Friday, April 16, 2010

Composer Adolphus C. Hailstork, Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University, Was Born April 17, 1941; Has 27 CDs

[Adolphus Hailstork: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3; Grand Rapids Symphony; David Lockington, Conductor; Naxos 8.559295 (2007)]

“This is one person whose whole life started with public school Music!”

Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork was born April 17, 1941 in Rochester, New York and has long been profiled at as an African American Composer and Professor. He attended public schools in Albany, New York. He is an Eminent Scholar and Professor of Music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Old Dominion's Department of Music maintains a comprehensive biography. In addition, “Kaleidoscope: The Musical World of Adolphus Hailstork” is an informative and well-organized online exhibit of the Diehn Composers Room of O.D.U. Libraries. His works appear on 27 recordings. Prof. Hailstork graciously agreed to an interview by phone, which took place April 13, 2010.

Hello, this is Bill Zick!
I have been hearing about you for many years from Professor De Lerma!
Well, yes, we go way back!
Back when he was in the Baltimore area?
No, he was at Indiana.
Oh, I see, that's where it was!
Yes, back in the Sixties or early Seventies!
What you have been doing recently regarding your teaching?
Surviving! (Laughs)
You're still teaching?
Yes, teaching at Old Dominion University!
What courses are you teaching, Professor?
One year I teach Orchestration; the other year I teach Counterpoint, and I have four Composition students.
That must be intense, with the small number of people?
Yes, they have individual lessons, one lesson a week.
How long have you had this arrangement?
Ten years.
I take it you must appreciate teaching?
Oh yes! It's nice to have an income!
Do you find the students provide any inspiration or ideas?
Sometimes they do! I have one older student, a quite remarkable gentleman who is retired from being a medical doctor. He's got a keen mind and he's very diligent and hard-working, and very enjoyable!
The Theodore Presser website is extremely detailed, and the “Kaleidoscope Exhibit” divides your work by each decade, starting in the 1960s.
Were you interested in music when you were young?
Oh yes! Gee, before junior high school! Early on, I took a Music Aptitude Exam given by the school system in New York State where I grew up.
Were you living in Albany then or Rochester?
I think I was in Albany. Apparently they thought I had some aptitude for music. If you do, you wind up getting free instrumental lessons. I started out on the violin by the Fourth Grade, and then switched to Piano and Organ, sang in the Choirs, and that was all my early schooling.
So you found that you liked all of them?
Oh yes! Violin and I were not really that cooperative with each other, but I liked the piano because I could sit and improvise for hours, and that's when I decided I preferred to improvise rather than to practice my scales and arpeggios. That's when I decided “Hey, maybe I better go on to composition!” I love making up stuff!
You seem to favor the organ, judging by your commissions from the American Guild of Organists?
Yes! About ten years ago, I started taking organ lessons again with a colleague on Old Dominion's staff, and really realized that was the instrument I should have stayed with and that is more natural to me than the piano is, because of the sustained sounds and the kind of rich textures that you can get on the organ.
So you would have started that before you recorded your Amazing Grace CD?
Yes, I did. In fact, the organist on Amazing Grace was the teacher I was studying with!
Can you tell us who that is?
Oh, James Kosnik!
Was your return to the instrument fruitful for you?
Oh, yes it was! It was fruitful and satisfying!
You seem to have a broad compositional interest, from opera, vocal, and choral works through chamber and solo piano?
As well as the organ!
Do you like each of the different areas?
Oh yes, I do! I love it all!
You seem to have a creative relationship with JoAnn Falletta?
Well yes, she led the premiere of my Piano Concerto and she's done other pieces.
Was that with the Virginia Symphony?
Yes, she's been there 20 years now! She's managed to squeeze me in a few times over those 20 years! Yes, I've been very fortunate!
I like the cover art of the Virginia Symphony CD!
The one with the Piano Concerto on it?
Yes. And that was apparently played by Leon Bates?
Yes, right!
You also recorded with JoAnn Falletta after that, didn't you?
She included a piece of mine on some other discs. The orchestra setting of the Fanfare on Amazing Grace; she included that on the recording. Those two pieces come to mind most readily.
Have you had an association with the Detroit Symphony?
I had a lot of associations with the Detroit Symphony over the years!
How did that develop, Professor?
Well they had a program, maybe they still do, called “Classical Roots.”
Yes, they do!
They included me on some of those programs and those were all very nice. Probably the climax of their entire association was their commissioning of my Second Symphony, which I was already in the process of writing for Leslie Dunner. Daisy Newman, who was Education Director then, managed to get the commission money for that, so that's a Detroit Symphony piece.
Isn't that story in the liner notes?
Right. The same thing happened with the Third Symphony.
Is that right?
Yes, I was writing that for David Lockington, and David managed to talk the administration of the Grand Rapids Symphony into commissioning it, and so they got that.
Apparently the program of the Second Symphony was shaped by your trip to Africa?
Right, right!
Would you like to comment on that?
Well it was just a trip to Ghana, and once I saw the holding pens where they kept the people who were going to be shipped out as slaves, I was touched by that, and the Second Movement reflects that and from then on, the piece kind of unfolds in a programmatic way with the sadness of the Second Movement, the “Middle Passage” movement in a way.
I see.
There is the energy of the Third Movement, and finally the triumph of the Fourth Movement.
That's the one you referred to about reflecting the determination of a people?
Right, right!
I think you also said you intended the Third Symphony to be lighter?
Yes, the Third Symphony was intended to be lighter, and it is, than the Second Symphony.
Was this disc your first in the Naxos American Classics Series?
Yes, it is the first and only so far!
I believe they have global distribution?
Yes, they do!
I believe you have a 2009 Albany CD called Ignis Fatuus?
Isn't that an interesting word?
If I remember, it refers to a mysterious light?
Yes! I think that's where the word “infatuation” comes from. “Ignis Fatuus” and “infatuation.” It is a kind of spontaneous lighting of gas over the swamp areas!
So there's a physical dimension to it?
Yes, actually it does exist. So scientists have called it “Ignis Fatuus.”
Did you have a piano duo?
Andrey Kasparov and his wife, Oksana Lutsyshyn, are a husband and wife team here in Norfolk. He teaches at Old Dominion. They are both colossal pianists! He suggested recording some piano pieces of mine. I said “Yes, that's great!” So they got together. They split up the single piano duties, and they finished the CD off with a two-piano sonata!
The earliest composition I could find a reference to was the Theory2a assignment written in 1960 when you were 18?
Did you do earlier work?
Yes. I have a notebook here from '57 that has some early sketches for pieces in it That's the earliest extant stuff I have!
Were they vocal or instrumental?
Mostly they were little piano pieces.
You would have been in high school then?
Yes, that's when I started! Started in high school and have never stopped!
So you find it a continuing process?
Oh yes! That makes this the 53rd year I've been at this stuff; I'm finally getting it!
I count 27 CDs which include your work!
Yes, that's amazing! I don't even know if I've seen 27 listed. I think I left off at 12. I think you told me 27. Amazing!
The CDs are listed on your page at
Oh, that's where I saw it! I recently copied that because, while we're on the staff here at the University we have to, every 5 years, prove that we're worthy of our teaching credentials! Your listing came in really handy!
I found your work in the Great European Organs series!
I discovered that a couple of years ago too. I was surprised! I didn't know the guy, and there it was. He had done the Veni Emmanuel toccata!
It's a 2008 release?
Yes. Harvard Glee Club did Song of Deborah. The Pacific Chorale did the Nocturne. Every once in a while, here and there, up pops a little piece! Makes me happy!
I believe the Winton Woods High School Varsity Ensemble performed for you at the Cincinnati AGO Meeting?
Yes, the choir did Wake Up, My Spirit. It was a fabulous performance! I mean they are really fine!
Was this event in downtown Cincinnati?
Right! Bob Benson put it together in downtown Cincinnati, and that was the day after there was an all-Hailstork concert at Miami University in Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. Bob teaches at that school. He said “Hey, we might as well tie it in and have an AGO thing the next morning!”
What a nice coupling!
Yes, it was!
How did the Miami University event go?
Wonderfully, wonderfully! It really did!
Was it Bob who had the idea to have an all-Hailstork program?
No, Tammy...what is her last name?
Kernodle! She put it together with Bill Bausam, the choir director.
This obviously suggests an interest in hearing a group of your works!
It was really, really nice! I am really very gratified!
It is not something I have heard of very often with other composers!
There is such a variety of stuff out there I have written for so many different kinds of ensembles!
Something similar to that happened a few years ago in Ann Arbor. In the afternoon they had an organ recital, and then in the evening they had a choral program.
That was of your works?
Yes, a one-day event. It was very nice!
What were your musical activities during your years in the military?
I just wrote! I rented a piano, put it in the bachelor officers quarters, in my room, and wrote music!
Were you stationed in Germany?
Yes, I was.
What was your rank?
I entered as a First Lieutenant because I had gotten time served in grade as a Second Lieutenant while I was working on my Master's. I left as a Captain. My time there was delightful! I was given the very pleasurable job of running the Officers Club!
I see that you have a work at Howard called The Race for Space?
(Laughs) Yes! A little musical! That was the second musical I did at Howard; I wrote two in a row.
Do you recall what the other one was?
Kampus Kapers – we just called it Kampus Kapers! You know something funny? The current President of Wayne State University helped write the script! I met him when I was in Detroit one day. He said “We wrote a musical together in college!” Now he's President of the University! His name is Irvin Reid.
Is there anything you would like to say on compositional philosophy?
I can only talk about the characteristics that I have observed in my own work. It's always lyrical, tonal, narrative, dramatic, and propulsive. I just wanted to add to the repertoire. I didn't switch over to the school of thought that came into being in the Sixties of reinventing music. Because a lot of it just didn't sing for me. I discovered that if, after working for days on a piece, I couldn't sing any part of it, it wasn't in me as a physical thing, then it was meaningless! I didn't like that. It was manufacturing music instead of writing it. So I prefer to just compose it rather than manufacture.
Have you concentrated more on the choral in recent years?
I've been commissioned for choral and orchestra a lot over the past 10 years! It's still going on. I just finished a new piece I sent off to Alabama last week in fact for, ideally, a children's chorus and orchestra. That will premiere in January. A lot of colleagues of my age are instrumentally oriented, and I came up as a singer. So I was very vocally oriented, and song and lyricism and tonality are all important to me. Whereas a lot of the other composers were pianists or something, and the human voice is kind of alien to them.
I think you had a major commission from the Houston Choral Society?
Yes, I did a few years ago. They are doing two pieces of mind this weekend on April 17. They commissioned a piece called Set Me On A Rock about 3 or 4 years ago which was to commemorate the City of Houston's taking in of the refugees from the Katrina disaster.
Just last night, one of your works was on Public Broadcasting in Atlanta.
Really! Is that where you're based?
No, I'm in Ann Arbor. The classical music station WABE did Prelude from Suite for Organ.
Oh, that's nice! I think I had heard that was going to be performed.
I think I sent you a link to it.
Oh, okay.
I wrote “Hailstork, Ellington and Kay.”
Oh, that's right. Thank you very much for including me!
Do you have any thoughts on the crisis facing Music in public education?
It's a shame that so many Music programs have been cut out of public education. I'm glad that it was available for me when I came along, because that's where I really got my start! I went in the public school system, singing in the public school choirs and playing in the public school orchestras. That's where it all began for me, along with my excellent exposure in an Episcopal Cathedral. Those two things had a big impact! This is one person whose whole life started with public school Music!
You are living testimony to the benefit!
Yes, absolutely! The high school orchestra director, a wonderful woman named Gertrude Howarth, said “If you write it, we'll play it!” And that was before there were even mimeograph machines with music lines on them, so we had to draw the lines and do the string parts by hand. So I'm a testament to diligence, too!
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish?
Just that I am very thankful for your interest and the interest of others in what I've done!
I'm very appreciative in return! Thank you very much, Professor!
Sure! Thank you Bill; nice to meet you!
Same here! Bye now.

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