A Look At Female Classical Music Composers

 

Depending on the instrument you play or your passion for classical music, you may have heard the works of one or a few female composers. Pianists, for example, may know of or even have played Clara Schumann. However, the vast majority of the world has never heard of the likes of Amy Beach, Fanny Mendelssohn, or Florence Price, and that is quite unfortunate.

Women have actually made significant contributions to the classical music world. However, they remain on unequal footing with their male counterparts. So for International Women’s Day, here’s a look at some notable and some forgotten women composers throughout history.

Clara Schumann - Women ComposersClara Schumann (1819-1896): Clara Schumann was not only the wife of composer Robert Schumann, but also one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. Her career began at a young age. At age 11, she went on a concert tour of various European cities and gave her first solo concert in Leipzig. Later, during her marriage to Robert, she met Johannes Brahms and not only helped encourage his career, but also was the first to perform publicly any Brahms work. She premiered several of his works during her career including the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.

She also began composing at a young age. In fact, she wrote her piano concerto when she was just fourteen and performed it at age sixteen (with Mendelssohn conducting). As she grew older and focused on other responsibilities, she found it difficult to find time to compose. Her output decreased greatly when she reached 36 years old. Her works include piano pieces, the aforementioned piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, songs, and three Romances for violin and piano.

 

Fanny Mendelssohn - Female ComposersFanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847): Like Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn was a pianist and composer. She was Felix Mendelssohn’s sister and the pair shared a deep love of music. Felix arranged to have some of Fanny’s songs published under his name, due to prevailing attitudes toward women publishing music, which actually led to an embarrassing moment. Queen Victoria received Felix at Buckingham Palace and expressed her intention of singing her favorite of his songs. He confessed it was actually by Fanny.

Fanny Mendelssohn was very prolific. She composed over 460 pieces including a piano trio, books of piano solo pieces and songs, and a cycle of pieces depicting the months of the year titled Das Jahr. This last work was written on colored sheets of paper with illustrations by her husband, Wilhelm.

Fanny passed away after suffering a stroke while rehearsing one of her brother Felix’s oratorios. Felix completed his String Quartet No. 6 in F minor in memory of her.

 

Louise Farrenc - Women Classical ComposersLouise Farrenc (1804-1875): Louise Farrenc is undoubtedly France’s first female composer. Born into a family of sculptors, she showed early talent in music and studied under such masters as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Hummel. She married a flute student and together they gave concerts throughout France. The couple opened a publishing house together, Éditions Farrenc, which became one of France’s leading music publishers for 40 years.

Like other female composers around her time, she was a pianist from a young age and wrote many works for the instrument. However, while she wrote exclusively for piano until 1830, she expanded her range and wrote works for orchestra starting in 1834. She wrote 3 symphonies, a wind sextet, vocal works, choral works, and chamber music in addition to music for piano. Unlike Schumann and Mendelssohn, Farrenc’s works remained largely forgotten until the late 20th century during a surge in interest in women composers. In December 2013, Farrenc was the subject of the BBC Radio Three “Composer of the Week” program.

 

Rachel Portman - Female ComposersRachel Portman (1960-present): Rachel Portman is best known as a composer of film scores and, unlike our previous composers, is still writing today. She was born in Surrey, England and became interested in music at a young age. She started composing at the age of 14 and subsequently studied music at Worcester College, Oxford. During her time in school, she started experimenting with writing music for student films and theater productions. After that, she wrote music for drama in BBC and Channel 4 films.

Since then, she has written over 100 scores for film, TV, and theater including The Legend of Bagger Vance, Mona Lisa Smile, Emma, Benny and Joon, The Lake House, Oliver Twist, and The Duchess. Her most famous soundtrack compositions are for the movies Chocolat and The Cider House Rules which was used in the Pure Michigan commercials.

Rachel Portman was the first female composer to win an Academy Award for Best Musical or Comedy Score. She won for Emma in 1996. She has also won a Primetime Emmy Award for her work on Bessie.

 

Florence Price - Woman ComposersFlorence Price (1960-present): Florence Price was not only a female composer, but also the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, her mother was a music teacher who guided her early musical training. She had her first piano performance at the age of four and published her first composition at the age of 11. After graduating high school at 14, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music. She graduated with honors in 1906.

After college, she moved back to Little Rock and was married. They moved to Chicago after a series of racial incidents. It was in Chicago where Florence entered her most fulfilling period of composition. She studied composition, orchestration, and organ with leading teachers and published four pieces for piano. Unfortunately, financial struggles led to a divorce and Florence became a single mother. To pay the bills, she worked as an organist for silent films and composed songs for radio ads (under a pen name). She submitted compositions for Wanamaker Foundation Awards and won first prize with her Symphony in E minor. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the symphony in 1933, making it the first composition by an African-American woman to be played by a major orchestra.

Florence Price’s music incorporates elements of African-American spirituals, Southern themes, and inspiration from blues, African-American church music, and modern urban sounds.

 

Amy Beach - Female Classical Music ComposersAmy Beach (1867-1944): Amy Beach was also a pianist as well as a composer. She is considered the first successful American female composer of art music. She was born a prodigy, able to sing 40 songs accurately by age one. She learned to sing counter-melody to her mother’s singing at age 2 and by age 3, she was reading. She composed simple waltzes at age 5. At age 14, Amy received a year of formal training in composition.

Her performance debut was when she was 16. She played until she was married at which time she agreed to limit her performance to two public recitals per year. She devoted herself to composition. However, her husband disapproved of her studying composition with a teacher. So other than her one year of formal training at 14, she was a self-taught composer. She collected every book she could find on theory, composition, and orchestration.

Her first success as a composer came with the performance of her Mass in E-flat major by the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra. It was the first piece the group performed composed by a woman. After that, she wrote many other works including her Piano Concerto, which she premiered as soloist with the Boston Symphony, and the Gaelic Symphony. Her compositions include symphonic works, choral works, chamber music, solo piano music, and songs (of which she wrote about 150).

 

Cecile Chaminade - women composersCécile Chaminade (1857-1944): Cécile Chaminade was a female composer in France whose music was largely financially successful. Born in Paris, she studied music with her mother at first and then piano, violin, and music composition later with other notable names. She began composing at a young age and when she was eight years old, she played some of her music for Georges Bizet who was impressed.

Cécile wrote character pieces for piano and salon songs – all of which were published. Many of her piano compositions received good reviews from critics and were favorites in Europe and America. In fact, when she traveled to the United States in 1908, she discovered that her Scarf Dance and the Ballet No. 1 were in the music libraries of many piano music lovers. Other notable compositions include her Concertstück in C sharp minor for piano and orchestra, ballet music for Callirhoë, and her Flute Concertino in D major. The latter remains one of the most popular of her works performed today.

In 1913, she was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, a first for a female composer.

 

We realize there are many other women we could list here. Follow the links below for more information on these and other women composers.

The Great Women Composers – Classic FM
10 Female Composers You Should Know
18 Women Composers You Should Know
Five Forgotten Female Composers – BBC

 

Duke Ellington’s Three Black Kings

 

Duke Ellington - composers of Three Black KingsDuke Ellington. The name immediately brings to mind jazz. Born Edward Kennedy Ellington, his legacy as an accomplished pianist and bandleader lives on today. But do you know he was also a composer of symphonic music? In fact, it was his inventive use of the orchestra that many point to as a reason that jazz was elevated to an art form on par with more traditional music genres.

Among his symphonic works are pieces like Black, Brown, and Beige Suite, Harlem, For Jazz Band and Orchestra, New World a-Comin’, and Les Trois Rois Noirs or, in English, Three Black Kings. This last piece was actually Ellington’s final work, composed at the time of his death in 1974. While laying in his hospital bed, he reportedly gave his son, Mercer, final instructions on how to complete the work. However, how much detail he gave is not clear. Mercer once lamented, “Pop had many superstitions, and one of them was never to finish writing a piece until the day of its initial performance. I analyzed it, trying to figure out how he intended to end it, but it wasn’t easy, because he left me no clues.”

Mercer Ellington completed the work and the result is a lush and alluring piece infused with African motifs, a warm down-home feeling, and the unmistakable jazz sound that made Duke Ellington famous. The New York Times noted about the work’s premiere, “…with its crescendo of gospel rhythms and its expressionist symbols of marches and martyrdom…moves the spectator” and The Daily News hailed the work as “An intensely moving vision…”.

The title of the work refers to the 3 movements, each depicting a different “king”: Balthazar the black king of the Magi, King Solomon, and Ellington’s good friend Dr. Martin Luther King. Mercer Ellington explained that his father, “intended it as a eulogy for Martin Luther King and he decided to go back into myth and history to include other black kings. Primitivity, the opening movement, represents [Balthazar,] the black king of the Magi. King Solomon is next, with the song of jazz and perfume and dancing girls and all that, then the dirge for Dr. King. The piece owes its inspiration to a stained glass window of the three Kings Ellington saw in the Cathedral del Mar in Barcelona.”

Come hear Three Black Kings performed by the Parker Symphony Orchestra on February 25 at 7:30 PM. with a special performance by DU Lamont School of Music’s Art Bouton.

 

Denver Area Black History Month 2017 Events

 

Updated 2/16/2017

African-American heritage is celebrated year-round in the Mile High City, but during Black History Month, it truly comes alive. Below are just some of the various Denver area Black History Month events you can take part in this February.

Black History Month Denver Area ConcertCelebrating Black Composers Throughout The Centuries: The Parker Symphony Orchestra and Parker Arts are presenting an amazing concert featuring works by composers of color from the late 1700’s to the late 1900’s. The program includes “Three Black Kings” by Duke Ellington with a saxophone solo performed by Art Bouton, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and the Overture to “Treemonisha”, William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony”, and the Overture in D by Joseph Bologne (also known as The Black Mozart). February 25 at 7:30 at PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker, CO 80138 Tickets available here: https://parkerarts.ticketforce.com

Black American West Museum: Located in the former home of the first Black woman doctor in Denver, Dr. Justina Ford, the museum is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the African American men and women who helped settle and develop the West. They will be hosting several educational speaking events. 3091 California St., Denver, CO 80205

Stiles African American Heritage Center: The mission of this museum and heritage center is to teach African American history 365 days of the year. They are located in Five Points, the heart of Denver’s historic African American community. They were named The Best of Denver by Westword Magazine for their rich cultural teachings. 2607 Glenarm Pl., Denver, CO 80205

Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library: This 3 story library houses a full-service branch, collection archives, and The Western Legacies Museum and Charles R. Cousins Gallery. The name of the library is a combination of the last names of Omar Blair, the first black president of the Denver school board, and Elvin Caldwell, the first black Denver City Council member. They host events throughout the year as well as during Black History Month including Black History Live – Harriet Tubman on 2/18 and the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame exhibit of Mildred Pitts Walter from 1/23 to 2/28. There is also a solo art exhibition by Christine Fontenot titled Chromatic Attraction through March 24.2401 Welton St., Denver, CO 80205

Hallowed Ground: The University of Denver Black Student Alliance and The Black Actors Guild present a multi-dimensional theater performance celebrating the cherished spaces in African American culture. Admission is free. February 11 at 6:30 PM. University of Denver Lindsay Auditorium
Strum Hall, 2000 E. Asbury ave, Denver, CO 80210

Black History Live - Harriet Tubman2017 Black History Live – Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman is coming to Colorado. Becky Stone, a national humanities and Chautauqua scholar, will portray Harriet Tubman, showing everyone how one woman became an abolishonist and led hundreds of slaves to freedom. It will be held at various locations throughout the Denver metro area and beyond. See website for dates and locations. http://coloradohumanities.org/

A History Of Black Firefighters The Denver Firefighters Museum is presenting an exhibit about the brave African American firefighters who carved out a career in a historically segregated profession. 02/01/2017 to 02/28/2017. 1326 Tremont Place, Denver, Colorado 80204

History Colorado Center: The History Colorado museum presents the history of Colorado year-round, but on February 25, you can see Tim Johnson portray Sgt. Jack Hackett, a Buffalo Soldier. Buffalo Soldiers were the first peacetime all African American units formed after the Civil War. Ask him questions about the life of a soldier. 1200 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203

Author Toni Tipton-Martin Lecture, Food, and Book Signing: Enjoy food and a lecture with Toni Tipton-Martin, author of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. Book signing is also available. Wednesday, Feb. 22, 4-6 p.m. CentreTech S100 Rotunda, Community College of Aurora

“Black Women in Medicine”: Colorado premiere of documentary honoring black female doctors around the country, featuring rarely-seen documentation of black women practicing medicine during critical operations, emergency room urgent care and community wellness sessions. Includes first-hand accounts from black female pioneers in medicine and healthcare like Dr. Claudia Thomas and Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Airing, Sunday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. Colorado Public Television 12.1.

Incognito: A free, one-man play starring Michael Fosberg detailing the journey of discovery after learning that he is part African-American. A question-and-answer session with Fosberg will follow. Part of Aurora Race Forum Series. Wednesday, Feb. 15 – 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Community College of Aurora CentreTech Campus – 15900 E. Centretech Pkwy. – Aurora, CO 80011

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Facilities Fundraiser: Enjoy a complimentary breakfast, tour the Cleo Parker Robinson dance facilities and hear from the legendary Cleo Parker Robinson, who will be honored for her accomplishments (Presented by Keller Williams Downtown RH Luxe Group). Saturday, Feb. 25 – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cleo Parker Robinson Dance – 119 Park Ave. West – Denver, CO 80205

 

Other Colorado African American History Articles and Resources:

A Look Back At Colorado’s Rich African American History

Denver’s Five Points

Joplin’s Treemonisha – Rediscovered For A New Generation

Black History at Denver Story Trek

Dearfield, Colorado

William Grant Still: A Man Of Many Firsts

Get To Know “The Black Mozart” – Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Bibliography of African Americans In Colorado And The West

Quiz: Test your Black History Month knowledge

 

Get To Know “The Black Mozart” – Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

 

Composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier De Saint-Georges

Name: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

His family name is often misspelled as “Boulogne”. He is sometimes referred to as “The Black Mozart”.

Born: December 25, 1745

Occupations: Composer, champion fencer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of the Concert des Amateurs, a leading symphony in Paris. Was also a colonel in the French Revolution.

Other Interests: Dancing and ladies. He was a fine dancer, being invited to numerous balls and salons (and boudoirs) of highborn ladies.

Compositions: 3 sets of string quartets, 2 symphonies, 8 symphonie-concertantes, 6 operas comiques, three violin sonatas, 14 violin concertos, a sonata for harp and flute, a bassoon concerto, a clarinet concerto, a cello concerto, six violin duos, and a number of songs.

Notable Facts:

  • He is best remembered as the first classical composer of African ancestry. His father was a wealthy planter on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and his mother was an African slave. He was born on the island and moved to France as an early teenager.
  •  

  • Upon graduation from the Académie royale polytechnique des armes et de ‘l’équitation (fencing and horsemanship), he was made an officer of the king’s bodyguard which is where he acquired the title Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
  •  

  • He was such an amazing fencer that he was called “the god of arms”. At the age of 19, he had only suffered one defeat in a serious fencing match.
  •  

  • Not much is known of his early music training although several works were dedicated to or written for him including two Lolli concertos and Gossec’s six string trios. His first composition is a set of six string quartets inspired by Haydn.
  •  

  • He was a skilled violinist, but he also played the harpsichord.
  •  

  • He was an early Black Mason. He conducted the Concert des Amateurs, a top Paris orchestra, for years, but after the American Revolution, the organization suffered financial losses. The Masons helped him revive the orchestra as part of the Loge Olympique, renamed Le Concert Olympique, which was an exclusive Freemason Lodge.
  •  

  • He became fascinated by the stage, abandoning writing instrumental music in favor of opera around 1776. However, he suffered a serious setback when his nomination to be the next director of the Paris Opera was halted by a petition from three of its leading ladies. To avoid embarrassing the Queen, Marie-Antoinette, he withdrew his name. He went on to write operas and direct the Marquise de Montesson’s prestigious musical theater instead.
  •  

  • He volunteered to serve during the French Revolution. He joined the Garde Nationale, but even his duties couldn’t prevent him from giving concerts. He built an orchestra and reportedly gave concerts every week.
  •  

  • In 1794, he became colonel of the first cavalry brigade of “men of color” – the St. Georges’ Legion – which was also the first all black regiment in Europe. He lead 1,000 volunteers of color and halted what became known as “The Treason of Dumouriez”.
  •  

  • He was wrongfully imprisoned for 11 months and threatened with execution after returning from military duties in Sant-Domingue (now Haiti). He was released and lived in semi-retirement, unfortunately with health problems. He did, however, become even more devoted to his violin during this time saying, “Never before did I play it so well”. He died in 1799 in Paris aged 53.
  •  

  • President John Adams called him, “the most accomplished man in Europe”.

Below are some of his compositions you can listen to today. Or, to hear his music performed live, be sure to get tickets to the Parker Symphony’s upcoming concert “Celebrating Black Composers Throughout The Centuries”.

Symphony Op. 11, No. 1 in D major

Violin Concerto in G major, Op.2, No. 1

Quartet No. 3, Op. 14 in F minor

 

Joplin’s Treemonisha – Rediscovered For A New Generation

 

Scott Joplin - Composer of Treemonisha You may have heard of Scott Joplin and you may associate him with ragtime pieces such as “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag”, but did you know that he wrote two operas? One is titled “A Guest of Honor”. The other, “Treemonisha”, has been described as “charming and piquant and … deeply moving”. Although sometimes referred to as the “ragtime opera”, this is a misnomer because the rag style is used only sparingly. Instead, the score and libretto follow the European opera form with conventional arias, ensembles, and choruses.

Treemonisha is the name of the opera’s main character – a heroine who is kidnapped by a band of magicians. She eventually leads her community against the conjurers who prey on their superstition, teaching them the value of education and the liability of ignorance. It is said that the main character may have been inspired by Joplin’s second wife, Freddie Alexander, who herself was educated, well-read, and an activist for women and African-American rights.

While the story in the opera is entertaining and the music enchanting, the story behind the work and its performance is truly fascinating. It was completed in 1910. However, Joplin had to pay for a piano-vocal score to be published the following year. He sent a copy to the American Musician and Art Journal which wrote a glowing, full-page review of the work calling it, “entirely new phase of musical art and… a thoroughly American opera (style)”.

Unfortunately, the endorsement wasn’t enough. The opera was never fully staged in Joplin’s lifetime. Its only performance was a concert read-through in 1915 at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, where Joplin played the piano. This was also paid for by Joplin.

Treemonisha“Treemonisha” was subsequently forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1970 and performed for an entirely new generation. Excerpts were performed in 1971 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, but it was the world premiere in 1972 that really brought this amazing work back into the spotlight. A joint production of the music department of Morehouse College and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, it was directed by the famous African-American dancer Katherine Dunham and conducted by Robert Shaw. It was well received by critics and audiences alike.

Since then, it has been performed by the Houston Grand Opera, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, and throughout Europe including several times in Germany. You can hear the Parker Symphony Orchestra perform the Overture from “Treemonisha” on February 25, 2017 at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center in Parker, CO. Discover this beautiful and once-forgotten piece for yourself next month.

 

Musician Spotlight: Dan Reinschmidt Rocks!

 

Dan ReinschmidtIf you’ve attended any Parker Symphony concert over the last 3 years, you’ve definitely heard our trombonist Dan Reinschmidt. And like last year’s holiday concert, he’s going to rock both the trombone and the guitar during the A Classic Parker Holiday concerts this weekend. After all, what would a Trans-Siberian Orchestra piece like A Mad Russian’s Christmas be without electric guitar?

Since he’s going to play such a big part in our upcoming performances with both slides and riffs, I thought it would be a perfect time to learn more about this multi-talented musician and dedicated family man.

How long have you played with the PSO?

I’ve been with the PSO since 2013. That’d be 3 seasons.

What do you do when you’re not playing with the PSO?

While my main day job is full-time dad, I also work at Play-It-Again Music in Parker, which donated some of the equipment we’re using at this concert, and as the choir director at St. Matthew’s Episcopal church in Parker.

Are you in a band?

I’m playing with several at the moment. I play trombone with the Blues Brothers, who played at PACE on November 26. I play bass guitar with an indie rock band called Survive The Planet, which is in the process of recording an album. I also play bass with a classic rock cover band, Misconduct, which will be playing a couple of private shows in December and February.

Do you play other instruments besides trombone and guitar?

Trombone, euphonium, guitar, bass guitar, and trumpet. I have an extensive collection of instruments that I can play a little bit on, but those are the instruments I am proficient at. Trombone is my “number one.”

How did you get your start in music?

I learned to play trombone in middle school band class. My mom all but insisted that I try band and I all but insisted that it be on the trombone. I got the idea from a school assembly in 5th grade where a man played trombone, accordion, and high-hat simultaneously. It must have made an impression on me.

Do you have a fond musical memory you could share?

Last season in the PSO my niece, Meaghan Reinschmidt, joined the PSO on trumpet. It was the first time I was able to play along side her in an official capacity. I love music and I love my family, when they come together it’s the funnest thing I can imagine.

Do you have a favorite band or musician? Favorite composer?

I’m into industrial and progressive rock as well as metal. If I had to pick a favorite band it would be Nine Inch Nails. As for composers, I love the classical and romantic periods the most, but few have reached the level of J.S. Bach. A close second would be Percy Grainger.

What are your favorite pieces to play?

Stavinsky’s Firebird Suite, Wagner’s Lohengrin, and any Bach Fugue. Lincolnshire Posy by Grainger was probably my favorite overall.

Is there anything in particular you like or find interesting about playing A Mad Russian or another piece in this concert?

I find it interesting whenever a piece of music is adapted to a whole new style. It’s like hearing something from a very different perspective. Many musicians hear the Nutcracker Suite and groan, “not this again!” but with this arrangement, it’s a completely different beast with a whole new energy.

As for the other pieces, I feel like the choir completes the orchestra, like we’re missing an integral part of our instrument without them.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Seeing/hearing about former students of mine as happy, successful adults.

Anything else you’d like to share?

The PSO is one of the funnest long-term experiences I have ever been a part of, particularly because of the wonderful people in it. We somehow combine the serious nature of classical music discipline with silly over-zealous fun and camaraderie, especially between the low brass and trumpet sections.

Dan Reinschmidt Rehearsal

 

William Grant Still: A Man Of Many Firsts

William Grant Still Portrait

 

When it comes to classical music, William Grant Still isn’t exactly a household name and that’s quite unfortunate because his music is truly captivating. I vividly remember the first time I heard his works. I had turned on CPR Classical one night a few years ago so my oldest daughter and I could play and listen to some good music.

Although I intended it to be in the background, I found myself really listening and wondering who wrote this amazing stuff. I could place the era – 20th century with some interesting jazz rhythms and influences – but I just couldn’t put my finger on the composer.

One check of the CPR site gave me the answer – Still.

And after further reading, I discovered there is much more to William Grant Still. He is much more than just a 20th century composer. He is also a man of many firsts who broke barriers.

  • He was the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra – the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936.
  • He conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955 becoming the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the deep south.
  • His Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American” was the first symphony written by an African American for a leading US orchestra. It was first performed by the Rochester Philharmonic in 1931. Hear the PSO perform it in February.
  • His opera Troubled Island was the first by an African American that was performed by a major company – the New York City Opera
  • He was the first African American to have an opera performed on national US Television. His A Bayou Legend premiered on PBS in 1981.

Still was prolific, writing 8 operas and numerous symphonies and ballets. He worked as an arranger for W.C. Handy’s band and later as an arranger of music for radio and film including movies like Pennies from Heaven and Lost Horizon. When looking at his body of work, it’s not hard to see how he earned the nickname “Dean of Afro-American Composers”.

Despite the fact that he is not as well known as say Beethoven, his works live on in performances by everyone from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The Parker Symphony Orchestra will be performing his 1st Symphony on February 25. Purchase tickets here.

 

Fun Christmas Music Facts & Hanukkah Song Trivia

Parker Symphony Holiday Concert

The Parker Symphony Orchestra is currently rehearsing music for the upcoming A Classic Parker Holiday concerts including pieces we’ll perform with the Parker Chorale. So it’s only appropriate and timely that we share some cool Christmas music trivia and Hanukkah music facts. From the “Chanukah Song” to “Winter Wonderland”, we think you’ll agree that these are interesting tidbits that may just make for great conversation starters this holiday season.

1. “Jingle Bells” is actually a Thanksgiving song. It was written by James Lord Pierpont, an organist at a Unitarian church, and performed during a Thanksgiving concert at the church. It was originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh” but re-published later with the title we all know today. “Jingle Bells” is also the first song that was broadcast from space.

2. Many Christmas songs were written by Jewish songwriters. These include “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks, “Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Winter Wonderland” by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith.

3. “The Christmas Song” was written during summer. While many Christmas carols sound like they were written during the perfect snowfall or holiday get-together, “The Christmas Song” was penned during a heat wave. In the summer of 1944, Mel Tormé was inspired by a few lines he saw jotted down by his friend and lyricist Bob Wells. They wrote the song as a way to distract themselves from the heat, but since it only took 45 minutes to complete the song, the relief didn’t last long.

4. The English version of “I Have a Little Dreidel” is slightly different than the Yiddish version. The title in Yiddish is “Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl” or literally “I am a little dreidel”. In English, the singer sings about the dreidel, whereas in the Yiddish version, the singer is the dreidel. In the Yiddish lyrics, the dreidel is made out of “blay” or lead. in English, it is clay.

5. The best-selling single of all time is Bing Crosby’s performance of “White Christmas”. While there are no reliable sales figures that date back to when it was recorded, researchers from the Guinness book of records estimate that this version has sold no less than 50 million copies.

6. “Do You Hear What I Hear” is an anti-war song. The word “peace” often makes its appearance in carols including “Silent Night” and the slightly lesser known “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, but “Do You Hear What I Hear” was specifically written as a call for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne when America was on the brink of nuclear war. It is said Shayne was inspired by the sight of mothers pushing baby carriages on a city street.

7. The Christian hymn “Rock of Ages” came from a Hanukkah song. “Ma’oz Tzur” is typically sung after lighting the festival lights at Hanukkah. The hymn’s name comes from its Hebrew incipit (the first few words of the text) which means “Stronghold of the Rock”. A loose English translation of the hymn was written that many know as “Rock of Ages”.

8. Tony the Tiger sang a Christmas song. If you’re a real Christmas music buff, you’ll recognize the name Thurl Ravenscroft. He is the singer behind “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. The narrator of the Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was Boris Karloff, but he couldn’t sing. So the production team brought in Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft’s other claim to fame is his voiceover work. He is the voice of “Tony the Tiger” and is best known for his “they’re grrrrrrreat!” line.

9. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” may be one of the oldest, if the not the oldest, of all Christmas songs. It gained popularity in the 18th century, but it was written in Latin around the 9th century. Researchers believe that Gregorian monks first composed the song, but this is just a good guess. It has been associated with Christmas for almost 1200 years and was translated into English in 1851.

10. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” was sung by a veterinarian. It was written in 1978 to be more of a joke than anything. Certainly it’s not a serious holiday hymn to say the least and it often makes lists of least favorite Christmas songs (although it’s sold more than 40 million copies). It was written by Randy Brooks, but he asked husband-and-wife duo Elmo and Patsy to perform it. Elmo, whose real name is Elmo Shropshire, is actually a licensed veterinarian.

11. Mendelssohn composed the music for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to celebrate the inventor Johann Gutenberg. Charles Wesley wrote the original words with the opening, “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”. The opening was changed to the one we sing today by George Whitefield and was set to Mendelssohn’s music to create the carol we all know. Mendelssohn’s composition was actually a cantata to commemorate Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

12. The uncut version of “The Chanukah song” is the one you hear on the radio. There are actually 4 versions or 4 parts to this non-traditional Hanukkah song written by Adam Sandler and SNL writers Lewis Morton and Ian Maxton-Graham. The part you typically hear on the radio at this time of year is Part 1, but did you know this is the uncensored version? The final verse sung on SNL and on an edited recording includes the line “Drink your gin and tonic-ah, but don’t smoke marijuan-icah.” The line you hear on the uncut album, the version that receives the most radio airplay, is actually, “Drink your gin and tonic-ah, and smoke your marijuan-icah.”

 

What is Ballot Issue 4B? What is SCFD?

 

Vote Yes on Colorado 4B and SCFD If you’re like me and you read about 4B in the Analysis of the 2016 Ballot Proposals booklet, you’re now totally confused about what it is and what SCFD does. You may have seen the Yes on 4B yard signs – the ones with the polar bear. You may even have seen Popsicle the SCFD polar bear mascot walking around town.

But all of that doesn’t mean much if you can’t translate the legal jargon from the booklet. So here’s a quick rundown of what SCFD and Colorado 4B really are and why they are so critical this election. In other words, why you should absolutely vote YES on 4B.

What is SCFD?

SCFD stands for Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. It is funded by a sales tax of one cent on every $10. It is currently in its 28th year.

Where does the money go?

SCFD supports museums like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Children’s Museum, the Denver Zoo, orchestras like the Parker Symphony Orchestra, the Colorado Ballet, and other educational, scientific, and visual and performing arts programs throughout Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties. If you’ve been to any of these, you’ve benefited from SCFD. Attended an orchestra concert or an opera performance? That was funded at least in part by SCFD. Took the family to a Free Day at Four Mile Historic Park or the Denver Art Museum? That was made possible by SCFD. And all for only 1 penny of every $10 you spend!

Counties served by SCFD

What is 4B?

The sales tax of 1 cent on every $10 to fund SCFD is set to expire in 2018. A vote of YES on ballot issue 4B will reauthorize the funds until 2030 and residents of the 7 counties can continue to experience amazing programs and events for years to come – sometimes for free. A vote of Yes will be a vote to continue to bring culture to all.

Why is Yes on SCFD so important?

SCFD helps organizations in the Denver metro area continue to provide educational and cultural programs to everyone. From Free Days to field trips to special events and exhibits, organizations large and small, SCFD brings culture to all.

It has helped the Parker Symphony purchase instruments, rent and purchase sheet music for concerts like our Music of John Williams performance, and bring in special soloists and performers.

SCFD also generates $1.8 billion annually in economic activity and $520 million in tourism and creates 10,731 jobs. It has served 4.5 million students and 14 million guests.

It has elevated the Denver metro area to a world‐class cultural center with 95% growth in attendance since the district began.

Please vote YES on 4B on November 8 and help us keep the music playing! Learn more at Yes on SCFD.

Rene Conducting the Parker Symphony Orchestra

 

Top 7 Pirate Classical Music Pieces

 

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day! In honor of the day, we’ve compiled a list of classical music related to the pirate life. From famous soundtracks to swashbuckling operas to rousing overtures, we’ve got your definitive playlist for the day.

1. Gilbert & Sullivan – The Pirates of Penzance

Probably the best known on our list is the fifth Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration. This comic opera brought us the much-parodied “Major General’s Song“. However, “I am a Pirate King” is a more appropriate selection for today. Watch this rousing pirate selection below.

2. Leroy Anderson – Pirate Dance

A light and exuberant piece, Anderson’s “Pirate Dance” has melodies you can certainly associate with pirate life. In fact, at one point, you can almost imagine it leading into the Disney “A Pirate’s Life For Me”, but it never quite gets there. Still, it’s a nice lighthearted selection for International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

3. Vincenzo Bellini – Il Pirata

Another opera on our list, Bellini’s “The Pirate” is based on a three-act melodrama called “Bertram, or The Pirate”. It was an immediate success upon its premiere in October 1827. Recent notable recordings have included such famous names as Maria Callas and Renée Fleming in the cast. Hear the opening below.

4. Walter Leigh – Jolly Roger

A rousing overture for sure, this lively piece will have you thinking adventure in no time. Leigh was an English composer in the early 20th century. Like “Pirates of Penzance”, “Jolly Roger” was a comic opera. Hear the overture below.

5. Klaus Badelt – Pirates of the Caribbean

You have to be marooned on an island not to know (or guess) that the music from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” has a distinctly swashbuckling sound. Hear it performed live below.

6. Erich Wolfgang Korngold – The Sea Hawk

Another piece written for the movies, Korngold’s soundtrack for “The Sea Hawk” is an exciting and romantic score you wouldn’t guess was composed in the 1940’s. The movie itself starred Errol Flynn as an English privateer who defends his nation against the Spanish Armada. Hear the overture from the film score below.

7. John Williams – Hook

To round out the list, we couldn’t help but include John Williams’ Hook soundtrack. Of course a score for a film about Peter Pan and Captain Hook would have a distinctly adventurous sound. Watch the “Flight to Neverland” from Hook conducted by the composer himself.