Symposium: The Black Composer in Classical Music

Sample of music score for Amant Anonime, (with link to larger version).

L’Amant Anonime by Chevalier Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges

          On Sunday afternoon, October 30th, a panel of distinguished musicians and others gathered for the symposium “The Black Composer in Classical Music: Talent to be Known” to discuss classical composers of African origin.  Organized by Richard Greene, educator and researcher at Temple University, with lead sponsorship by Steven Landstreet, head of the music department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Nathaniel Norment, Ph.D., chair of African American studies at Temple University, the symposium’s purpose was to raise awareness, inspire musicians and audiences, and to spark interest in a repertoire historically neglected.

Although representing significant contributions to classical music, music of black composers is rarely represented on the classical concert stage.  The people gathered at the symposium hope to remedy this situation and to bring this significant, meaningful, and beautiful repertoire to life.  The highlight of the program was to honor distinguished composer and author George T. Walker.

          Linda Wright Moore, senior communications officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, moderated an illustrious panel of musicians and music scholars including: Joseph Conyers, string bassist with the Philadelphia Orchestra; Clipper Erickson, Nathaniel Dett scholar; Gary Galván, consultant-scholar from the Fleisher Collection at the Free Library; Jay Fluellen, musician/composer St. Thomas Episcopal Church; and André Raphel, conductor and music director of the Wheeling West Virginia Symphony.  Panelists spoke of their backgrounds and what led them to their interests in black composers of classical music.  The panelists all expressed the importance of music in the home, and the opportunities provided by music programs in schools at all levels from primary through university.

The speakers all expressed concern about current funding cuts to education forcing the scaling back or cancelling of music programs that are vital to students and their communities.  Dr. Norment, chair of African American Studies at Temple University spoke about ensuring that the works of black composers are included in university music curriculums and discussed in undergraduate classes as well as studied and researched at the graduate level.

The importance of training teachers to be aware of this vast and neglected repertoire, and how to include music of black classical composers in their teaching was discussed.  Another idea posed was that teaching music composition at a young age provides students with a deep understanding of the value of music as expression.   Radio stations and internet radio stations need to include more repertoire of black classical composers.  All participants felt the power of music in building a community of experience.  Music brings people together.

    Music librarians Anne Harlow of Temple University and Steven Landstreet of the Free Library of Philadelphia were introduced as guides to finding scores and recordings of classical music by black composers at the Free Library and at Temple University Libraries.

How about you?  How much do you know about Black Composers of classical music?  Take this quiz to find out!

Want to find out more?  See Temple University Libraries’ research guide on Black Composers of Classical music.

-Anne Harlow

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