Friday, November 5, 2010

'On An Overgrown Path': 'Freedom Songs' for Robert Williams Said to be 'Exploited for the symphony-going public'

[Photograph of Robert Lawrence Williams sent to Merton circa 1960's]

On Nov. 1, AfriClassical posted: “Charles Dean Dixon, First African American to Conduct New York Philharmonic, Died Nov. 3, 1976.” The post consisted of excerpts from the blog On An Overgrown Path, based in the United Kingdom. Today we heard from Pliable a/k/a Bob Shingleton:

“Thx Bill. This rather enigmatic quote in my latest post may interest you -
Friday, November 05, 2010
Exploited for the symphony-going public
'Eight freedom songs Merton had written a few years earlier had been set to music by Alexander Peloquin for a young black singer who had subsequently disappeared to Ireland to take part in a successful show. In the end Peloquin used the songs in a symphony for Eileen Farrell, and Merton found himself accused of selling out, of using the sorrows of the black race simply as material to be exploited for the symphony-going public' – from The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton by Michael Mott

“* John Jacob Niles' less accident prone setting of Thomas Merton's The Responsory features in my Chance Music programme on Future Radio this Sunday November 7. More on John Jacob Niles' settings of Merton here. Or, if you prefer, the first twelve-tone protest song is here. Chance Music will be broadcast/webcast on Future Radio 107.8 FM at 3.00pm UK time on Sunday Nov 7 with a repeat at 1.00am of the morning Nov 7 to 8 – listen here. A podcast will be available here after the broadcast.”

“A reader has asked for some Merton words on 'success'. I know that there are more formal Merton words on success, but the ones that I like the best are from a letter to Robert Lawrence Williams.

“Robert Williams was a young black tenor (born in Louisville) who, in 1964, asked Merton to write some poems on faith and brotherhood. These poems, the 'Freedom Songs', were to be set to music and sung by Mr. Williams at a concert to honor John F. Kennedy. Merton composed the poems, but they were not used publicly until 1968 at a tribute to Martin Luther King. A correspondence developed between Williams and Merton, discussing the legal issues surrounding the poems and music. The correspondence also developed into one in which Merton took a pastoral role toward Williams with Merton compassionately listening and sympathizing with Williams’ frustration with the Catholic Church and his struggles as a black American artist.

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