The Bienen School of Music is continuing its Black Composer Showcase series with three more videos highlighting music by Black composers. The series, which began in 2020-2021, combines performances by Bienen School voice and instrumental students and collaborative pianists, as well as scholarly background information on the works and composers provided by Bienen musicologists and conducting faculty.

“The revival of African American composers that we are experiencing right now has in some ways canonized a few pieces and a few composers already. I hope that projects like this whet people's interest in exploring the music of other African American composers,” said Drew Edward Davies, associate professor of musicology, who co-conceived the project with Professor Karen Brunssen in 2020.

Adolphus Hailstork’s powerful American Guernica is the focus of the first video in the 2021-2022 series. Hailstork wrote the piece in remembrance of the September 15, 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The attack killed four girls, ages 11 and 14: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.

“In many ways, this is a commemorative work that looks back in time from a period when supposedly we had moved on in history. But history has shown us how we have not moved on fully,” said Davies.

Professor Mallory Thompson chose to program American Guernica for the Symphonic Wind Ensemble as part of an October 2021 program called “American Perspectives.” That performance is featured along with commentary from Professors Thompson and Davies in the now published video, Black Composer Showcase: American Guernica.

Julius Eastman’s Stay On It, performed by the Contemporary Music Ensemble, will anchor the second video in the series. Eastman scholar Ryan Dohoney, associate professor of musicology, coached the Contemporary Music Ensemble in preparation for their performance. Dohoney and conductor Alan Pierson provide historical background in the video.

The final two videos features art songs by Harry Burleigh and Undine Smith Moore performed by Bienen voice and opera students and pianist Karina Kontorovitch. Musicology PhD students Andrew Barrett and Kristian Rodriguez, who researched these and other composers as part of the Bienen School course American Art Song, contribute historical information in the videos. Two of the student vocalists also reflect on their experiences performing works by Burleigh and Moore.

Last year’s Black Composer Showcase series highlighted works by Margaret Bonds, Cecil Cohen, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Robert Lee Owens, Florence Price, William Grant Still, Howard Swanson, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. All videos are available online in the Davee Media Library and on the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion page.

The goals of this series are to broaden the repertoires performed and studied at the Bienen School, inspire collaboration among music studies and performance students, and educate the Bienen School and broader communities about composers of color and their important contributions to classical music.

  • Toni-Marie Montgomery
  • Drew Davies
  • Mallory Thompson
  • Alan Pierson
  • Ryan Dohoney
  • Karen Brunssen