by Richard H. Trame, S.J.
Born in Tucson, Arizona, and educated there through the University of Arizona, Ulysses Simpson Kay (b. 1917) is regarded as one of the foremost Black American composers of his time. Among his prominent mentors were Bernard Rogers, Howard Hanson and Paul Hindemith. His numerous compositions cover the whole gambit of instrumental, vocal, and choral music. His lyrical style is distinctive for rhythmic vitality, contrasting sonorities, and crisp dissonant counterpoint.
Alleluia is the third motet of his Choral Triptych for mixed chorus, piano or organ and optional string orchestra. It was commissioned by Daniel Pinkham on a grant from the Ford Foundation.
Canadian born and American educated, Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) between 1913 and 1932 brought his Choir of the Hampton Institute of Virginia to national and international distinction. He is best remembered for his oratorios and choral music such as Ave Maria composed about 1930 and provided with both the Latin and English text and Let Us Break Bread Together (1936). About 1920 he won the Francis Boot Prize for his well-known Don't Be Weary, Traveler.
After concluding graduate studies in Education, Wendell Whalum (1931-1988) commenced a life-long teaching and conducting career chiefly at Morehouse College, where his Men's Glee Club became justly famous. His irrepressible ebullience also enlivened music in many Atlanta churches. He was a prolific and tasteful arranger of Spirituals.
About 1975 he arranged for a-cappella male chorus Roberta Lee, an old Negro love song researched and published by Willis L. James (1900-1966). Whalum likewise arranged for mixed chorus with accompaniment the famed old Negro hymn tune utilizing John Newton's (1775-1807) poem Amazing Grace. The program this evening will conclude with another Whalum arrangement Who'll Be a Witness? (1988).
While pursuing a career as concert pianist, Margaret A. Bonds (1913-1972) also wrote 85 memorable compositions. Residing in her native Chicago, she founded the Allied Arts Academy for talented Black children. When later in the 1960's she settled in Los Angeles she served and taught at the Inner City Repertory Theater and the Inner City Institute. While in Los Angeles, she wrote choral arrangements for the Los Angeles Jubilee Singers.
In 1941 she composed two versions of Langston Hughes' The Negro Speaks of Rivers, one for voice and piano, the second for mixed chorus and piano which she dedicated to Albert McNeil and his Sanctuary Choir. In 1962 she published her setting of Etienne De Grellet's (1773-1835) poem I Shall Pass Through This World Alone for unaccompanied mixed chorus.
Baritone soloist, Robert A. Harris' (b. 1938) career has centered on concert performance and choral conducting mostly at Wayne State University, Michigan State University, and Northwestern University. He has likewise served as Minister of Music at various churches in these locales.
His compositions embrace quite disparate instrumental forms, together with choral works mostly on liturgical and sacred texts. A very recent, 1988, example of his choral music is The Lamb on a poem of William Blake (1757- 1827) for four-part treble choir.
A native of Nigeria, Fila Sowande (b.1905) split his education and professional career between Lagos and London. In his later life he settled permanently in the United States where he taught at Howard University and the University of Pittsburgh.
He was the first African composer to combine African elements with Western art forms and styles. He is also well-known for his organ arrangements of African folk songs and Negro Spirituals. Nobody Knows The Trouble I See emerges as one of the earliest known Spirituals, a typical "Shout" spiritual of sorrow and lament.
In 1971 the Afro-Brazilian composer Carlos Alberto Pinto Fonseca composed his Missa Afro-Brasileira, of which the "Kyrie" this evening is the initial movement. He noted that ever since Pope John XXIII encouraged the use of folk and popular music in the liturgy, he had wanted to compose a Brazilian Mass, working with the same choral "language" based on Brazilian folklore that he had used in his previous arrangements and compositions, abolishing barriers between sacred, classical and popular music and to portray the primitive force, the impulse and warmth, of the Afro rhythm.
Lena J. McLin (b. 1928), while born, raised and educated in Atlanta, pursued her higher education and career in Chicago. There for many years she was an active choral conductor in school, church and community choruses, and founded a small opera company.
Obviously influenced by her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, the famed "father of Gospel music" she has composed a vast amount of vocal and choral gospel music, Her Sanctus and Benedictus was composed in 1971.
John Wesley Work III (1901-1967) after an extensive education at the Julliard School, Columbia U. Teacher’s' College and Yale University, spent his entire teaching career (1927- 1966) at Fisk University as choral conductor, teacher, lecturer, and department chairman. There he succeeded his father J. W. Work, II, who wrote black folk songs, as well as published the renowned treatise Folk Songs of the American Negro. He freely arranged in 1953, I got a House in Baltimo an example of a Black social song which Work had included in his own American Negro Songs, published in 1940.
After graduating from the University of Louisville, Kentucky native James Furman (b. 1937) served as music instructor first in Louisville's public schools, and then similarly in those of Mamaroneck, New York. Since 1967, he has taught choral conducting, theory, composition and orchestra at Western Connecticut State College in Danbury.
In 1974 he cooperated with the late Leonard Bernstein in producing at Danbury the Charles lves Centennial Concert. Among his best-known works is his 40 minute oratorio I Have A Dream.
His Hehlehlooyah, A Joyful Expression for unaccompanied mixed chorus, was composed and premiered in 1976 in Danbury.
by Albert McNeil
First references to the religious folksongs of Blacks began to appear in the early Nineteenth Century. Musicologists have agreed that the name came into common usage in the 1860s. By that time, the spiritual repertory must have been quite extensive. These songs, as folksongs, are impossible to trace or pinpoint in their original form. The music is adapted to the taste of both those who sing and those who listen. Consciously, or unconsciously, one may (1) improvise upon a song already in existence, (2) combine material from several songs, or (3) compose the song entirely of new materials. Examples of early titles - Sabbath Has No End; Roll, Jordon, Roll; Dis is de Trouble of de World; Jesus on de Water-Side; Nobody Knows de Trouble I've Had; Joshua fit de Battle. This devout interest in Christianity and prophetic characters came as a result of the great conversion of slaves during a sixty-year period from the turn of the Eighteenth Century to Emancipation. Our repertory consists of traditional arrangements in call-and-response- style, such as Walk Together Children, John the Revelator, and other more contemporary forms. We sing in the traditional a cappella concert arrangements made famous by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, circa 1869-1875. The little group of Jubilee Singers from Fisk - seven men and four women - carried their songs to Queen Victoria at the Court of St. James in 1869. The world learned of Negro spirituals, then, for the first time.
This year's repertory honors the 90th birthday of Jester Hairston, composer, arranger, actor (NBC's "Amen") whose arrangements of spirituals are known throughout the world. He has honored our ensemble on many occasions as director/soloist.
To Black people, the White gospel hymns belonged to the same class as the standard Protestant hymns. The spirituals, jubilees (a jubilant setting of the spiritual), and "church songs" were products of their own creativity. The differences began to appear in the 1930s, particularly in Chicago. Its churches produced the most celebrated of the pioneering writers and singers.
The original Black Gospels in the early period of their history were similar to their White counterparts - sacred ballad-type songs, almost always carrying a personal message to God with titles such as, If I Don't Get There, If You See My Savior Jell Him I; On My Way, When I've Done My Best, Hide Me In Thy Bosom, Search Me, Lord.
Thomas Dorsey (b. 1899), called the "Father of Gospel Music." distinguished himself with an abundance of songs, including the famous Precious Lord Take My Hands, included in our repertory.
The Black forms of Gospel Music presently include elaborate jazz and rock arrangements using synthesizers, small vocal combos, large choruses, and a distinguished array of performer-composers, such as James Cleveland, Aretha Franklin, the Winans, and the sensational vocal jazz oriented gospel group "Take Six." Included in our program is an original gospel selection Worthy To Be Praised written by our accompanist, Byron Smith. This particular treatment represents a contemporary approach, involving chromatic harmonies and an a cappella section.
One of the most striking features of African life was the importance given to music and dance. For every activity in the life of the individual or the community, there was an appropriate music. It was an integral part of life from the hour of birth to beyond the grave. Included in our repertory are two African songs - one in the Xhosa language, the other, in Ga. Hareje, the Song of the Harvest, is a prayer of thanksgiving to the gods of the field for the rich return of fresh food.
THE MUSIC OF EDWARD "DUKE" ELLINGTON
Despite his limited formal training, other than piano lessons, Ellington was perhaps one of the greatest jazz innovators of all time. His experimentation with large jazz bands, inclusion of "new" instrumental combinations, collaboration with his side men in collective improvisation, and his work with Billy Strayhorn have all contributed to his international reputation. He left more than 2,000 compositions - an impressive record equaled by few composers in the history of American music. Best known of the hundreds of songs he wrote were Sophisticated Lady, Mood Indigo, I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good, and I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.