My ensembles all enjoy variety. I am careful to balance my programs with popular, classical, and folk genres. I look for music from a variety of historical eras from the thousand years of notated classical music available to us. I want to include music from a variety of geographical regions and cultural traditions. I look for composers who aren’t just white men — it would so easy to program an entire concert of just compositions by white dudes, but I want everyone in my ensemble and everyone in my audience to see themselves in the music we perform.
The music we make becomes part of us. We engage our bodies and our minds and our hearts in coordination to serve the music, and that act shapes us, changes us. As a conductor of students and amateurs, I have a responsibility to my singers to give them a well-rounded experience.
And that idealism is all very well and good, but my motivation day to day is petty and selfish. I want more good music in my life.
For example, President and CEO of the Women Composers Festival of Hartford, Penny Brandt, showed me this score: “Song to the Dark Virgin.” Text by Langston Hughes, musical setting by Florence Price.
I fell in love.
I’m not primarily a singer, and I far prefer conducting to singing — both because I’m better at it, and because once someone hears me sing, it’s easy for them to think of me as a singer while I have to keep fighting to be identified as a conductor just because I don’t “look” like one. So I’ve been trying to wriggle out of singing at the WCF benefit concert.
But when I looked at the Florence Price song, I thought, “I MUST sing this!”
So I will. At our October 23 concert. If you’re around, you should come!
Anyway, the poet and composer of the song are both African Americans, but it is not just music for or about African Americans. It expresses a universal human experience with unique perspective, allows us to recognize ourselves in someone else. Which is what art is supposed to do.
But we can’t benefit from that perspective unless we work to include variety in our programming.
And, here, I’ve circled back to idealism.
It’s self-serving. It’s good for the world. It’s nice when those two things overlap.