The Horn

Contact Me

Receive Email Updates

African- Americans And Classical Music - A Vexed Question

   Critic, composer and  blogger Greg Sandow has an interesting  discussion of why more African-Americans aren't involved in classical music today on his blog , and it's also being discussed on his Facebook page . 

  Although classical music is not very popular among blacks in America , black classical musicians have made a great contribution to it as perfomers , particularly opera singers .  Leontyne Price ,
the late Shirley Verret , Grace Bumbry ,Reri Grist , Simon Estes ,  Willard White ,  Denyce Graves,
Marian Anderson  and others are among the greatest names in opera and  the concert hall  in the 20th century .  James De Preist ,nephew of Anderson , is an eminent conductor who has appeared with virtually all the world's greatest orchestras for decades with great success , and  there are quite a few other  outstanding  black classical musicians, too many to name here.

   William Grant Still  was one of the first blacks in America to become known as a classical composer ,and was born in 1895 , and  George Walker ,born in 1922 , is a Pulitzer-prize-winning composer who taught at Princeton for many years . 

   But only about 1 per cent of  the musicians in  America's orchestras  are black .  However, this is not the  fault of the orchestras, because very few blacks have aimed for careers in orchestras and gone through the years of rigorous training necessary for a  career here .  Auditions for these orchestras are held behind a screen , and each applicant is given a number to ensure absolute anonymity , so there is no chance of discrimination on the basis of race or gender .   The audition committees , members of the orchestras who
judge the applicants at auditions, are not interested in a musician's skin color .The only thing that matters is how you play.

   African-Americans are also not a common sight at concerts and opera ? Why ?  There are at least two reasons .  Very few of them are exposed to it when young , so few of them
realize how enjoyable it is .  In addition , there is the unfortunate misconception that
classical music is an "elitist" and snobbish  kind of music which is only for the rich and snobbish . 

   But did great composers such as Beethoven , Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky etc conciously write their music only for people who happen to be white ?
Or do living ones such as John Adams, Philip Glass,  Elliott Carter,  and others  do this
today ? Of course not . Composers are delighted  if any one listens to their music , and at
least tries to keep an open mind .

   Jazz , which some have called "America's classical music " ,  had its origins in the
traditions of African-American vernacular music , yet is  avidly listened  to by countless
people all over the world .  Europe has produced many important Jazz musicians and there
are Jazz festivals all over Europe .  The late Michael Jackson was enormously popular all
over  the world , and  toured  the globe .

   So why should only people who happen to be white listen to classical music ? 
 It has been popular in Asia for many years ,  and  is growing  by leaps and bounds in China.
 Tokyo has more symphony orchestras than New York ,Chicago , or other major U.S.
cities.  Asian musicians such as Lang Lang , Mitsuko Uchida and others  are world famous,
and  virtually  all of  the top U.S. orchestras have many Asian-American or Asian-born
members , mostly string players .  The New York Philharmonic alone has no fewer than eight  musicians from South  Korea , and others from Japan and China . Top U.S. music schools such as Juilliard , the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia,  the New England Conservatory in Boston and elsewhere are full of  talented aspiring  young virtuosos.

   If more African-Americans would just give classical music a chance , they might decide
to make it a part of their lives .  There's no reason why they should not.

Posted: Jun 10 2011, 04:08 PM by the horn | with no comments
Add to Bloglines Add to Add to digg Add to Facebook Add to Google Bookmarks Add to Newsvine Add to reddit Add to Stumble Upon Add to Shoutwire Add to Squidoo Add to Technorati Add to Yahoo My Web