Category Archives: Music

Heino Eller (1887-1970) and Lepo Sumera (1950-2000): Two Influential 20th-Century Estonian Composers Whose Contemporary Classical Music Spanned from World War I to the “Singing Revolution” of the 1990s.

FEATURE image: Heino Eller with his students from The Tartu Higher Music School in the 1930’s.

Heino Eller (1887-1970) and Lepo Sumera (1950–2000) were both influential Estonian composers and music composition teachers. Following his graduation in 1920 from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Heino Eller taught music theory and composition in Estonia for the next 50 years.

The list of Eller’s students who are well-regarded composers in Estonia and internationally is lengthy and Eller’s musical legacy lives on through them.

Lepo Sumera is one of those students who, in Eller’s last years, studied with the legendary Estonian composer in Tallinn. Other notable Estonian composers who studied with Eller, starting in Tartu, are Eduard Tubin (1905–1982), Olav Roots (1910–1974), Karl Leichter (1902–1987), and Alfred Karindi (1901–1969). Eller’s students also included religious/minimalist music composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1985) and classical/film music composer Jaan Rääts (1932-2020), among others.

Heino Eller (center) in a group portrait with his students from The Tartu Higher Music School of composition in the 1930’s. Left to right: Estonian composers Eduard Tubin (1905–1982), Olav Roots (1910–1974), Eller, Karl Leichter (1902–1987) and Alfred Karindi (1901–1969). Photo: Public Domain, author unknown.

Lepo Sumera (1950-2000), Estonian composer, student of Heino Eller, and Minister of Culture during Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” between 1988 and 1992. Sumera is shown in his official government capacity in 1991. Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” signaled Estonia’s second revolution of independence from the Soviet Union in the twentieth century (the first was in 1920) which helped end the Cold War following World War Two. Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0.

From 1920 to 1940, Heino Eller, born in Tartu, Estonia, taught music theory and composition at Tartu Higher School for Music (today known as the Heino Eller Music School). During World War II, Eller’s wife, pianist Anna Kremer (1887-1942), was executed by the Nazis in a concentration camp because of her Jewish ethnicity.

After the war and following the Soviet occupation, Eller taught at Estonia’s Tallinn Conservatory until his death in 1970. It was at Tallinn State Conservatory (today the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre) that Lepo Sumera studied with Heino Eller. Following Eller’s death, Sumera graduated from Tallinn Conservatory having studied with Estonian composer Heino Jürisalu (1930-1991).

Eller: Romanticism, Modernism and Folk Songs.

Eller’s early music (before 1940) is characterized by a broad romanticism which takes in impressionism, expressionism and modernism. His melodies and orchestrations are lyrical and refined by way of varying modernist modes of polyphony. Eller’s orchestral, ensemble and piano works often utilize the melodies and/or structures of Estonian folk songs.

Charles Coleman’s arrangement of Heino Eller’s Three Pieces for Flute and Piano (or string orchestra) was created in 2005. In three movements: 1. In the Valley 2. On the River and 3. In the Meadow, the performance of “In the Meadow” features soloist Maarika Järvi on flute. She performs with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by the flutist’s brother, Kristjan Järvi. (2:06 minutes).

Three Pieces, flute and piano was composed in 1952. Whereas Eller’s music had been generally lyrical-romantic, influenced by Chopin, Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, Eller’s musical idiom changed after World War II.

Eller’s music turned simpler and relied increasingly on folk melodies. By the early 1950’s his orchestral works with an illustrative idiom such as Flight of the Eagle (1950) and Singing Fields (1951) reflected official Soviet cultural policy to which Estonia, in Eller’s lifetime after 1940, was incorporated. It wasn’t until the end of the 1950’s, however, that Eller’s symphonic arrangements grew structurally denser.

Lepo Sumera: introduced electro-acoustic trends to Estonian music

As a student of Heino Eller, Lepo Sumera shared with the legendary composer a keen attention to compositional detail as well as being a key figure in his generation to introduce international contemporary music ideas and trends to the country.

In his 50 restive and creative years the late-20th century Estonian composer and teacher, Lepo Sumera, wrote six symphonies, the bedrock of his musical corpus. Sumera regularly collaborated with theatrical figures, film directors, choreographers, and artists to create over 70 film scores and music for the stage.

From 1988 to 1992, during the days of Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” which helped to end the Cold War, Lepo Sumera was his country’s Minister of Culture. It was not easy for the new government minister as his own house was subject to restitution to its rightful owners following the end of a half century of Soviet occupation.

Lepo Sumera was known by his students as a kind and thoughtful man. The professor and composer thought it nothing to bend down in the middle of a discussion on musical composition to tie the untied laces of a child’s shoe of one of his students. Whereas Sumera’s themes, especially in his symphonies, tackle quintessential issues of humanity—life, death, love, torment, and so on, in music that is multi-layered, dramatic and richly colored—his other and shorter works frequently offer a weightless, shimmering quality that lend to the music a sense of timelessness.

Performance at the 2019 Pärnu Music Festival of Lepo Sumera’s waltz from the animated 1986 color short film Kevadine kärbes (“Spring Fly.”). Arranged by Mihkel Kerem, Sumera’s music is characteristically playful and humorous but expressively direct. It is performed by the Estonian Festival Orchestra founded by Paavo Järvi in 2011. (7:39 minutes).

Heino Eller, Estonian stamp, 125th anniversary of Eller’s birth (2012).

Sketch portrait of Lepo Sumera, 2018, by Khanzhin Ivan. CC BY-SA 4.0.

SOURCES: https://www.emic.ee/?sisu=heliloojad&mid=58&id=11&lang=eng&action=view&method=biograafia

https://estonianworld.com/culture/lepo-sumera-a-restless-creative-mind-and-an-extraordinary-human-being/

https://www.masterstudies.com/universities/Estonia/Estonian-Academy-Of-Music-And-Theatre/

SUPERTRAMP: From Musician-Poets to Rock Stardom, the First Six Albums of the English prog-rock band, 1970-1979.

Roger Hodgson in 1979
Rick Davies in 1979

1970 debut album, Supertramp, has U.S. release in 1977

Supertramp’s July 1970 debut album simply dubbed Supertramp, wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1977. For the enterprising American traveler in the 1970’s, such a distribution shortfall could add to the purpose of a trip to England where a Europe-only released album record could be acquired and carefully packed for home into the carry-on bag.

Music for the album Supertramp was composed by Supertramp co-founders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson. The lyrics were written by guitarist Richard Palmer-James. This was because no one else in the band wanted to write lyrics.

Indelibly Stamped, Supertramp’s second album in 1971

The debut album received positive reviews. Supertramp’s musical innovations were moving ahead so quickly that the first album’s ten songs were dropped from their promotional live mega-tours almost as soon as they were recorded and released.

Indelibly Stamped, Supertramp’s second album in 1971, was a major change for the band to the rock sound. This was followed by the group’s multi-platinum albums, Crime of the Century in 1974 and Breakfast in America in 1979.

Late 1970’s hits Dreamer and Give A Little Bit were written by Supertramp around the time of their 1970 debut album

Supertramp never returned to its first days’ output as musician-poets. Though later hit songs such as Dreamer and Give A Little Bit were written in this early period, which add to the debut album’s appeal as other of Supertramp’s first songs definitely make for worthwhile listening.

Supertramp, 1971. Roger Hodgson, Frank Farrell, Rick Davies, Kevin Currie, Dave Winthrop

How music critics reacted to Supertramp’s first songs in 1970 and— 50 years later—in 2020

When this first album of the English prog-rock group was behind them and Supertramp was world famous, critics still had somewhat harsh words towards Supertramp’s debut album.

Critics, while acknowledging that the 1970 album Supertramp offers almost 50 minutes of enjoyable melodies—especially Surely, its lead track, as well as Words Unspoken, Nothing to Show and the 12-minute Try Again—potential upward revisionists continue to dismiss the album’s first songs.

Their main criticism is that Supertramp‘s musical and lyrical effort was too loosely conceived and, according to a review in AllMusic, wanders “pretentiously.” Critics generally agree that Supertramp’s progressive pop music on their 1970 debut album is melodious and poetic yet, lacking compositional rigor, wanders.

Meandering instrumentally among pretty patches of subtle melody is not all bad. Yet, as a new group, Supertramp’s first songs seem to overindulge in the pleasure of making music together for its own sake rather than attempting to make a powerfully cohesive statement.

Mellow and lyrical Aubade/I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey is the third track on their 1970 debut album, Supertramp. It is one of the best/worst examples of what critics see as the musical airiness and pretension that characterize the songs on Supertramp, their debut album. This song and the rest of the first album, the band quickly put in its rearview mirror. In 1971 they progressed completely to a solid rock sound for album number two.

Rare film soundtrack in 1971

Along with Arc, Crucible, and other bands, Aubade/I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey was featured as part of a rare soundtrack for a 1971 UK docufilm called Extremes. The film was directed by 19-year-old Tony Klinger and 21-year-old Mike Lytton and displayed the adventures and pursuits of young people of that era (it can be rediscovered in a 2017 DVD release).

Supertramp’s first two albums were commercial flops

Despite this creativity and critical success, the album Supertramp was a commercial flop. Its follow-up album Indelibly Stamped in 1971 and new rock sound was also a commercial flop.

Crisis? What Crisis?

Supertramp breaks up, reforms with new band-mates, and releases its third album: Crime of the Century. It is no.1 in the UK

Following these commercial disasters—and before fame—Supertramp broke up. Co-founders Davies and Hodgson recruited new band-mates. Bassist Frank Farrell and drummer Kevin Currie were replaced with pub rockers John Helliwell on saxophone, Dougie Thompson on bass, and drummer Bob “C.” Benberg. The third album, Crime of The Century, preceded by a massive millionaire-bankrolled promotional campaign, soared to no.1 in the UK —and sowed seeds of a following in the U.S.

Breakthrough U.S. single in 1975: Bloody Well Right

Supertramp’s breakthrough hit single in the U.S. was Bloody Well Right in 1975. Written by Supertramp co-founders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson and sung by Davies (who performs its opening keyboard bars), the song appeared on the newly reconstituted English prog-rock band’s third album, Crime of the Century, released in mid-September 1974. The song features impressive guitar work by Hodgson and by saxman and new recruit John Helliwell.

Bloody Well Right was not Supertramp’s odds-on, or even favored, hit song from the album. That would have been Hodgson’s Dreamer, written when he was 19 years old, on side A. But Dreamer only charted in Canada.
As Crime of the Century went Gold in the U.S. (Diamond in Canada and Platinum in France), listeners in the United States flipped Supertramp’s single and preferred side B.
Bloody Well Right, on side B, climbed to no. 35 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. A Supertramp classic, it remains a staple “on the radio” and in the band’s live shows. In 1975, with singles from Crime of The Century charting, the bank-rolled group toured the U.S. and filled arenas by giving away most of the tickets.
Crime of the Century was the third studio album by Supertramp and recorded between February and June 1974. Released on September 16, 1974, it was Supertramp’s first Gold record in the U.S.
The album, which soared to no.1 in the UK, produced Supertramp’s breakthrough Top 40 hit single in the U.S., Bloody Well Right written by Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson.
Band members believed that with this album Supertramp had entered into one of its most creatively original periods.
Crisis? What Crisis? is the fourth album by the English progressive-rock band.
Recorded in the summer of 1975 in London and Los Angeles, it was released on November 29, 1975.
Hastily assembled from second-hand discards of Crime of the Century so to capitalize quickly on the third album’s success, Rolling Stone magazine panned this album and Supertramp came to believe the project was a low point in their career.
Give A Little Bit from Supertramp’s Even in The Quietest Moments…became a Top 20 hit in the U.S. and Canada and reached no. 29 in the UK.
Even in the Quietest Moments… was the fifth studio album by Supertramp. Recorded between November 1976 and January 1977, it was released on April 10, 1977 and featured another song that Hodgson wrote at 19 years old.
Even in the Quietest Moments… repeated Crime of the Century‘s certification achievements and became their second Gold record in the U.S. During this period, Supertramp relocated permanently to Los Angeles.
Supertramp’s Breakfast in America produced the Top 10 hit, The Logical Song. Written by Roger Hodgson, it became Supertramp’s biggest hit.
Rock-star success for Supertramp was achieved in 1979 with Breakfast in America.
Recorded from May to December 1978, Supertramp’s sixth album was released on March 29, 1979.
Breakfast in America became the no.1 LP around the world and went 4x Platinum in the U.S., selling over 4 million copies.

SOURCES:
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Third Edition, edited by Holly George Warren and Patricia Romanowski, New York: A Rolling Stone Press Book, 2001.

https://www.glotime.tv/extremes-classic-1971-supertramp-film-released-dvd/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/supertramp-mw0000191983

PHOTO CREDITS:

Roger Hodgson in 1979– “File:Supertramp – Roger Hodgson (1979).png” by Ueli Frey is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Rick Davies in 1979–“File:Supertramp – Rick Davies (1979).png” by Ueli Frey is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Supertramp 1971–This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. 21stCenturyGreenstuff at English Wikipedia

Crime of the Century album cover–“Supertramp – Crime of the Century” by vinylmeister is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

ticket stub–“Supertramp with Chris de Burgh – July 9, 1977 – Kitchener” by Ken Schafer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Crisis? What Crisis? album cover–“SUPERTRAMP : Crisis? What Crisis?” by vinylmeister is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Even in the Quietest Moments album cover (backside)—“Backside Supertramp – Even In The Quietest Moments…” by Piano Piano! is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Breakfast in America album cover–“Vintage Vinyl LP Record Album – Breakfast In America Vinyl LP By Supertramp, Catalog Number SP-3708, Rock, A&M Records, 1979” by France1978 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Crime of the century top hats—“Supertramp – Crime of the Century” by vinylmeister is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Marvin Gaye’s Third Hit Single from his 1971 album, What’s Going On: “Inner City Blues.”

FEATURE image: Marvin Gaye in 1965. PHOTO CREDIT: Películas Marvin Gaye y Al Green
by Soul Portrait.
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)—often abbreviated to Inner City Blues—is a song by Marvin Gaye (1939-1984) who released it as the third and final single from his 1971 album, What’s Going On. PHOTO CREDIT: MARVIN GAYE WHAT’S GOING ON – FR
by richbedforduk.

R&B’s AND SOUL’S FIRST “CONCEPT” ALBUM

What’s Going On is one of rhythm and blues and soul’s first “concept” albums and is considered by many to be not just one of the great albums of all time but the greatest.

What’s Going On produced three hit singles. All top ten chart bestsellers addressed diverse issues affecting a complicated time—including the war in Vietnam (What’s Going On, #2, 1971), the global biophysical environment (Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), #4, 1971) and civil rights and justice (Inner City Blues (Makes Me Want to Holler), #9, 1971).

MARVIN GAYE (LIKE STEVIE WONDER) GAINED COMPLETE CONTROL OVER HIS MOTOWN RECORDS

The 32-year-old Gaye, who had his first hit song in 1962, had entered into a new and distinct stage of his musical career by the early 1970’s. Like Stevie Wonder, Gaye was one of the Motown artists to first gain complete control over his records.

THE LYRICS OF INNER CITY BLUES WERE WRITTEN BY MARVIN GAYE AND JAMES NYX AND RECORDED IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN

Gaye’s Inner City Blues revealed the conditions of America’s black ghettos and America’s attitude and (lack of) response to them — Make me wanna holler. To those in society wielding predominant power, Gaye unflinchingly depicts the conditions of America’s inner-city ghettos and the attitudes of the men, women and children who live there.

A NATION RULED BY “HAVES” OVER “HAVE NOTS” — GAYE WRITES: This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’, No, no baby, this ain’t livin’.

Relentlessly bleak economic conditions of these cities’ slums—”Crime is increasing, trigger happy policing, panic is spreading, God knows where we’re heading”— perpetrate denizens’ lives. In a prosperous period in U.S. history such is offset by endless war, spiraling inflation, and an economy geared for permanently and grossly augmenting “haves” and “have nots.”

In Marvin Gaye’s mellifluous tenor voice which had a tremendous three-octave range, the singer relates soulfully and passionately—the multi-track background vocals were also sung by Gaye—his conclusion about “The way they do my life” which makes him “wanna holler and throw up my hands.” The writers’ conclusion about inner-city ghetto conditions in the United States, a rich country that ceaselessly spends its money on “rockets, moon shots,” is that insofar as the ghetto resident: “This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’, No, no baby, this ain’t livin’.

GAYE’S MUSIC STOOD UP TO THE PREDOMINANT CULTURAL FORCES OF HIS TIME AND FREELY EXPLORED ALL MANNER OF CONTEMPORARY POLITICS AND SOCIETY, INCLUDING THE SEXUAL– GAYE WRITES:“Everybody thinks we’re wrong Who are they to judge us.”

Gaye had his first hit at 23 years old and died one day before his 45th birthday after he was shot to death by his father following a violent verbal altercation in 1984. In a career that exemplified the maturation of romantic black pop of the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s Gaye’s music developed into a popular artistic form that openly explored contemporary society and all manner of politics, including sexual.

In Inner City Blues the talented singer relates his harrowing subject matter and that which it implies by way of a sophisticated and mellow funk style. Detroit-based session musicians, particularly Eddie “Bongo” Brown and Bob Babbitt on bass, who were part of The Funk Brothers that performed on most Motown recordings of the period—added to the record’s sound.

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Music and lyrics by Marvin Gaye and James Nyx

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
‘Fore we see it you take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’
No, no baby, this ain’t livin’
No, no, no
Inflation no chance

To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die
Oh, Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs

Natural fact is
I can’t pay my taxes
Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands

Yeah, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing

Panic is spreading
God knows where we’re heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don’t understand

Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Who are they to judge us
Simply cause we wear our hair long

Gaye in the 1970’s and 1980’s. PHOTO CREDIT: Marvin Gaye – Symphony (70´s / 1985)
by Soul Portrait.

PHOTO CREDITS:

Marvin Gaye by Soul Portrait – “Películas Marvin Gaye y Al Green” by Soul Portrait is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

MARVIN GAYE WHAT’S GOING ON – FR by richbedforduk is marked with a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

“Marvin Gaye – Symphony (70´s / 1985)” by Soul Portrait is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Christmas Choral Concert: Bel Canto Chorus, Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

FEATURE image: Milwaukee’s Bel Canto Chorus in public performance. Fair Use.

INDEPENDENT CHORUS FOUNDED IN 1931

Founded in 1931, Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s independent 100-voice Bel Canto Chorus performs carols and hymns in the historic Basilica of St. Josaphat, a Polish-style church in Milwaukee completed in 1901 and boasting one of the largest copper domes in the world.

SOLD OUT CONCERTS AT CHRISTMAS

The Bel Canto Chorus is made up of singers from throughout southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Their Christmas concert is one of their most locally popular of the year and its weekend of Christmas concerts is often sold out.

In this 2012 performance, Music Director Richard Hynson conducts. Hynson has been music director of the Bel Canto Chorus since 1987 and in 2012 received the American Prize in Choral Conducting, Community Choral Division.

The Bel Canto Chorus has an impressive international performance portfolio, including performances at the Spoleto Music Festival in Italy and music festivals in France, the UK, Ireland, Canada and Argentina and Uruguay.

CONCERT AT BASILICA OF ST. JOSAPHAT, COMPLETED IN 1901

This wonderful performance features the Stained Glass Brass and Bel Canto Boy Chorus, both conducted by Ellen Shuler.

PROGRAM:
Once in Royal David’s City – H.J. Gauntlett
Ding Dong Merrily on High – George Radcliffe Woodward
A Spotless Rose – Herbert Howells
O Come, All Ye Faithful – J.F. Wade
Welcome All Wonders – Richard Dirksen
Gloria-John Rutter
Silent Night-Franz Grüber
Joy To The World – George Frideric Handel
We Wish You A Merry Christmas – arranged by John Rutter

This performance is approximately one hour.

Notes©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Christmas Choral Concert: The Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir, University Chapel, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was called “The Sage” of Tuskegee Institute outside Montgomery, Alabama. Founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881, the Institute thrives today as Tuskegee University, home to more than 3,000 students from the U.S. and dozens of foreign countries.

The historically African-American college boasts several academic distinctions today, especially in the broad range of the sciences, engineering, medicine and math. This stems from the coeducational school’s founding value of industrial education.

Booker T. Washington, c. 1903, Cheynes Studio. Washington established Tuskegee Institute in 1881, a college for African Americans about 40 miles east of Montgomery, Alabama, the capital city of the southern state. https://www.loc.gov/collections/african-american-perspectives-rare-books/articles-and-essays/daniel-murray-a-collectors-legacy/booker-t-washington/

Booker T. Washington in 1905. Washington served as Tuskegee Institute’s first president from 1881 until 1915. http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/hec.16114/

Tuskegee is home to the first bioethics center in the United States: the National Center for Bioethics in Research & Health Care. Founded in 1999, the Center is devoted to the exploration of the core moral issues which underlie research and medical treatment of African-Americans as well as other under-served populations by bringing together in dialogue the sciences, humanities, law and religion.

In addition to excellence in these important academic fields, Tuskegee, with over 60 degree programs, offers study in the Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, and Humanities. This includes The Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir in the Department of Fine & Performing Arts.

The Choir founded by Booker T. Washington in 1886

Tuskegee’s first singing groups were organized by Washington as early as 1884 with the choir formally founded by Washington in 1886. Booker T. Washington, who grew up in slavery as a child, had witnessed music and singing’s central value to the African-American experience.

In chapter one of his highly readable and interesting American classic autobiography, Up From Slavery, Washington writes: “Finally the war closed, and the day of freedom came. It was a momentous and eventful day to all upon our plantation. We had been expecting it. Freedom was in the air, and had been for months… As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. True, they had sung those same verses before, but they had been careful to explain that the “freedom” in these songs referred to the next world, and had no connection with life in this world. Now they gradually threw off the mask, and were not afraid to let it be known that the “freedom” in their songs meant freedom of the body in this world.

Tuskegee’s deep love and appreciation for the arts, especially music

Washington insisted that Tuskegee’s always augmenting student body at the Christian nondenominational school sing spirituals at weekly Chapel worship services. Washington, and all Tuskegee’s successor presidents to the present day, have maintained a deep love and appreciation for the arts, especially above all music. Booker T. Washington wrote the students, exhorting them: “…If you go out to have schools of your own, have your pupils sing [Negro spirituals] as you have sung them here, and teach them to see the beauty which dwells in these songs…

Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir

In each academic year the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir performs extensively throughout the state of Alabama, as well as nationally and internationally (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Canada in 2018).

Their Christmas Concert is held each December in the University Chapel under the direction of Dr. Wayne Anthony Barr. Dr. Barr is assisted by Mrs. Brenda Shuford at the piano who herself is a lifelong music educator and ordained minister at her Baptist church in Montgomery. Also taking significant part is Warren L. Duncan who heads the Department of Fine & Performing Arts at Historic Tuskegee University.

The choir has had a momentous performance history performing before American presidents and this entire concert offers the listener the flavor of its wonderful spirit and deep talent shared at Christmas-time.

The concert is approximately two hours and fifteen minutes.

Notes©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Christmas Choral Concert: John Rutter’s “Gloria” performed by the Angeles Chorale in Pasadena, California at the First United Methodist Church.

VOLUNTEER CHORAL GROUP FOUNDED IN 1975

For over 40 years, the Angeles Chorale has brought inspiring choral music to greater Los Angeles, California. It is an all-volunteer choral group comprised of about one hundred voices. The Angeles Chorale was founded in 1975 as one of the local Valley Master Chorales and merged in 1987 with California State University Northridge’s Masterworks Chorale under the baton of Artistic Director John Alexander.

ARTISTIC DIRECTORS

For the next nine years Alexander led the assemblage into a professional standard, and changed its name to the Angeles Chorale. Donald Neuen took over the podium in the 1996-1997 season. Neuen, Director of Choral Activities at UCLA, focused the chorale’s repertoire on classical music masterworks for chorus and orchestra such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler. For the 2010-2011 season, Neuen handed the baton to its present-day Artistic Director Dr. John Sutton, who had been with the chorale since 2004. Sutton continues to actively study with Professor Neuen, now retired, among others, and utilizes the Angeles Chorale’s versatility and mastery in classic music and current music in concert programming.

WHO IS JOHN RUTTER AND WHAT IS HIS GLORIA ABOUT?

Gloria by English composer John Rutter (b. 1945) is a musical setting of parts of the Latin Gloria which is a Christian hymn. Rutter’s work was written in 1974 and has been part of the Christmas concert tradition ever since.

The Latin Gloria is known as “The Hymn of the Angels” because they are the words the angels sang in Luke 2:14. The angelic host hovered over the shepherds in the field to announce Christ’s birth. “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” the shepherds heard the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest.”

Only twenty minutes long, John Rutter’s chorale masterpiece Gloria is reputed to be a challenging work. The performance by the Angeles Chorale at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena on December 15, 2012 strives for perfection in this excellent all-volunteer chorus porformance.

MUSIC THAT IS VIBRANT, ACTIVE, PERSONAL, ALIVE

The Angeles Chorale takes the three movement work as its own. This is a musical performance that is vibrant, active, personal, alive, and while not perhaps the most refined performance of this favorite work on record, it provides the listener with an aural experience that leaves one on the edge of their seat which is a power not typically found in other performances. This engaging vibrancy could be part of Sutton’s ease and familiarity with popular musical forms, such as for film and television, that infuses this choral piece’s unique harmonies, structures, and rhythms with a branded verve and, if imperfectly, then confidently based on the chorale and brass’s obvious performative exuberance and enjoyment.

  1. Allegro vivace – “Gloria in excelsis Deo”
  2. Andante – “Domine Deus”
  3. Vivace e ritmico – “Quoniam tu solas sanctus.”

The performance is 20 minutes.

Notes©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Christmas Choral Concert: St. Bavo Cathedral Choir, Haarlem, Netherlands.

The St. Bavo Cathedral Choir performs Christmas carols and other seasonal music for voice, many in modern settings.

CONCERT SPACE IS EARLY 20TH CENTURY CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL IN HAARLEM, NETHERLANDS

The concert was performed and recorded at the (Catholic) Cathedral Basilica St. Bavo in Haarlem on December 16, 2012 during Advent. The construction of the immense church took place between 1895 and 1930 on the Leidsevaart. It is different from and not the iconic Grote Kerk on Haarlem’s main square. As a cathedral, St. Bavo Basilica was built as the Catholic bishop’s church but it is also an active local parish. The St. Bavo Cathedral Choir is the church’s largest choral group, and an important part of the dual activity of the church.

The monumental church building, its art collection, organs, future museum, and the liturgical support of its Music Institute are all important aspects of serving and celebrating the Gospel in the service of others. The church community does not limit itself solely to believers within the territory of the parish, but offers a hospitable home for all who feel connected to it. https://rkhaarlem.nl/kerken/bavo-kathedraal-haarlem/

The church offers several choirs, including a girls’ choir, boys’ choir, men’s choir, a schola cantorum and more. http://vriendensintbavo.nl/vriendensintbavo.nl/de-koren/

ORIGIN, PRACTICE OF THE CATHEDRAL CHOIR. WORKS PERFORMED

The Cathedral Choir who performs this Advent 2012 concert is comprised of all the choirs put together and can hold more than 100 people. The “Kathedrale Koor” sings on average once a month and for the major festivals such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. 

The full Cathedral choir is also used at large concerts and other important diocesan and other large events. The choir’s repertoire is wide with centuries of church music being represented. Large works with organ are especially performed, such as Masses by Louis Vierne (1870-1937) and Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) as well as works by Louis Andriessen (b. 1939) and Herman Strategier (1912-1988). The works of Jan Valkestijn, former Magister Cantus of the Music Institute and composer of several works for the Cathedral Choir, are also regularly performed.

The Advent 2012 program includes well-known carols along with Anton Diabelli’s Pastoral Mass In F Major For Solos, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 147. It includes excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s 11-part choral piece, A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28.

Fons Ziekman conducts the Promenade Orchestra and Sanne Nieuwenhuijsen directs the chorus with soloists Jasper Schweppe, Anouk van Laake, Floris Claassens, Hidde Kleikamp and Frank de Ruijter.

The impressive vocal and orchestral ensemble is accompanied by Ton van Eck on organ and Auréli Husslage on harp.

Program:
John Francis Wade (1711-1786) : Oh, come all ye faithful
Anton Diabelli (1781-1858): Pastoral Messe in F-dur, op.147
Willcocks: The First Nowell
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): A Ceremony of Carols
Richards: Over the Country
Britten: A New Year Carol
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Hark the herald angels sing
Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Fantasia on Christmas Carols

The concert is 1 hour, 3 minutes and 48 seconds long.

Notes©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

History of The Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love.” The First Hit for the 1977 film “Saturday Night Fever” still defines the Disco Age.

FEATURE image: “Bee Gees Monument unveiled tomorrow-1=” by Sheba_Also 43,000 photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

By John P. Walsh

How Deep Is Your Love (1977) by the Bee Gees ranks number 375 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.1 It sits between White Room (1968) by Cream and Unchained Melody (1965) by The Righteous Brothers. Barry Gibb, the lone surviving Bee Gee today, reportedly said that How Deep Is Your Love is his favorite Bee Gees song. 2 In 2011 it was voted in a TV poll as the UK’s favorite.3 Recorded in the spring of 1977 in anticipation of the album and film Saturday Night Fever to be released later that year— How Deep Is Your Love was released in the U.S. as a single in September 1977. Three months later, after the smash-hit film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta was released, How Deep Is Your Love became the number one song in the U.S. on Christmas Eve 1977 and stayed in the top spot for three weeks. Although the song had started on the charts in October 1977, when it reached number one it stayed in the top 10 for four months until April 1978 which, at that time, set a longevity record. There are two official music videos for How Deep Is Your Love featuring the Bee Gees.4

Fig. 1. There are two official music videos performed by the Bee Gees of How Deep is Your Love. The music of the Bee Gees (left to right: Robin, Barry, and Maurice Gibb) and the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta breathed fire into the disco music craze and helped define the disco era in the late 1970’s.
Fig 2. A huge international pop music hit starting in late 1977, How Deep is Your Love written and performed by the Bee Gees made its way into the Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track album that went Platinum on January 3, 1978 and was certified 16x Multi-Platinum on November 16, 2017.  It remains one of the top ten-selling albums of all time.

When the Bee Gees were asked by film producer Robert Stigwood to provide five songs for a film tentatively titled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night based on the 1975 New York magazine fiction article about the urban disco scene, they didn’t want to compose music specifically for a film (although Barry did write the title song for Stigwood’s follow-up picture, Grease). It didn’t help that the Bee Gees were given neither a script nor hardly told what the movie plot was about. They offered Stigwood, their longtime manager, songs that they were already working on, namely, Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, If I Can’t Have You (later sung by Yvonne Elliman), More Than A Woman, and How Deep is Your Love.5 At one early screening with John Travolta and director John Badham, among others, the Bee Gees were pleased though a little surprised when they saw for the first time scenes of the re-titled Saturday Night Fever with their music and lyrics to back it up. Although the music soundtrack at this juncture was demo cuts, the songs they wrote and performed meshed perfectly with the film’s scenes about which they had never been told very much. To be added to their astonishment—as much as anyone else’s there attending that rough cut – is that the Bee Gees had no idea they had embarked on a motion picture that would soon prove to be a milestone in film history.  Saturday Night Fever would perfectly capture a moment in time and forever define the disco age.

Fig. 3. John Travolta attended the London premiere of Saturday Night Fever on March 22, 1978 with Kay Edwards.

Following its world premiere in Hollywood on December 7, 1977, Saturday Night Fever became an enormous success. It became Chicago film critic Gene Siskel’s favorite film—soon after, Siskel famously bought Tony Manero’s white suit at a charity auction in 1978 for $2,000. Colleague and friend Roger Ebert writing shortly after Siskel’s death in 1999, believed that Saturday Night Fever had struck Siskel mainly on an emotional level but also for its themes that had impressed him. Other influential film critics were similarly praiseworthy of the film’s subject matter. At the 50th Academy Awards on April 3, 1978 Saturday Night Fever had received only one nomination (John Travolta for Best Actor) in a year where Annie Hall and Star Wars dominated the competition. Robin Gibb later observed that Saturday Night Fever was made on a very low budget, released very late in the year and had no expensive promotion. The film’s word of mouth was good, however, which even included its star, John Travolta, who at its world premiere at then-Mann’s Chinese Theatre admitted watching the musical film on the big screen as if seeing a fantasy or dream for the first time.6

Fig. 4. Tony Manero’s shiny white polyester suit — bought off the rack in Brooklyn for the making of the film Saturday Night Fever— has been compared to a symbol of aspiration and hope in what is otherwise a dark movie.

Conceptually the song How Deep Is Your Love materialized when, working with collaborator Blue Weaver, Barry Gibb’s instigating question to him in beginning to compose it was: “What is the most beautiful chord that you know?”7 It was the first song the Bee Gees composed that ended up in the film Saturday Night Fever. After a creative hit-and-miss process at the piano – and further collaboration with Robin and Maurice – the song was put together in the middle of night in about four hours at the Château d’Hérouville studios in France.8 This was part of the Bee Gees’ usual working process – arriving into the studio around three o’clock in the afternoon and ending their workday near or after midnight – resulting in all of the film’s songs written quickly, with the lyrics finished later and the disco music taking longer.9 The Bee Gees’ falsetto singing had always been emotional, and it was often by way of collaborating with industry talent— other musicians, producers, and the like—that their music developed in new directions. By the time How Deep is Your Love came about, the Bee Gees had a reputation for being open to suggestions, including the personally emotional piano chords Blue Weaver offered the Brothers Gibb that night.10 The creation of How Deep Is Your Love followed a course already prevalent in the Bee Gees musical career – an attitude of collaboration and creativity in the studio that allowed ideas to be suggested, and beautiful melodies to quickly emerge as the result. Though How Deep is Your Love was composed in one sitting, its arrangement and production took longer which changed some of the song’s original structure. The title was based on what the Bee Gees simply maintained was the variety of connections listeners could make with the phrase How Deep is Your Love – and so providing the song with further universal appeal.11 Following the film’s U.S. release by Paramount Pictures on December 14, 1977 Maurice Gibb believed its ultimate success was the combination of its phenomenal 23-year-old star John Travolta and the music soundtrack whose album had already been certified Gold on November 22, 1977 and certified Platinum on January 3, 1978. The combination of  star power and music –  along with stunning word of mouth and critical acclaim – created a record-shattering synergy for both film and soundtrack album featuring Bee Gees songs making the cultural impact of Saturday Night Fever swift and enduring. How Deep is Your Love remains one of the most anthologized love songs of the modern era. As recently as November 16, 2017, the soundtrack album was certified 16x Multi-Platinum.12

Fig. 5. John Travolta in the 1970’s. Playing 19-year-old Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever about a teen with a good job at the local hardware store in Brooklyn who is trying to dance his way to a better life. His performance earned the 23-year-old Travolta an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role that year.

Fig. 6. Brooklyn-born Donna Pescow was a newcomer and played Annette in Saturday Night Fever. Annette is Tony’s former dance partner and would-be girlfriend.

Karen Lynn Gorney and John Travolta.

Fig 7. Like Donna Pescow and others in the cast of Saturday Night Fever, co-star Karen Lynn Gorney, John Travolta’s love interest in the film,  was a newcomer. Even Travolta who had a swelling fan base because of his ongoing role as Vinnie Barbarino in the popular late 1970’s TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, was not seen as a dance man. Hungry to take his acting career to the next level, Travolta’s energetic dance scenes had critics praising his performance as among the best ever filmed.

Fig. 8. A two-minute scene of disco dancing by John Travolta thrust his energetic performance and the new star into the annals of film history. (This is a portrayal of Travolta as Danny Zuko in Grease.)

Fig. 9. “Robert Stigwood explained to the Bee Gees about this young guy, who every weekend blows his wages at a disco in Brooklyn. He’s got a really truly Catholic family, and he’s got a good job, but he blows his wages every Saturday night. He has his mates with him. Then he comes back and starts the week again, and this goes on every Saturday night. But it’s just this one Saturday night that’s filmed. So that’s what we knew (about a film we were writing music for) except it was John Travolta playing the part…” Maurice Gibb in Bee Gees: The Authorized Biography.

How Deep Is Your Love quickly reached number one internationally in countries such as Canada, Brazil, Finland, Chile, and France. In the Bee Gees’ native England it reached number three which delighted the newly–resurgent pop music group in that they had a top five hit in a country that by the mid-to-late 1970’s saw Punk and New wave rock in the ascendant.13 The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, also released in 1977, was banned on the airwaves by the BBC for its “gross bad taste” though today it ranks number 175 on the Rolling Stone’s Greatest Hits list – 200 slots higher than the Bee Gees’ disco ballad, How Deep Is Your Love. How Deep Is Your Love and the Saturday Night Fever album provided superstar momentum for the Bee Gees’ next projects, but like their careers up to that point, the English-Australian pop-rock band simply continued their readiness to create music. In The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees, Blue Weaver understood the Bee Gees’ success during this period was not due to their “virtuosity,” although their falsetto vocals were “brilliant,” but their collaborative working method which they pursued until reaching the final product that satisfied them – and clearly satisfied some part of the rest of the world.14

Fig. 10. In 1978 Barry Gibb observed about Robin and Maurice and himself: “When we were kids, we’d sit on each other’s beds all night and plan our careers. We decided that when we got to the top, we’d have our own office. We wanted to get to a point where we wouldn’t have to ever work again so we could sit back and enjoy everything we had accomplished. A few years ago that seemed forever out of reach. Sometimes I think I’m living that dream now. We’ve never really made it before. If this is indeed the top, then it’s better than what we imagined. It’s a lot of fun.” Bee Gees: The Authorized Biography. As the Bee Gees, Barry and twins Maurice and Robin became one of the world’s biggest bands ever selling more than 220 million records. In 1997 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Maurice died in 2003 and Robin in 2012. In 2017 Barry told CBS News: “So when I lost them all, I didn’t know whether I wanted to go on. ”

Fig. 11. 70-year-old Barry Gibb was honored during Stayin’ Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees in April 2017 where he got up on stage to close out the show to perform a few hit songs.

During one visit to the hospital while Robin was in a coma, Barry sang a song that he had written for him called The End Of The Rainbow.

Fig. 12.

NOTES:

  1. Rolling Stones List – https://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-500-greatest-songs-of-all-time-20110407 – Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  2. Barry Gibb’s favorite song – The Bee Gees: 35 Years of Music, Billboard: 27. March 24, 2001.  – Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  3. TV poll – https://web.archive.org/web/20121019120053/http://www.itv.com/beegees/ – Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  4. Song’s recording and release dates – Bee Gees Anthology (songbook) by the Bee Gees, Hal Leonard (1991) and Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.116.
  5. Didn’t want to compose music for a film – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411; Hardly told the film plot – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.110.
  6. Surprised music with unseen film meshed – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.111; Ebert on Siskel’s favorite film – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-saturday-night-fever-1977 – Retrieved January 24, 2018; other critics’ praise of film- see Pauline Kael, “Nirvana,” The New Yorker, December 26, 1977, pp. 59-60; film low budget, released late- The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411. Regarding the white suit that had been bought off the rack in Brooklyn for the film, its symbolism in Saturday Night Fever has been postulated. Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a designer and historian of film costume stated that the white suit was a symbol of aspiration and hope in an otherwise “dark little movie” – see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/aug/06/john-travolta-white-suit-v-and-a – retrieved January 25, 2018.
  7. Song’s musical concept – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411-412.
  8. First song composed for Saturday Night Fever, Château d’Hérouville – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.109.
  9. Songs written quickly – Ibid., p.109; lyrics later – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 415.
  10. Open to suggestions – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.107. emotional piano chords – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 411-12.
  11. song composing, arrangement, and production – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 409 and 412. Title chose Ibid. p. 412.
  12. Movie’s ultimate success – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.112. Costing $3.5 million to make, Saturday Night Fever earned an impressive $237.1 million –see “Saturday Night Fever, Box Office Information”Box Office Mojo – retrieved May 26, 2014. Soundtrack album certified God and Platinum -http://www.beegees-world.com/bio_gplat.html -Retrieved February 1 , 2018. certified 16x Multi-Platinum on November 16, 2017 – see https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/- retrieved January 24, 2018.
  13. Number one hit internationally – “Songs Written by the Gibb Family on the International Charts – Part 3”(PDF). http://www.brothersgibb.org/download/page-3.pdf – Retrieved January 24, 2018; number 3 in Britain – The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 421.
  14. Continued with their readiness to work – The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 467.©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Fig. 1- “Bee Gees Monument unveiled tomorrow-1=” by Sheba_Also 43,000 photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Fig. 2- “Saturday Night Fever Record Sleeve Coptic Journal” by Pressbound is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Fig. 3- “Los Angeles 2010” by Martin Wippel is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Fig. 4 – “#mcm 70’s John Travolta! “tell me about it, stud.”” by Stephen O is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Fig. 5 – “fonts from the flea market” by Buro Destruct is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Fig. 6 – “TV Guide #1367” by trainman74 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Fig. 7 – personal collection.

Fig. 8 – “John Travolta (as Danny Zuko of “Grease”) figure at Madame Tussauds Hollywood” by Luke Rauscher is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Fig. 9 – “Redcliffe Bee Gees Way after opening-39=” by Sheba_Also 43,000 photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Fig. 10 – “Redcliffe Bee Gees Way after opening-09=” by Sheba_Also 44,000+ photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Fig. 11 – “Barry Gibb (1)” by tomasbinanti is licensed under CC0 1.0 

Fig. 12 – “Los Angeles 2010” by Martin Wippel is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Text©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Anglo-American musical duo: Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White.

Flo Morrissey.

English singer and songwriter Flo Morrissey (b. 1994) and Richmond, Virginia-based producer and musician Matthew E. White (b. 1982) teamed up for a collaborative full duet album of ten cover songs called Gentlewoman, Ruby Man. It was recorded in 2016 and released in January 2017 on Glassnote Records.

Following months of preparation, the cover songs were selected from a wide range of musical artists and recorded in 10 days at the studios of Spacebomb Records, a label White founded in downtown Richmond in 2011.

The album’s first track is their cover version of Little Wings’ Look At What The Light Did Now. Little Wings is a band founded in the late 1990’s in San Luis Obispo, California, by Alabama-born indie rocker Kyle Field (b. 1972). The original Little Wings version of the song is a vocal duet with acoustic guitar released in 2002. The song received limited reviews at the time though they were mostly positive.

Matthew E. White.

Matthew White first learned about Flo Morrissey from an article about her on The Guardian website. They met at a music event in London in October 2015.

The two international artists were signed to different record labels, but found out they had musical interests in common and that they worked well together. Morrissey and White discovered, for instance, that they both liked recording cover versions of great songs, especially ones that were personally resonating. As young performers they liked that they could hone their vocal performances as well as work with production values using these others’ time-honored musical compositions. Further, they could by way of their contemporary version, introduce these songs to a new generation of listeners.

They started to compile a list on Spotify of around 500 songs. From there, they chose their list of just ten songs. Morrissey and White discovered that the songs they ultimately selected weren’t necessarily the ones they went into the project expecting to do. The material they chose included newer compositions and extended into genres, such as R&B, they hadn’t first thought about singing.

The indie rock production featured, as planned, 10 songs from a diverse group of musical artists, such as Leonard Cohen, Frank Ocean, the Bee Gees, and James Blake.

Gentlewoman, Ruby Man tracklist:
1. Look At What The Light Did Now (Little Wings Cover)
2. Thinking ‘Bout You (Frank Ocean Cover)
3. Looking For You (Nino Ferrer Cover)
4. Color Of Anything (James Blake Cover)
5. Everybody Loves The Sunshine (Roy Ayers Cover)
6. Grease (Bee Gees Cover)
7. Suzanne (Leonard Cohen Cover)
8. Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground Cover)
9. Heaven Can Wait (Charlotte Gainsbourg Cover)
10. Govindam (George Harrison Cover)

Photo credits: Flo Morrissey performing – Photo by John Harvey Pegg – https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnharveypegg/21133070240/ CC BY 2.0

Matthew E. White performing- Photo by Kim Matthäi Leland
CC BY-SA 3.0

5 African-American Classical Composers: William Grant Still, Florence B. Price, Harry T. Burleigh, William Levi Dawson, and Mary Lou Williams.

mary lou williams

African American pianist, composer and arranger, and vocalist Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). She  demonstrated remarkable musical talent in modern genres as diverse as classical, free jazz, hard bop, swing, big band, and gospel.

By John P. Walsh

Following the tradition set down by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the White House officially announced that June 2017 was to be African American Music Month. The proclamation in part reads: “During June, we pay tribute to the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to American music. The indelible legacy of these musicians who have witnessed our Nation’s greatest achievements, as well as its greatest injustices give all Americans a richer, deeper understanding of American culture. Their creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.” A very nice tribute although I would hasten to attach onto its last sentence – “and all other American musical genres.” This could then include the significant contributions by African American artists to classical music such as William Grant Still (1895-1978), Florence B. Price (1887-1953), Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990), and Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). 

William Grant Still (1895-1978).

William Grant Still, Symphony No.1 in A flat major “Afro-American” (1930) performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi. When this symphony was performed in 1931 by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Williiam Grant Still became the first African-American composer to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra.
william-grant-still-9495333-1-402.jpg

William Grant Still (1895-1978) is the “dean” of African-American classical music composers.

Born in Mississippi, William Grant Still grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, both in Ohio.

In addition to composing over 150 works— including five symphonies and eight operas— William Grant Still is an African American composer with several musical “firsts” to his name.

He is the first African American composer to conduct a major American symphony orchestra—the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936.

He is the first to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra—his Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, “Afro-American” (1930) by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931.

Still’s first symphony (he wrote five) sought to express Black culture within mainly European classical symphonic tools and forms available at that time.

About his intentions for the music, Still wrote: “I seek in the ‘Afro-American Symphony’ to portray not the higher type of colored American, but the sons of the soil, who still retain so many of the traits peculiar to their African forebears; who have not responded completely to the transforming effect of progress.” (see- Catherine Parsons Smith’s William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2000, p. 121.)

Arranged in four movements of about 6 minutes each, Still headlined each movement with quotes from poems by early 20th-century African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). In 1899 Dunbar published his Poems of Cabin and Field and died tragically of tuberculosis at 33 years old in 1906. The “Afro-American” Symphony’s 4 movements are entitled: I. Moderato assai (“Longing”); II. Adagio (“Sorrow”); III. Animato (“Humor”) and IV. Lento, con risoluzione (“Aspiration.”)

The stanza by Paul Laurence Dunbar that William Grant Still selected to follow the fourth movement reads:

“Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul,
Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll
In characters of fire.
High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky,
Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,
And truth shall lift them higher.”

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), African-American poet, standing, at right, in a photograph of the Howard University Class of 1900.

William Grant Still is the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company—his Troubled Island (1939) by The New York Opera Company in 1949.

Finally, William Grant Still is the first to have an opera performed on national television—his A Bayou Legend (1941) in 1981.

William Grant Still, In Memoriam of the Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (1944) performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Szell.

Florence B. Price (1887-1953).

Florence B. Price.

Florence B. Price (1887-1953) is the first African-American female composer to have a major symphonic composition performed by a leading American symphony orchestra. This occurred on June 15, 1933 in Chicago in conjunction with the city’s A Century of Progress International Exposition (Chicago was founded in 1833).

Visitors can still see the Auditorium Theatre on Michigan Avenue where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor completed in 1932 in a world premiere performance. That historic concert also included musical works by Harry T. Burleigh (main entry below), tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977), and mixed-race English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) who was known as the “African Mahler.”

Florence B. Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas into a mixed-race family (her father was a prominent dentist and African American) and later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and taught piano, organ and voice at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia as well as privately.

In 1927 she moved to Chicago where in a musical career as a composer that produced over 300 works, her métier blossomed. Price’s music often incorporated rhythms expressed in Africa-based musical traditions and African-American folk tunes and spirituals arranged in elaborate orchestrations derived from the European Romantic composers.

In addition to Symphony No. 1 in E minor (1932)some of Florence B. Price’s best known works include her Fantasie Negre (1929), Mississippi River suite (1934), and Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (1940). In 1940 Florence B. Price was the first female African American composer  inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

A word on Florence B. Price’s well-known Mississippi River suite (1934): Price composed it in 1934 with a dedication to one of her prominent teachers at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago where Price continued her musical studies after she arrived to the city in 1927.

The suite uses the contrivance of a boat navigating the Mississippi River and along its path experiencing its diverse expressions of human life and history as told in musical sections.

The FIRST part depicts dawn on the river.

The SECOND part portrays its American Indian heritage by using an array of percussion.

The THIRD part expresses the African American experience along the river utilizing well-known negro spirituals— such as, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen; Stand Still Jordan; Go Down, Moses; and Deep River.

The FINAL part has the suite conclude with a melodic cacophony of contemporary tunes during the 1930’s including River Song, Lalotte, and Steamboat Bill.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (1902-1967).

Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes (1902-1967).

Langston Hughes, who was born in Joplin, Missouri, said he wrote the poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, after he was crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1919 and inspiration struck. Even after he helped lead the Harlem Renaissance in New York City as a poet, novelist, and playwright in the 1920’s, Hughes, who grew up in the American Midwest (Kansas, Illinois and Ohio), said he always knew the Heartland best.

Florence Price – from Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (1940). I. Andante – Allegro ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra John Jeter

William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990).

William L. Dawson American composer

William L. Dawson (1899-1990), born in Alabama, was a composer and arranger, trombonist, and music educator. Dawson continually was learning so to use the rich heritage of African American music and later African music as the basis for many types of music that he composed and arranged.

After graduating with highest honors from Tuskegee Institute he studied music and composition in Kansas City and Chicago. For many years he performed as first trombonist with the Chicago Civic Orchestra.

It is Dawson’s work as music director with the 100-voice Tuskegee Institute Choir that led to many distinguished and celebrated national and international choral performances in the mid-twentieth century.

As a composer William Dawson is most famous for his Negro Folk Symphony which he wrote in 1934 but revised in 1952 after studying indigenous African music throughout West Africa. Dawson visited several countries in West Africa that year to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony  which was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.

The three movements of the symphony are entitled: “The Bond of Africa,” “Hope in the Night” and “O, le’ me shine, shine like a Morning Star!”

William Dawson conducts the Tuskegee Institute Choir in 1955 in his arrangement of the negro spiritual Listen to the Lambs written by R. Nathaniel Dett first performed in 1913.

In 1952, Dawson visited several countries in West Africa to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony which was first written in 1934. The new work was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.

Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

burleigh

Harry Burleigh (1866–1949), born in Erie, Pennsylvania, was an eminent African-American baritone, and influential classical composer and arranger.

As a student at New York City’s National Conservatory of Music of America, Burleigh became associated with Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) who heard the baritone sing spirituals and encouraged him to create arrangements for these melodies.

With the Czech composer’s active interest, Burleigh developed into one of America’s most important composers and arrangers of spirituals. He created arrangements for more than 100 songs including “Deep River,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” which are classics today. Burleigh’s “In Christ there is no East or West” remains a church hymnal standard. Burleigh set poems by Walt Whitman to music also.

When Burleigh was accepted in 1894 as baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan—a post where he stayed for over 50 years—it was by a vote of the congregation which had never allowed African-Americans to worship there before. The congregation voted to a tie—that was broken in Harry Burleigh’s favor by congregant by J. P. Morgan.

While Burleigh’s advocacy of negro melodies through writing, speaking engagements and new arrangements was always indefatigable, he found time to coach many well-known singers, including Enrico Caruso, Roland Hayes, Marion Anderson, and Paul Robeson.

Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).

Mary Lou Williams,

A self-taught pianist, by the time she was 20 years old Mary Lou Williams was a professional musician and touring bandleader.

In her formative years she looked for inspiration to Chicago bandleader and composer “Lovie” Austin (1887–1972). Quite soon Williams’ own records as a pianist and arranger began to sell briskly.

In a 50-year-plus career she wrote and arranged music for bandleaders such as Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and Benny Goodman (1909-1986) and served the beloved mentor to slightly younger African-American musical artists who became household names in the world of jazz: Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), Miles Davis (1926-1991), Tadd Dameron (1917-1965), Bud Powell (1924-1966), and Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), to name a few.

Mary Lou Williams’ album, Zodiac Suite, released in 1945 and remastered here from the original acetates, is a 12-part interpretation of the astrological zodiac composed and performed on the piano by Mary Lou Williams who is accompanied by two of her hand-picked session musicians—all innovators from the clubs of New York—namely, Canadian jazz double-bassist Al Lucas (1912-1983) and American jazz and rhythm & blues drummer Jack “The Bear” Parker.

Each movement is a set of classically-inspired jazz tone poems for the signs of the horoscope: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.