Sunday, February 28, 2021

Chris Jenkins: IS CLASSICAL MUSIC RACIST? AN AESTHETIC APPROACH, February 26, 2021 by Aesthetics for Birds

Chris Jenkins, Associate Dean at Oberlin Conservatory, forwards this Guest Blog Post of February 26, 2021 from


Is classical music racist? Following the events of the summer of 2020 that exposed for many the depth of systemic racism within the justice system, people of color and their allies have raised the issue of racism in countless artistic and academic fields, classical music being no exception. Writing in the New Yorker in regard to classical music’s belated self-criticism, the critic Alex Ross admitted “such an examination is sorely needed in classical music, because of its problematic past.” Many other critics have answered definitively in the affirmative, or at least acknowledged major structural shortcomings in the design of the field. NPR critic Tom Huizenga has lamented “Why is American Classical Music so White?” Author and screenwriter Candace Allen, former wife of the British conductor Simon Rattle, has discussed the racist attitudes to which she has been subject, and declared that Black audience members are often made to feel unwelcome. Philip Ewell’s incendiary and accurate article “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame” begins with a necessary but seemingly self-evident proclamation – “music theory is white” – and explodes much of the entire field of theoretical musical analysis. Brandon Keith Brown, a Black conductor based in Berlin, has argued that “It’s Time to Make Orchestras Great Again – By Making Them Blacker.” Neybal Maysaud, a Lebanese-Druze composer, declares the entire genre as being so problematic that “It’s Time to Let Classical Music Die.”

In this blog post, I argue that the answer to the question of whether classical music is racist ought to be yes; but that casting the answer in terms of aesthetics provides a more coherent framework and points toward possible solutions. Like many fields, classical music’s chosen method of diversifying has not addressed its own values and approaches in order to become more inclusive, but rather has sought to diversify the population in which it inculcates a particular set of aesthetic priorities. Consequently, aesthetics themselves can end up constituting a structural barrier to diversification. Despite a number of commendable diversity initiatives, the aesthetics of the performance and pedagogy of classical music still do not resonate with many members of communities of color in the United States, and this is because the field has approached diversification as a project of assimilation, rather than integration. In addition to substantial change in the compositional diversity of performers, students, and audience, true diversification of the field will ultimately require aesthetic integration, the blending of more than one aesthetic approach to create something new that appeals to a diverse constituency. We might take African-American musical aesthetics as a point of comparison; what would a truly integrative approach that produces a new set of aesthetic priorities look like?

Image Credit: Miti

Defining Terms & The Aesthetics of Black Music

Readers of this blog are obviously familiar with the concept of aesthetics; in relation to music, I am conceiving of aesthetics as a concept of the beautiful and ideal expression to which all intentionality and training aims. I take here Webster’s dictionary definitions of “assimilation,” meaning “to absorb into the cultural tradition of a group; to make similar,” and “integration” as defined as “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole”; and particularly, “to end the segregation of and bring into equal membership in society.” This latter definition is particularly important because the American classical music tradition has consistently subordinated African-American musical genres and aesthetics, just as Blackness in all of its forms has been consistently subordinated throughout American history.

In his 1983 article “Black Music as an Art Form,” Olly Wilson identifies six features of the African-American musical aesthetic: (1) use of rhythmical ambiguity and polyrhythm; (2) instruments played for percussive effect and to create stress accents; (3) call-and-response structures abound on multiple levels; (4) high musical event density; (5) a “heterogeneous sound tendency” consisting of many voices of opposing timbres simultaneously; and (6) the use of the physical body in making music.

From a slightly different perspective, in her examination of the swing era, Brenda Dixon Gottschild articulates five distinct aspects of an African-American aesthetic in swing music: 

  • “Embracing the conflict,” the friction created by discordant or “noisy” sound quality, contrasting with the emphasis on a resonant, “clean” sound in classical music training;
  • “High-affect juxtaposition,” a mash-up of unrelated or even opposing moods or attitudes without transition, intended to disrupt continuity, contrasting with the highly formalized transitions between mood in traditional classical music;
  • “Ephebism,” in which every note or movement is infused with “quintessential vitality,” giving it everything one has;
    (One might argue that the best musicians of any tradition infuse every note with “quintessential vitality.” Why is this not an apt descriptor for an expert performance of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, for example? The difference is that here the full force of artistic vitality directs the creation of the product, as opposed to through-composed European music in which the pre-existing composition directs the expression of vitality.)
  • The predominance of rhythm over melody and use of complex counterrhythms, contrasted with the centrality of melody and harmony in classical music resulting in rhythmic/beat flexibility dictated by melodic phrasing;
  • “The Aesthetic of the Cool,” maintaining the dynamic between incredible intensity and virtuosic “hotness,” and a calculated air of a calm, even careless attitude. 

While there is considerable overlap between Wilson and Gottschild, two aesthetic qualities are particularly salient: the centrality of rhythm and the use of complex polyrhythm, and a sound quality that is percussive and/or not “clean.” One reason for pairing these, besides the fact that the use of rhythm and the conception of sound are two of the most distinctive musical features, is that African-American aesthetics are rooted in African survivals. 

Both the centrality of rhythm and this sound concept represent attempts to imitate the natural phenomena for African cultures, including the human voice. While many writers have expounded upon the imitation of the human voice in African diasporic music, it is interesting to note that Kivy’s cognitive speech theory of musical expression – that music directly resembles the “passionate speaking voice” – holds that all music, including that in the European classical tradition, functions as a “speech icon” in its imitation of a speaking voice. The distinction between vocal diction in a European style versus an African-American style would seem to thereby be relevant.

On Rhythm 

The centrality of polyrhythm, rhythmic call-and-response, and rhythmic syncopation in music of the African diaspora, including gospel, jazz, rock, and hip-hop, is hardly in dispute. Yet, a long-standing racist canard has been that the repetitive hooks of funk, the laconic harmonic progressions of hip-hop, and animalistic physical responses they inspire are representative of an unsophisticated, “primal,” and even “pre-conscious” culture. How might we situate this category of musical response as distinctly Black without passing uncomfortably close to these racial stereotypes?

In Black is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics, Paul Taylor makes the excellent observation that we are looking at this equation backward. Music of the African diaspora has centralized rhythm in ways that European music has not, and European cultures have historically marginalized people of the African diaspora on the basis of their supposed intellectual inferiority and in sophistication. Music focused on rhythm, therefore, must be inferior and unsophisticated. But rhythm can be just as complex as any fugue or twelve-tone composition, and is just as capable of generating complex emotional and cerebral responses. Taylor uses the excellent term “dynamic repetition” to refer to musical content within jazz and funk tunes that the unobservant listener might categorize as endless repetition, remarking that “we continue to listen to the repeating riffs of funk… because the repetitive macro-structure is built from constantly shifting rhythmic micro-elements, and because we take pleasure in the way these micro-innovations surprise us while still sustaining the overall pattern of musical organization.”

Image Credit: Robson Hatsukami Morgan

Part of the problem is that even musically sophisticated Western listeners are not trained thoroughly in the analysis of dynamically repetitive music. Western music has long emphasized the importance of melody and harmony over rhythm. Kant’s theory of music, for example, held that harmony, and then melody, were the most important music elements due to harmony’s mathematical perfection, while Schopenhauer proclaims, “… in the deepest notes of the harmony, the will begins to objectify itself… And lastly in the melody, in the high, singing, integral principal voice… I recognize the highest stage of objectification of the will, the contemplative life and strivings of the human.” In conservatories, students typically develop an understanding of music theory and what are termed “aural skills,” through analytical, pitch-matching, and sight-singing exercises prioritizing harmonic and melodic conceptualization, with a secondary emphasis on rhythm. In the crafting of a musical phrase in Western classical music, melodic and harmonic rhythm determine the ebb and flow of pulse. This simple musical dichotomy, between the primacy of melody and the primacy of rhythm, separates Western classical music from much of the music of the world. For those critics who might maintain the supremacy of Western harmonic concepts to rhythm alone, Taylor responds:

Rhythm is not primitive… it is not the case that [it] was fundamental to humankind at some distant historical remove, only to have been superseded by more sophisticated approaches to the organization of sound for enjoyment. Rhythm is fundamental: the capacity for rhythmic experience and the exploitation of this capacity are conditions of possibility… for the kinds of experiences, lives, and cultures that we have even now. 

On Sound Quality

In terms of sound quality, classical music has historically valued a resonant, “clean” sound that can fill a concert hall without amplification. The great violin pedagogue Ivan Galamian advised students, in their production of an ideal string sound, to “start with a long note, seeking a place near the bridge where the most resonant sound is produced… with a gradually increasing speed of stroke… listen for the same resonant sound throughout.” Researchers have found that trained music teachers judge the sound quality of classical instruments according to the “purity” and “clarity” of a sustained tone.

Image Credit: Pascal Bernadon

As Duran and Stewart have pointed out, the historical African-American sound concept relates more closely to a heterogeneous conception of speech (1997). Floyd and Wilson also establish that Black music historically uses instruments and voices to imitate natural sounds (Floyd, 1997; Wilson, 1983). A counter-essentialist note: This is not to say that there are not African-Americans who make and prefer a pure, resonant sound on their instruments or voices, or that Black gospel, for example, is never “clean.” Instead, it is to say that if the aesthetic conception of sound production within classical music conflicts with the historical African-American aesthetic, we ought not to be surprised that the genre has not spontaneously enjoyed greater popularity within the African-American community, and ought to recognize that expecting African-Americans as a group to absorb, appreciate, and elevate this particular European sound conception is an assimilationist approach.

Let us acknowledge that the elevation of any particular sound conception over others is, by definition, a supremacist claim; and that rhythm, harmony, and melody could be supposed to be musical equals. How could we move towards an integrated aesthetic in these arenas? Presumably, an integrated approach would teach mastery of both sound concepts while holding neither in higher regard than the other, and integrate a higher level of rhythmic training into beginning and advanced pedagogy. We might go further and also require that this approach incorporate the teaching of basic tools for improvisation. The music of a group such as Black Violin would seem to be a perfect example. This group plays Vivaldi and Bach, but usually amplified (so as to exercise multiple levels of control over their sound palette, and to be free of the need to create a purely acoustic sound that will fill a hall) and usually with a DJ providing a backbeat. Their videos often emphasize themes of Black liberation and achievement for Black young people, set to music played on classical instruments, combining improvisatory rhythms with traditional classical works. Multiple aesthetic elements are also being combined by a new generation of African-American classical composers such as Jessie Montgomery and Michael Abels, who write for traditional instruments but infuse their works with driving rhythms, jazz harmonies, and improvisatory sections.

A standard argument against an integrated pedagogy asserts that the exacting technical demands of classical music require absolute focus to the exclusion of all else. But it would be more realistic to acknowledge that the majority of conservatory students are not technically perfect by graduation, but rather, have the tools necessary to perfect this aesthetic. There is no reason that they might also be given the tools to create other sound worlds. Many segments of the classical music universe have already been going in this direction, as “extended techniques” – unconventional uses of classical instruments to produce unusual sound qualities and rhythms – have been in fashion for several decades.

Image Credit: William Recinos

A Concluding Note on Access Programs

Scholarships and fellowships for promising students of color at conservatories or orchestras exist throughout higher education. In an era when people of color aim to survive within white superstructures, they help us do just that: survive. However, in imagining a future in which we would actually thrive, we must acknowledge that because access programs facilitate access to an environment dominated by white aesthetics but do not require that environment to change. They allow the white majority within these institutions to imagine that their aesthetic choices and approaches are universalist, rather than particularist, and also require students of color to assimilate. But the assimilation of African-Americans into such a structure is a capitulation to “Euromodernity,” as captured by Lewis Gordon:

[A] good deal of Euromodernity was committed to black lives not mattering… the term simply means the constellation of convictions, arguments, policies, and a worldview promoting the idea that the only way legitimately to belong to the present and as a consequence the future is to be or become European. It places “European” as a necessary condition of belonging, continuation, and selfhood… which, in effect, relegates those who do not fit either to the past or to kinds of nowhere and no-man’s-land, what Fanon called the “zone of nonbeing. 

Larry Neal goes a bit further in his quotation of Eldridge Knight:

Unless the Black artist establishes a “Black aesthetic” he will have no future at all. To accept the white aesthetic is to accept and validate a society that will not allow him to live. The Black artist must create new forms and new values, sing new songs… and along with other Black authorities, he must create a new history, new symbols, myths, and legends.

If Gordon and Neal are correct, then it is incumbent upon artists and institutional leaders of color to compel white institutions to integrate their aesthetics. Obviously, as major institutions have a mandate to serve national, indeed global, populations, an integrated aesthetic would not simply combine Black and white, but be more nuanced. But, such an aesthetic might assist classical music’s appeal to a global, and diverse, audience.

Christopher Jenkins is the Associate Dean for Academic Support at Oberlin Conservatory, as well as a Deputy Title IX Coordinator and Conservatory Liaison to the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. He is currently earning a DMA in viola performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music and a Ph.D. in musicology from Case Western Reserve University concurrently, where his performance and research focuses on the music of African-American composers. In 2020, the ASA awarded him the Irene H. Chayes “New Voices” prize for his paper reimagining the practice of classical music through the lens of Black aesthetics.

Edited by C. Thi Nguyen


Dr. Christine Gangelhoff: Tour de Force: A Musical Journey of the Caribbean: Virtual Book Launch Thursday, March 4, 6-7 PM EST; Registration Link is Below

Dear all,

Please join us as we introduce a new textbook that explores the rich musical diversity of the Caribbean. Join co-authors Dr. Christine Gangelhoff and Cathleen LeGrand and their featured guests:

  • Christian Justilian, Bahamian composer
  • Peter Ashbourne, Jamaican composer
  • Garrett McQueen, musician, activist, and executive director of the “Trilloquy” podcast
Thursday March 4, 6-7pm EST. Registration link is below.

Thank you and hope to see you all soon,

Dr. Christine Gangelhoff
University of The Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Arts Engines: Aaron P. Dworkin Interviews Afa S. Dworkin, President & Artistic Director of Sphinx!

Welcome to this week's episode of Arts Engines which now reaches over 100,000 weekly viewers in partnership with Detroit Public Television, Ovation TV, The Violin Channel and American Public Media including Performance Today and YourClassical. Arts Engines seeks to share the most valuable advice and input from arts administrators who tell their stories of creative problem-solving, policy, economic impact, crisis management and empowering the future of our field.

This week's "very special" guest is Afa Dworkin, President & Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization:).  Enjoy... and have a creative week! Livestream Sunday, Feb. 28, 3 PM ET: Florence Price, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, George Walker & William Grant Still

 Please visit our website at
for the link to the livestream performance.

Please join us Sunday, February 28th at 3:00 PM

Via livestream link

Program Notes

PRICE: Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet

Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) is considered the first black woman in the United States to be recognized as a symphonic composer. Even though her training was steeped in European tradition, Price’s music consists of mostly the American idiom while revealing her Southern roots. Her mother, a soprano and pianist, carefully guided her early musical training, and at age fourteen, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music with a major in piano and organ. She studied composition and counterpoint with George Chadwick and Frederick Converse, writing her first string trio and symphony in college, and graduating in 1907 with honors and both an artist diploma in organ and a teaching certificate. She taught in her native Arkansas from 1907–1927 and married Thomas J. Price, an attorney, in 1912.After a series of racial incidents in Little Rock, particularly a lynching that took place in 1927, the family moved to Chicago where Price began a new and fulfilling period in her compositional career. She studied composition, orchestration, and organ with the leading teachers in the city including Arthur Olaf Anderson, Carl Busch, Wesley La Violette and Leo Sowerby and published four pieces for piano in 1928. While in Chicago, Price was at various times enrolled at the Chicago Musical College, Chicago Teacher’s College, Chicago University and American Conservatory of Music, studying languages and liberal arts subjects as well as music. Price’s friendship with the young composer Margaret Bonds resulted in a teacher-student relationship and the two women began to achieve national recognition for their compositions and performances. In 1932, both Price and Bonds submitted compositions for the Wanamaker Foundation Awards. Price won first and second place with her Symphony in E minor and for her Piano Sonata. Bonds came in first place in the song category, with a song entitled Sea Ghost. The Chicago Symphony, conducted by Frederick Stock, premiered the winning composition, Symphony In E Minor on June 15, 1933. A number of Price’s other orchestral works were also played by the WPA Symphony Orchestra of Detroit and the Chicago Women’s Symphony.

Price wrote other extended works for orchestra, chamber works, art songs, works for violin, organ anthems, piano pieces, spiritual arrangements, four symphonies, three piano concertos, and a violin concerto. Some of her more popular works are: Three Little Negro Dances, Songs to a Dark Virgin, My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord for piano or orchestra and voice, and Moon Bridge. Price made considerable use of characteristic black melodies and rhythms in many of her works. Her “Concert Overture on Negro Spirituals,” “Symphony in E minor,” and “Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint” (aka Five Folksongs in Counterpoint) for string quartet, all serve as excellent examples of her idiomatic work. Deeply religious, Price frequently used the music of the black church as material for her arrangements. In 1949, Price published two of her spiritual arrangements, “I Am Bound for the Kingdom,” and “I’m Workin’ on My Buildin’,” and dedicated them to the black contralto Marian Anderson, who performed them on a regular basis.

COLERIDGE-TAYLOR: Clarinet Quintet

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was an English composer and conductor born in London of mixed race. His father was from Sierra Leone and his mother from England. Coleridge-Taylor, like Mozart, was quite prolific as a composer but would also suffer the similar fate of dying young – in his mid-30s (37 years old of pneumonia). He was admitted to the Royal College of Music in 1890 as a violinist and would compose his impressive Te Deum setting in the same year. His early works were for chamber ensembles and reflected the influence of Brahms, later turning to larger works for orchestra and chorus. Coleridge-Taylor found himself particularly drawn to the music of Dvořák much like the audiences of his native land, and like his idol, he found himself drawn to the music of America and that of the Black culture there. By 1896, Coleridge-Taylor was already earning a reputation as a composer and was later helped by Edward Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival where his “Ballade in A minor” was premiered. His early work was also guided by the influential music editor and critic August Jaeger of music publisher Novello. Jaeger told Elgar that Coleridge-Taylor was “a genius.” In 1898, he composed the cantata Scenes from “The Song of Hiawatha,” which became one of his most popular works. He made three visits to the United States early in the 20th century, and the White orchestral musicians of New York were so impressed by his conducting skills, they dubbed him the “African Mahler.”During the 1890s while still a student, Coleridge-Taylor composed in rapid fashion several works of chamber music including a Piano Quintet (c. 1893), a Nonet (c. 1893), a Piano Trio (1893), Fantasiestücke for String Quartet (1895), the Quintet in F-sharp for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 10 (1895), and a lost String Quartet (1896). He presented the Clarinet Quintet to his teacher Charles Villiers Stanford, who later shared it with Brahms’ friend and violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim during a trip to Berlin in 1897. Joachim apparently played it privately with colleagues, all of whom were quite impressed. While Brahms’ influence is apparent in most Coleridge-Taylor works, Dvořák and the use of folk songs is most prominent in the Clarinet Quintet.

WALKER: Molto Adagio from String Quartet No. 1

George Walker (1922-2018) was a remarkable Black American composer, pianist, and organist who was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, awarded in 1996 for his composition Lilacs. Walker was born in Washington, D.C. His father emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica and became a physician. Walker’s mother supervised his first piano lessons at 5 years old. He attended Oberlin Conservatory as a piano and organ student and in 1939 became the organist for the Graduate School of Theology of Oberlin College. He graduated at 18 from Oberlin with highest honors in his Conservatory class and was admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music to study piano with Rudolf Serkin, chamber music with William Primrose and Gregor Piatigorsky, and composition with Rosario Scalero (a student of Samuel Barber). Walker graduated from the Curtis Institute with Artist Diplomas in piano and composition in 1945, becoming one of the first black graduates of the music school.

As a composer, Walker’s music has been influenced by a wide variety of musical styles due to his exposure to the music of Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, jazz, folk songs, and church hymns. Unwilling to conform to a specific style, Walker drew from his diverse knowledge of previous music to create something which he could call his own. While a work such as Spatials for Piano uses twelve-tone serial techniques, Walker would also write in the style of pop music such as in his song Leaving. According to Mickey Terry, traces of old black spirituals can also be found in his second Sonata for Violin and Piano. D. Maxine Sims has stated that Walker’s piano technique is also reflected in his works, such as his Piano Sonata No. 2. This sonata contains changing meters, syncopation, and bitonal writing which all present great challenges for a performer.Walker offered the following note at the front of the published score to his first String Quartet:“String Quartet No. 1 was composed in 1946 after my graduation from the Curtis Institute of Music and my debut recital as a pianist in Town Hall, New York and as a soloist with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 3rd Piano Concerto of Rachmaninoff at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. . . . The second movement (Molto Adagio of Walker’s String Quartet), after an introduction that recurs at the very end, alternates linear melodic phrases, imitated in all parts, with measures of repose. This movement was excised from its original context, arranged for string orchestra and titled, LYRIC FOR STRINGS. It has been performed in this setting by many of the major orchestras and chamber ensembles in this country.

STILL: Suite for Violin and Piano

William Grant Still (1895-1978) was an American composer of nearly 200 works, including five symphonies, four ballets, eight operas, over thirty choral works, plus art songs, chamber music and works for solo instruments. Often referred to as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” Still was the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. Still is known primarily for his first symphony, Afro-American Symphony (1930), which was, until 1950, the most widely performed symphony composed by an American. Born in Mississippi, he grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and was a student of George Whitefield Chadwick and Edgard Varèse.Of note, Still was the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony (his 1st Symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. Due to his close association and collaboration with prominent African-American literary and cultural figures, Still is considered to be part of the Harlem Renaissance movement.In 1943, Still wrote his Suite for Violin and Piano, which took as its inspiration from three sculptures: Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer, Sargent Johnson’s Mother and Child, and Augusta Savage’s Gamin. Each of these works was created in the 1930s and each artist was associated with the Harlem Renaissance.The first movement of the Suite is “Suggested by Richmond Barthé, African Dancer.” Barthé (1901-1989) came to New York from school at the Art Institute of Chicago where it was his anatomy class that shifted Barthé’s attention away from painting and towards sculpture. Bought in 1933 by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the same year he created it, the statue captures a figure in the extasy of dance. Formally, it’s considered a conservative piece for the 20th century – there’s little in the way of abstract or avant-garde in it. At the same time, presenting a black figure in a non-racist manner was radical for the time. The music conveys the urgency in the image that, in a way, the sculpture is unable to express. The music presents a number of different tempos, as of a dance, all with a blues twist to the melody. The second movement, “Suggested by Sargent Johnson, Mother and The second movement, “Suggested by Sargent Johnson, Mother and Child,” gives us a number of works that might have been the inspiration. Mother and Child can refer to any number of sculptures and paintings that Johnson (1887-1967) created with that title. Writers believe that the large number of works with that title might stem from the fact that he was orphaned at age 15 and spent some time in foster homes, some time with his aunt and uncle, and later with his grandparents. He and his five siblings were separated by the grandparents, who sent the girls to schools in Pennsylvania and the boys to schools in Massachusetts. Although associated with the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson was based in San Francisco. Born in Boston, his family changes took him to Chicago and then, in 1915, to San Francisco. His sculpture is noted for its clean lines, and on conveying the natural dignity of the figure. A similar minimal line is found in his drawing. Still’s Mother and Child, the slow middle movement, takes us to a work that seems more like a lullaby – gentle movements and a slow rocking rhythm. The movement was later made into a separate piece for string orchestra.The final movement, “Suggested by Augusta Savage, Gamin,” takes a bust by a young sculptor and puts in solidly in the world of the blues. The insouciance of the figure is taken up by the violin in a way that conveys all the mischievousness inherent in the bust. Gamin dates from early in Savage’s career and it won her a scholarship to travel to Europe. The figure may have been inspired by a homeless boy on the street or perhaps the artist’s nephew. One writer saw in the figure “child’s expression appears much wiser than his years, suggesting he has seen much hardship.” The wrinkled shirt and cap do much to convey his difficulties in life.Throughout the Suite, William Grant Still brings elements of popular music, blues figures, and syncopated rhythms to the salon. Each movement, based on three different artists with three very different styles, brings us the classical three-movement Fast-Slow-Fast tempo changes, but in a very modern manner.


Deep River is an anonymous African-American spiritual, popularized by Henry Burleigh in his 1916 collection Jubilee Songs of the USA. The song was first mentioned in print in 1876, when it was published in the first edition of The Story of the Jubilee Singers: With Their Songs, by J. B. T. Marsh. By 1917, when Burleigh completed the last of his several influential arrangements, the song had become very popular in recitals. It has been called “perhaps the best known and best-loved spiritual.” The melody was adopted in 1921 for the song Dear Old Southland by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton, which enjoyed popular success the next year in versions by Paul Whiteman and by Vernon Dalhart. Deep River has been sung in several films. The 1929 Show Boat featured it mouthed by Laura La Plante to the singing of Eva Olivetti. Paul Robeson famously sang it accompanied by male chorus in the 1940 movie The Proud Valley. Deep River is also one of five spirituals written into the 1941 oratorio A Child of Our Time by Michael Tippett. An operatic adaptation was sung by Denyce Graves at the memorial service for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she was taken to lie in state on September 25, 2020.For violinists, there is no better-known adaptation than the one arranged by violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz wrote his version for violin and piano in 1938, and it has become a popular encore for countless concert violinists in recital.

CLAY: Millennium Suite

Aaron Clay (b. 1967) began composing for violin and double bass within a year of the formation of the string duo “Bridging the Gap,” which Clay cofounded with his friend and colleague of the Marine Band, violinist Peter Wilson. When Wilson and Clay committed to performing together as a duo, the existing repertoire conceived for the violin and double bass as a duo was scarce. Early in their collaboration, they transcribed or arranged several pieces, but it was simply a matter of time before they would begin composing original works for the duo. Following their first appearance on the “Millennium Stage” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1998, Clay was inspired by the fast-approaching Y2K and composed a larger concert work entitled MILLENNIUM: Suite for Violin and Double Bass. In this rich and powerful three-movement work, Clay does not shy away from the extremes in range and color presented by these instruments. In fact, he embraces their differences and proves that together their sound is compatible, vivid, and fresh. From the tag-team cadenzas that open and close “The Awakening” to the deeply passionate “Forgotten Angels,” this tour de force concludes with “Escape from History,” a presto movement that can stand alone as an exciting encore.

Friday, February 26, 2021 The 2021 Black History Month Virtual Festival: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity, Sun., Feb. 28, 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM EST

ASALH and PBS Books partner in presenting the final program of the 2021 Black History Month Festival , featuring renown author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, author of The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi , in a conversation with retired Howard University Professor, Nubia Kai and Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Cha-Jua will also moderate the conversation. These three noted scholar-activists will explore The Perfect Nine, a dazzling modern epic, myth, and feminist re-imaging of Kenya’s origins that subverts patriarchy and roots for social equity in the context of ASALH’s 2021 annual theme, The Black Family. They will discuss elements relevant to today’s struggles for social justice, gender equity, and spiritual rebirth, while illuminating eternal African values essential for wholesome family life.

OperaCré I am honored to be a guest writer for Opera Louisiane’s newsletter this month. I decided to take a look at the future of opera

Can Opera Change the World?

An Article by Givonna Joseph

Vocalist, Teacher, and Historian                                                                                                                                                                                           

Hello Everyone, I am honored to be a guest writer for Opera Louisiane’s newsletter this month. I decided to take a look at the future of opera, as it makes new strides in diversity. 

Here is the link to the article and newsletter 
Happy Black History Month 


Givonna Joseph
Founder and Artistic Director
New number: 504-356-3078


John Malveaux: Composer Kris Bowers rising in film music

Kris Bowers

John Malveaux of writes:

Composer Kris Bowers rising in film music Colour of Music Festival and AARP Florida Celebrate Black History Month: Special Virtual Performance Saturday, February 27, 7:30 PM ET

February 26, 2021 Charleston SC —The Colour of Music Festival and AARP Florida are partnering to offer a special virtual evening of classical music in honor of Black History Month on Saturday, February 27 at 7:30pm, free for AARP members and $25 for the general public. This one-hour showcase of chamber presentations introduces the AARP Florida membership and the general public to black classical artists from Germany, Colombia, the Caribbean, and United States.

Since 2013, the Colour of Music Festival has brought classically trained black musicians and composers of African descent together to offer the public an opportunity to share their musical talents, knowledge, and inspiration. Today thousands of talented black classical performers have had few opportunities to grace concert stages.

“Our patron base consists of many AARP members. AARP’s mission has served the interest of our citizens in a profound manner since its inception in 1958; we are honored AARP Florida embraces our mission of inclusiveness with its keen focus on supporting a vast underserved population, not only in Florida, but nationally,” says Festival’s founder and artistic director Lee Pringle.

The program will feature octets, quintets, quartets, trios, and duos and includes works by Felix Mendelsohn, black female composer Florence B. Price, along with spotlights from rising black composer, Valerie Coleman.

A special presentation streamed from Murray Center located at historic 14 George Street (Charleston SC) will showcase a Porgy and Bess arrangement by Igor Frolov for violin and piano that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Colour of Music Festival| AARP Florida Tickets and Information

Saturday, February 27, 7:30 p.m.

Online:; general public ticket: $25

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About the Colour of Music Festival

The Colour of Music Festival, Inc. presents a diverse classical repertoire of baroque, classical, and twentieth century music at the highest of musical standards to diverse audiences nationally.

The Festival has presented in Atlanta, Charleston SC, Houston,  Nashville, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and Washington, DC.