test, he kind of took me under his wing and my duties and responsibilities expanded.
You made the transition then!
Oh, absolutely! I knew that one of the things about functioning as an ensemble, you have to be able to listen to what the other instruments are doing. I really took that to heart! When the teacher said to us "You need to listen to other people, make sure that you fit in, that you blend in, know what they're doing." Very early I learned what the transposing instruments are, how to write for them, what concert pitch means, et cetera. How certain voicings will evoke a certain style and type of music. Dr. Willie Naylor, who was my first Band Director and first trumpet teacher at Dunbar, is still living; he's retired here in the Chicago area. The last I've heard from him he was living in Country Club Hills, a suburb of Chicago. But Dr. Willie Naylor and Burgess Gardner, who was also a trumpet player, Dr. Nathaniel Green, who was my counterpoint and chorus teacher, Judith Cammon was a great pianist and one of my general music teachers - those four teachers really gave me a great foundation on which to build. I had two student teachers that really kind of shaped where I went to college. One of them was a man named Stanley Paluck, who was a student at DePaul University and he was a member of a group that was to become known as "Chicago"...
The singing group, the popular music group?
Yes, "Chicago"! They did records like "25 Or 6 To 4."
I thought that was a pretty prominent group!
Absolutely! As a matter of fact, my husband is a big Chicago fan, so we have all of their CDs! But Stanley Paluck was an early member of "Chicago." And then there was another guy, Lionel Borderlon. Lionel Borderlon and Stanley Paluck were instrumental in me going to Roosevelt University and later on, DePaul. Lionel Borderlon was a student teacher and a student of James Mack; I later met James Mack's daughter. James Mack was a flute player, a baritone, a great choir master and just a phenomenal arranger and conductor! I think all of his degrees are in Vocal Performance and Composition and Theory. He influenced so many young Black students in Chicago who either studied with him at Crane High School, or Loop College, which is now Harold Washington College. Aside from people like Lionel Borderlon, he had students like members of "Earth, Wind and Fire"...
Is that right?
Oh yes, Curtis Mayfield, I mean people of all stripes studied with this guy! He was often called upon to write and conduct scores for the Essence Music Awards, the NAACP Award; he was a member of the Bozo Circus Orchestra! I don't know if you remember them?
Bozo Circus was taped at WGN-TV in Chicago. He was actually the only Black member of the orchestra. He was playing piccolo and I think they hired him because he was such a huge man! To see this man, well over 6 feet tall, well over 300 pounds, playing a piccolo kind of fit in with that whole circus thing visually because of course whenever he walked out on stage with that little instrument, the kids would just roar with laughter!
I bet!
He was an excellent musician, and I later met his daughter at Roosevelt University. Getting back to my story, Lionel Borderlon was a Music Ed major who concentrated on theory. That's when I realized that my love was Composition and Theory of Music! I always stress that, because I think it's important because so many people either do not like or do not understand the importance of Music Theory and Musicology, especially in the world of the composer. Without Music Theory, without musicologists, composers really would be dead in the water! They are the people who really keep our music alive, when all the performances are not readily available or when all the performances are not taking place, it's the musicologists who continue to study and write about our compositions that keep them alive!
Sounds a little bit like the role played by Dominique-René de Lerma!
A musicologist who keeps the music alive even when it's not being performed.
Exactly! And there are so many musicologists on the scene today who really should be applauded for that. You know people like Guy Ramsey. There are two musicologists, Horace Maxille - he's at the Center for Black Music Research now - and there's Rae Linda Brown. She's in California...
She recently made a substantial career change if I recall, in the last year or two.
Oh, okay, where is she now?
I believe she went to Loyola Marymount, the last I recall.
Okay, in L.A.?
Oh that's good! Loyola is a good school!
That's what I understand.
I'm sure she'll be effective wherever she is!
There's another musicologist, Tammy Kernodle. It's really important for us to know these musicologists, the
Dominique-René de Lermas of the world, Horace Maxilles of the world, because they are the ones who keep our music alive and keep the music in front of educators and other researchers. Lionel Borderlon really helped me understand the importance of Music Theory within my world as a composer. I think I always knew that I did not want to be, nor did I have the time to be, a performer, and there are times when I have performed, not only as a trumpet player, French horn player, I studied Jazz flute for a while, and I of course needed a minor in piano for my music degrees.
Sounds pretty diverse!
It is, but you know that if you don't put in the time, you're just doing a great disservice to yourself and to the instrument! That's why I don't perform in public more often. I do try to keep my piano chops up! I enjoy playing Gospel and Jazz more than anything else but occasionally I'll play Classical Music. I just have some things that Juanita Smith sent me, music by Hale...
I've decided that I'm going to learn them, just to keep myself active. There's one piece called "Two Kids" for mixed chorus, and even though it's an a cappella piece, of course he has a piano part for rehearsal purposes.
So I'm learning that, "Beyond the rim of day," which is three songs that he wrote for voice and piano, and the words are by Langston Hughes and the piano part is pretty demanding and it's probably nothing that I'll ever play in public but who knows? It's a good sight reading exercise.
Let's see (referring to Works List of
Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma on Hale Smith page at AfriClassical.com) "Beyond the rim of day, for medium voice and piano," composed in 1950.
With words by Langston Hughes like you said.
"March moon" and so on?
"March moon" and "Troubled woman" and "To a little lover lass." Now he has written on this part "Three songs for high voice and piano."
That's a little different from what Dominique has.
Yes, maybe he arranged it for medium voice. I'm looking at the notes here, and this is definitely "high voice." Then I also have a copy of "The valley wind," which is four songs for medium voice and piano. Of course, in addition to being a great mentor, Hale was of course a great composer, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself. After I graduated from Dunbar High School, I went to Roosevelt University.
When was that?
June 10, 1974 I graduated from high school.
We didn't get your date of birth, did we?
July 16, 1956 - Oh, it's all over the Internet; I couldn't hide it if I wanted to! After I graduated high school I went to Roosevelt University, Chicago Musical College, which is now called Chicago College of Performing Arts, which is a combination of Music, Theater and Dance. Still at Roosevelt University, but they've combined those three disciplines, whereas when I was there, I actually went to Chicago Musical College. I majored in Composition and Theory, and after I left there I started working at Dunbar High School as a teacher, Summer programs, teaching Music Theory.
About how long did you do that?
A year. It was just for a particular Summer program.
I see.
After that I actually went to the Archdiocese of Chicago where I started teaching Math. I love Math, I always have! And I love teaching Math. I was teaching primarily junior high school, of 7th through 9th grade.
About how long did you do that?
I taught 6-7 years.
Then I went to Public Relations...
Was that at a seminary?
Yes, it was at Catholic Theological Union (CTU), the largest graduate school of Ministry in North America. As the name implies, the Union is made up of 32 religious brothers and priests groups and 40 different religious orders of sisters. It's the place where people send their nuns and priests and brothers to be educated on a graduate level. CTU has students literally from six different continents! There are very few countries in the world that have not been represented by CTU students.
It was a very interesting place. I knew about it as a youngster because the seminarians that we had working in our church, St. Elizabeth's, came from CTU and did their practicums at our church. So we were familiar with the school. It's located in Hyde Park, that's a neighborhood in Chicago, near the University of Chicago. Chicago is rich in seminaries! In Hyde Park there are 8-10 seminaries, including the University of Chicago. I left St. Thomas the Apostle School where I was teaching Math, and I went right down the street to Catholic Theological Union. They hired me as Director of Public Relations. I was there for another 6 or 7 years and I won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, NEA, to write music. I took a leave of absence and I remember when I took that leave, they said "Oh, you're not going to come back!" I said "I'll be back next year!" That was in '94. You know, one thing leads to another, and it's been an interesting ride! Part 3

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