Monday, October 7, 2013

Chamber Music America: 'What It Takes to Be Heard' by Monica Hairston O'Connell, on Regina Harris Baiocchi, Dolores White and Renee' Baker

Regina Harris Baiocchi addresses the Evanston High School orchestra during a rehearsal of one of her works, a commission occasioned by the school's 125th anniversary.

Dolores White

Renee' Baker

John Malveaux of sends this link:

Renee' Baker, Dolores White and Regina Harris Baiocchi featured in Chamber Music America diversity article:

Chamber Music America

What It Takes to Be Heard

by Monica Hairston O'Connell

Diversity, as an institutional force anyway, can be lazy.  Ironically, the one is frequently called upon to stand in for the many and is all too often the beginning and end of diversity's quest.  A good thing about the Center for Black Music Research - where I work - is that it continually points to the many, through its publications, performance and educational programming, information services, and research initiatives.  This iterative strategy is an important one, because diversity, as an institutional force, can also be hard of hearing.  With this in mind, I chose for this article to feature the voices of, if not the many, at least the multiple.

To get a sense of their experiences and views, I talked with three African-American female composer/performers from Chicago - Renée Baker, Regina Harris Baiocchi, and Dolores White.

Dolores White came from a family that was centered in the arts.  Her mother was a dancer, her aunt an actress; and her grandmother exposed her to music and dance early on.  She attended Lindblom Academy, then a predominantly white high school that did not allow African Americans in the choir.  But in addition to piano (which she had played since age six), White played cello; and the committed director of the school orchestra helped make that ensemble her refuge.  Pianist Philippa Schuyler and pianist/composer Natalie Harris - both of whom White saw in concert when she was growing up - served as role models. Although White herself wouldnot begin composing until later in life, these major artists inspired her to dedicate her life to music.

Regina Harris Baiocchi - whose compositional interests have always spanned pop, classical, jazz and gospel - emphasizes the extent to which a rich array of dedicated teachers and mentors created a safe space in which she could develop her own voice across genres.  Conductor/composer James L. Mack was an early role model - Baiocchi was friends with Mack's daughter Elaine and a student of his protégé Lionel Bordelon.

Baker says that presenting organizations don't spend a lot of time looking for contemporary African American composers generally, whether male or female. Instead, "when someone wans to program African-American music, they take a jump back in history - and those of us living don't exist."  That's why Baker decided to start her own ensemble.  "I had no intention of [waiting] for someone to ask to hear my music.  I was going to play it, get it out in the world."

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