Planning this concert has been a unique challenge.
At first, I thought of including black composers from all over the world. As it turned out, I had too much material. I found some great music written by some very skilled composers. I figured I had to trim the scope of the program and wound up focusing on the composers only of the western hemisphere. I discovered several talented composers who were native to the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Canada. I also found that most of them were trained in somewhat of a classical tradition – learning to write in traditional forms, learning traditional harmony, and working with traditional western instruments. I thought it would be relatively easy to obtain the music; however, it was not to be.
The staff at the Center for Black Music Research of Columbia College has been most helpful, especially when researching composers, their music, and making contacts outside of the country. The Internet has been my main tool when contacting composers, archives, and other sources to obtain some of the hard-to-get material.
There is a plethora of spirituals and gospel arrangements available. I found that most US Afro-Classical composers such as Margaret Bonds, William Grant Still, and Adolphus Hailstork wrote arrangements of spirituals. Some of the elements of those songs can be heard in their larger, legitimate works.
Besides those wonderful arrangements and tunes, I wanted to find other pieces that might make use of western styles and forms, such as masses, cantatas, operas, or madrigals. This concert will feature some spirituals and a gospel arrangement and possibly some Ellington – who considered himself more than simply a composer of jazz compositions. Imagine a Magnificat set to Jamaican Patois text; or a portion of an opera written in ragtime; or a psalm written by a contemporary pop artist.
It will happen on May 2 in Oak Park.