Saturday, November 29, 2014 Lawrence University revisits historic 1941 concert by Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson (shown in a 1941 photo) was the recipient of the first scholarship ever awarded by The National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., in 1919. (Photo credit: Post-Crescent Media) 

Barbara Wright-Pryor writes:

Dear Bill,
Attached is a link for the review written by Matthew Brockmeier of Lawrence  University's Concert in Tribute to Marian Anderson and published in the November 1, 2014 issue of The Chicago Crusader.
Musically yours,

Barbara Wright-Pryor
Chicago Music Association

The Chicago Crusader

By Matthew Brockmeier, guest columnist

Story Posted:11/01/2014

Two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Marian Anderson took the stage at Lawrence College’s Memorial Chapel in Appleton, Wisconsin, for a program running the gamut from George Frederic Handel to Negro Spirituals. On Sunday afternoon, October 26, 2014, nearly 73 years after the original concert, a host of artists recreated this program in a Marian Anderson Tribute Concert on the same stage.

The twenty works comprising Ms. Anderson’s program began with works by Handel, Bizet and Schubert before moving on to works by composers straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, including Massenet, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff and Quilter. This progression was emphasized by a movement from a range of languages, with German translations for Handel’s English-language pieces, to English settings for the Dvorak and Rachmaninoff works. 

Following these classical works, Ms. Anderson concluded her program with a set of traditional Negro Spirituals and songs, including Go Down Moses and Trampin,’ bringing her audience home to a wealth of American music.

Sunday’s concert by a strong array of performers, some home-grown at Lawrence University’s renowned Conservatory of Music, others from The Heritage Chorale of Milwaukee, was both a reprise of the original program and something new altogether.

The most obvious new aspect was the use of multiple voices, female and male, with sopranos and mezzo-sopranos, tenors, baritones and basses, and three accompanists, while the original program was simply Ms. Anderson singing to the accompaniment of pianist Franz Rupp. This very different approach meant that, except for a few key moments, it was not so much a Marian Anderson concert as a concert representing a wealth of talent, taking at least some of the music to places other than where it may have gone in the original.

The moments perhaps most akin to the 1941 concert were powerful vocal expressions by two sopranos, Cecilia Davis in Pleurez mes yeux from Massenet’s Le Cid, and Paris Brown singing Let Us Break Bread Together in an arrangement by William Lawrence. Ms. Davis, of The Heritage Chorale, was accompanied by Dr. Abe Caceras, also of The Chorale, while Ms. Brown, a 2008 graduate of Lawrence’s Conservatory, was accompanied by 2011 Lawrence grad Leonard Hayes.

Caceras and Hayes provided most of the accompaniment, with Kathy Handford of the Lawrence faculty playing for the concert’s first two works. As the concert unfolded it was apparent that both Caceras and Hayes had an excellent ear for the needs of the varied soloists for whom they played; never overpowering, always engaged.

Nothing short of a laundry list of all twenty works on Sunday’s program would do justice to what the audience enjoyed, but the field of male soloists included the depth, power and precision of bass Derrell Acon (LU 2010), the clarity and fine execution of baritone Garth Neustadter (LU 2010), the smooth clarity of tenor Steven Paul Spears, the powerful approach of tenor Leonard Martin (Chorale), the soft textures of baritone Michael Pope (LU 2012) and the rousing, heartfelt call of baritone G. Dwight Hamilton (Chorale).

Other women’s voices included the classic soprano voice of Teresa Seidl, the expressive mezzo-soprano Karen Leigh-Post (LU 1979), the delightful clarity and warmth of mezzo-soprano Michaela Usher (Chorale), and a good rendition in good voice of Quilter’s Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind by soprano Erica Hamilton (LU 2007).

A highlight of the encore portion of the program was the heavily improvised and very funny Scandalize My Name, brought to full life by Ms. Brown and Ms. Hamilton. An all hands on deck reprise of the rousing Honor, Honor, first sung by Mr. Hamilton, concluded the program, with piano four-hands by Caceras and Hayes.

While there were more voices and hands onstage in 2014, there were fewer ears in the audience. Accounts of the original concert told of a crowd estimated at 1,800, greater than Lawrence’s enrollment at the time, and also far more than today’s seating capacity of 1,184, in a configuration similar to the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall. Sunday’s audience of about 200 was appreciative but not standing room.

The story of the Marian Anderson Tribute Concert does not end with the music. It is likely that no serious mention of Ms. Anderson can exclude a discussion of race in America in the 20th century. There is, of course, the best-known story of Marian Anderson being snubbed, but turning that snub by the Daughters of the American Revolution into the victory of performing for a crowd of 75,000 fanning out from the Lincoln Memorial. Even so, snubs, greater and lesser, continued, including in Appleton two years after her Washington D.C. triumph, when she was denied service in the dining room of the hotel that grudgingly allowed her to stay overnight.

To its credit, Lawrence is also hosting a “pop-up” exhibit created by the History Museum at the Castle entitled “A Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in the Fox Cities,” which runs through October in Lawrence’s Seeley G. Mudd Library. This exhibit includes details on the harsh racial climate that characterized Appleton and environs, especially during the first half of the 20th century. That exhibit and Marian Anderson’s experiences throughout her career, underscore, if nothing else, the high cost of bigotry, not only to the individuals who suffered, but to the society that squandered their gifts.

No comments: