Two For Two: Chapter II

Two For Two: Chapter II
I started playing music when I was five through an organization called Project STEP. Project STEP (String Training Education Program) is a music program that recognizes that certain racial and ethnic minorities are vastly underrepresented in classical music. Their mission is to address this imbalance by identifying musically talented underrepresented students from Boston and surrounding communities, providing them with comprehensive music and string instrument instruction. With the focus being on classical music, one of the first genres of music I learned how to play was classical music. I did a good job of following the guidance and curriculum of my teachers. When you play works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. you have to “interpret” what the composer wanted. You usually get the guidance of what the composer wanted from your teacher. I trusted my teachers, but sometimes I would wonder things like “how do we know this to be true?” and “has no one written any new music?”. When I got older, I got the opportunity to play music by composers like John Williams, which I thought was pretty cool. While preparing for a performance tour in Mexico and Cuba, I played a piece by Arturo Marquez called Danzón No. 2 (if you have not heard this, then you should YouTube it NOW! Matter of fact – HERE is a link: 
And here is an article that I just so happened to find while searching for a link for this song: 
In college, I learned about individuals like David Baker. This may have been one of the first and most memorable times that I played a work by someone who was still alive and was guiding me and my quartet through what they wanted. I got to hear the interpretation and intent straight from the mouth of the composer.
From there I played and gigged with many orchestras wherever I lived. I played what was on the program. After attending the Sphinx Connect Conference this January, I was reminded of composers who I have neglected in my own practice.
After all, as the “teacher”, I now have more input and “say” over what I choose to play.
The diversity of works that were performed at the Sphinx Connect Concerto competition reminded me was simply amazing. The finalist all played works written by BIPOC composers. The pieces were:
  • Concerto for Violin in g minor, op. 80, Movement I: Allegro Maestoso by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
  • Concerto for Viola Movement IV: Ritmico by Roberto Sierra

(You can see and hear the competition by clicking HERE

And then on Sunday, I heard one of the most beautiful, passionate, touching, pieces that I have ever heard in my life.
It was titled “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” by Joel Thompson (You know that I had to give you a link. I could only find the SphinxConnect 2017 version by clicking HERE.
This piece is for orchestra and choir. It even has a little choreography which adds life to the piece. 
The third movement; “III. Amadou Diallo, 23 “Mom, I’m going to college.” touched me in a way that classical music has never touched me before. I’m sitting in the concert hall at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and this movement comes up. Out of absolutely NOWHERE my allergies start acting up and someone must have been cutting onions because the audience was just in TEARS!
Which makes me think – isn’t that what great music is supposed to do? Make us feel an emotion or two? Express that which words cannot express?
There are SO MANY composers who exist, who we just don’t talk about, and our city and local Symphonies aren’t playing. Works by individuals like Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, William Grant Still, and the list goes on. I think that Symphonies are doing a better job of “diversifying the playlist” so please don’t think that I’m trying to point out a “problem”. I’m simply saying that there are many works that would be great to hear live. I’m convinced that every city has a budding composer who would benefit from having their pieces played. Both bringing recognition to that composer AND to the location where it is being player. We should be supporting our local composers!
When I think about the “great” composers, I think about 1. The rules that were broken for them to be known as great today and 2. The stories behind the music that lead to them being known as great today.

Berlioz wrote Symphonie Fantastique because he was head over heels in love with a woman (Harriet Smithson) who he heard sing (I don’t think that he actually met her when he wrote the piece). I believe that he wrote her a letter, she rejected him, he writes the piece, she hears it two years later, and then they get married – WILD story!
Beethoven originally dedicated his 3rd Symphony (Eroica – which means Heroic in Italian) to Napoleon Bonaparte. After Napoleon crowned himself “Emperor”, Beethoven thought “Is he too, then, nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he, too, will trample on the rights of man, and indulge only his ambition!” and took away the dedication.
Playing Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch lead me down a research rabbit hole, learning more about Jewish culture and the Holocaust. I also learned about what some thought about Bruch after he wrote the piece (some people in the world can be oddly mean and judgmental sometimes).
For a bonus, look up why Dmitri Shostakovich wrote Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47 in 1937!

My point is that many musical works have stories and history attached to them. I think that we’re not allowing our generation of composers to be great if we’re not playing their works. I’m not talking about playing modern works, or BIPOC works only. I’m talking about diversifying the entire thing like they were doing since the 1400’s (and before).

SOUNDS Academy can do a better job of doing that as well by promoting our diverse and young composers. What better way to do so than to bring back our Composition Class, to hear and celebrate the works of our very own students. This is something that we will challenge ourselves with.
In the meantime, let me know:
  1. What diverse composers/music have you heard and would suggest that I listen to?
  2. Do you think that it is the responsibility of our Symphonies to play these works or is it our responsibility to ask for these works on the feedback forms?
  1. Gustavo Dudamel – Márquez: Danzón No. 2 (Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, BBC Proms) –
  2. Symphony breaks U.S., Cuban barriers –
  3. 2023 Sphinx Finals Concert Competition –
  4. “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” | SphinxConnect 2017 –
This is a little bonus video. While at the conference, during the last dinner, the choir started singing and instrumentalists jumped in to improvise. It was a magical moment! I had to ask someone to “Hold my Breadstick” so that I could capture this moment!
This is a piece titled “Esperaré by Julio Morales. There is SO MUCH music out there!