The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The murdered civil rights leader has become a character in opera, oratorios and musicals as well as popular songs

January 15, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the holiday to celebrate the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King (below), the American civil rights pioneer who was born on this day in 1929, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1968, when he was 39.

For more biographical information, here is the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

There will be many celebrations, including the 38th annual one at noon in the State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison, which will be broadcast live and recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

Music is always an important art of honoring King. There will be spirituals and gospel choirs.

But King himself has become a musical, and dramatic, figure.

Maybe you knew that.

The Ear didn’t.

So here are some links to sample from YouTube, which has many of King’s speeches and much of the music done to honor King over the years.

MLK is a character is the opera by Philip Glass called “Appomattox,” which deals with civil rights from The Civil War onwards and was commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera.

Here is part of it in rehearsal:

And in performance:

And here is the one-hour video called “I Have a Dream”:

Do you know of any other musical works in which Martin Luther King Jr. actually figures and plays a role?

What piece of classical music would you choose to honor King?- Perhaps the poignant aria “Give Me Freedom” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo” (performed in the YouTube video at the bottom) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” finale about universal brotherhood.

Let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Ear asks again — why hasn’t an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. been written? What classical music should be played to honor him?

January 16, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is an important and, in some parts of the United States, still  controversial holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

martin luther king 2

Such an occasion and its artistic celebration assumes even greater importance now that we are on the verge of the Trump Era, which starts this coming Friday with the Inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Once again The Ear looked for classical music to mark the occasion and the holiday. But the results he found were limited. Do we really need to hear Samuel Barber’s famous and sadly beautiful but overplayed “Adagio for Strings” again on this day?

So The Ear asks the same question he asked two years ago: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about the pioneering civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 and would today be 88? 

Martin Luther King speech

Here is a link to that more extended post that asks the same question:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/classical-music-why-hasnt-anyone-written-an-opera-about-martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-civil-rights-movement/

If you know of such an opera, please let The Ear know in the COMMENT section.

Or perhaps a composer could write something about King similar to Aaron Copland‘s popular “A Lincoln Portrait.” King certainly provided lots of eloquent words for a inspiring text or narration.

And if there is classical music that you think is appropriate to mark the occasion, please leave word of it, with a YouTube link if possible.

In the meantime, in the YouTube video below The Ear offers the first movement from the “Afro-American Symphony” by the underperformed  black American composer William Grant Still (1874-1954):


Classical music: Civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. was the Abraham Lincoln of his age – a Great Emancipator. To celebrate his birthday, here is Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.”

January 18, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today we celebrate the birthday of the civil rights pioneer Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Ear thinks of him as The Great Emancipator of the modern age.

As the Abraham Lincoln of our age.

Just as Lincoln freed slaves, Martin Luther King Jr. (below) helped free so many members of different social groups from discrimination.

martin luther king 2

Blacks, of course.

But also women.

Latinos.

Asians.

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

Disabled people.

The poor.

The old and elderly.

So it seems fitting, then, to listen to Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.”

The Ear loves the way that the Gertrude Stein-like repetitions of Lincoln’s own words build into a moving testament of the need for both compassion and democracy – a combination that today’s right-wing freedom-spouting and Constitution-citing bigots might do well to cultivate.

So we can listen about one man and think about the other.

Here is a great version, in a YouTube video at the bottom, with actor Henry Fonda as the narrator. There are other fine versions, including one with Leonard Bernstein conducting and composer Aaron Copland speaking the narration. But this version is the one that most moves The Ear.

And please leave your COMMENTS about this offering or other music appropriate to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day for others to read.


Classical music: On Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration Day, The Ear wonders: Why aren’t there more African-American players in and audiences for classical music? Check out this website devoted to black classical musicians.

January 21, 2013
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It happens every year around this time.

Only this year it is a two-fer, so the feelings or thoughts are more intense.

That’s because today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, complete with live radio and delayed TV broadcasts of ceremonies from the Wisconsin State Capitol (at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio and at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television)  and other places. (Below is the poster for Martin Luther King Jr. ceremonies with host Jonathan Overby.)

MLK Day at Capitol

But this year it is also President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration Day – well, at least the ceremonial one since the official one took place by law yesterday on Sunday. (In 2008, cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below bottom) played with violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Gabriela Montero at the first Inauguration.)

obama

YoYoMaObama INaugurationGetty Images

Anyway, on this day I always think back to all the many concerts I go to in a year — professional, amateur and student concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And I always find myself asking:

Why don’t I see more African-American audiences at the concerts. And especially, Why don’t I see more African-American players in the various symphonic and chamber groups or as soloists? 

Sure, I see a lot of whites and a lot of Asians. I see some Hispanics, though also far too few. But I am especially struck at how few African Americans I see – although opera seems to outpace symphonies and chamber groups in this regard. (Sorry to say, I can’t think of any black conductors, violinists or cellists and only one pianist — at bottom, you will find a YouTube video of the African-American pianist Awadagin Pratt performing J.S. Bach at a concert in 2009 at the Obama White House — even though the sports world has at least some black managers, coaches and quarterbacks.)

I don’t see many African-Americans in the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), whose music director and conductor John DeMain is world-famous for his Grammy-winning black production of Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess”:

MSO-HALL

Or in the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below):

WCO lobby

Or in the University of Wisconsin Symphony or Chamber Orchestra and UW Choral Union (below):

UW Choral Union  12:2011

Or even in the middle school and high school groups sponsored by WYSO (below).

Thomas Buchhauser  conducting WYSO Philharmonia Cheng-Wei Wu

It is similar to the thoughts I have every New Year’s Day when I tune in the “Live From Vienna” concert with the Vienna Philharmonic and am once again disappointed to see how few women are in that august ensemble – even in the year 2013.

Vienna Philharmonic

That’s not to say that we won’t today see and hear a lot of blacks in music. But I suspect we will hear jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, spirituals and pop.

And sure, some people may say: Well, after all, those are the traditional genres of music-making in the African-American culture and community.

And they are right in large part, and those are excellent forms of music.

But there is also a large number of blacks who have contributed to classical music. And more blacks – to say nothing of all whites and members of other ethnic groups – could stand to learn more about the contributions of African-Americans to classical music.

Does the cause of such ignorance have to do with racism and bias?

With faulty music education?

With family or community  values?

With a lack of role models?

With the lack of aggressive recruiting and hiring by local groups?

Now it just so happens that there are websites that offer visitors comprehensive histories and biographies of blacks in classical music – and even offers a quiz to see how much you know about who they were and the contributions they made.

So on this day when all of the U.S. and, one hopes, the world celebrate the achievements of African-Americans, maybe people can take time to visit this site, educate themselves and get a renewed and greater appreciation for the role that African-Americans have played in classical music.

Here are is a link to one of those websites:

http://Africlassical.com

Do you have observations to offer in the COMMENTS section about causes of remedies of such a shortage?

Names of composers and performers to pass along?

Is it something we have to accept as a cultural given?

Are there other websites you can suggest where readers can learn about African Americans and classical music?

 


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