Thursday, May 16, 2013

Monica Hairston O'Connell: 'It is the CBMR and its New Black Music Repertory Ensemble that brought Price’s orchestral music back to the concert hall in Chicago'

Florence B. Price (1887-1953) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List and a Bibliography by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,

On May 11, 2013 AfriClassical posted excerpts from a May 10, 2013 review by  Classical music critic at The Chicago Tribune: Chicago Tribune: 'Chen honors long-neglected composer,' Florence B. Price

Monica Hairston O'Connell, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago, writes:


I hope this finds everybody well and enjoying spring (for it seems to have finally sprung here in Chicago).

They didn’t publish it, but I wanted to forward the letter to the editor I composed in response to von Rhein’s review.

Brava Barbara.

Onward and upward all.



May 13, 2013

Letters to the Editor
The Chicago Tribune

I write in response to John von Rhein’s column of May 10: “Chen honors long-neglected composer.” The public transcript lauds the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for programming Florence Price’s Symphony no. 1 in E minor in 1933 and her Mississippi River suite this May as part of its Rivers Festival. But the no less public and under-circulated archival transcript provides important additional context. In her well-written and well-researched program notes for the Mississippi River performances (May 9, 11, and 14, 2013), Barbara Wright-Pryor reminds us that: “Maude Roberts George, classical music critic for the Chicago Defender and President of [the Chicago Music Association], of which Price was a member, underwrote the [1933] performance.”
It is still the case, eighty years after George’s successful strategizing, that getting the work of black composers on the programs of major symphony orchestras (or black conductors and musicians on their stages) requires sustained, often behind the scenes effort by individuals and organizations dedicated to the cause. This effort often goes under- or un-recognized. Scholars like Samuel Floyd Jr, Eileen Southern, and Dominique-René de Lerma have studied and written about Price, creating and disseminating a body of scholarship that will gradually create a more-than-symbolic presence in textbooks and curricula. Professor Rae Linda Brown, Price champion and biographer, has edited many of the composer’s scores for performance and published (along with Wayne Shirley) her Symphonies 1 and 3 as a part of the highly-regarded MUSA scholarly editions series. The Center for Black Music Research, founded at Columbia College Chicago in 1983, commissioned a reconstruction of the Price Concerto in One Movement for Piano and its New Black Music Repertory Ensemble performed the Concerto and Price’s Symphony no.1 at the Harris Theater in Chicago in 2011 and recorded them as a part of its Recorded Music of the African Diaspora series. It is the CBMR and its New Black Music Repertory Ensemble that brought Price’s orchestral music back to the concert hall in Chicago, and its recording has sparked a remarkable increase nationwide in the number of performances of Price’s first symphony. The CBMR continues to support Price-related performances and initiatives across the country.
The Chicago Music Association, established in 1919 by classical music critic Nora Douglas Holt, along with the R. Nathaniel Dett Club of Music and Allied Arts (both Chicago-based chapters of the National Association of Negro Musicians) continues to promote and support the work of blacks in classical music. Barbara Wright-Pryor, the CMA’s current president and classical music critic for the Chicago Crusader, has worked tirelessly and passionately behind the scenes to encourage the CSO to program the music of black composers—Price in particular.
I agree with Mr. von Rhein that while she deserves one and while her body of work could support it, a Florence Price renaissance is not yet upon us. I also agree that it is wonderful news that Mei-Ann Chen, the CSO, and Northwestern University have begun to pay attention to Price’s orchestral music. However, the archives don’t lie (!) and we must give credit where it is due. That we can even begin to speak—albeit wistfully—of a Price renaissance at all is due largely to the sustained and often uncredited behind the scenes efforts and activism of the organizations and individuals mentioned above.
Monica Hairston O’Connell
Executive Director
Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago

Monica Hairston O'Connell, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Black Music Research
Columbia College Chicago
600 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605-1996
312.369.8029 fax

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