Sound of Charlotte Blog
A visionary composer, flutist, and entrepreneur, Valerie Coleman has made significant contributions to modern music. From being named 2020 Classical Woman of the Year (Performance Today) to receiving a nod as one of the Top 35 Woman Composers in Classical Music (Anne Midgette, Washington Post) and a Grammy nomination, Coleman has earned high acclaim, and for good reason.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1970, Coleman had an interest in composing music from an early age. She began formal music education at age 11, and started writing symphonies on a portable organ. Advancing her hobby, by the age of 14 she had written three full-length symphonies and won local and state competitions. She studied music at Boston University and earned a Master's degree in flute from Mannes College of Music. Debuting as a flutist/composer at Carnegie Hall, Coleman has since regularly performed at major music halls across the United States and has collaborated with other performers including Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea, Paquito D'Rivera, David Shifrin, Orion String Quartet, Harlem Quartet, Miami String Quartet, Dover Quartet, Wu Han, and many more. With enormous interest in her work as a composer, many orchestras, ensembles, associations, and festivals have commissioned her work; notably, Coleman became the first African-American woman to be commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera.
Coleman's composition style infuses modern orchestration with jazz and Afro-Cuban traditions, ideas, and social commentary. She incorporates poems and speeches from such diverse figures as African American poet Margaret Danner, Cesar Chavez, Robert F. Kennedy, and A. Philip Randolph in some of her works. Josephine Baker: A Life of le Jazz Hot celebrates the life of Josephine Baker. She honors "the legacy of Native Americans and former African slaves (adopted into Native American tribal membership through emancipation or marriage)" in a chamber piece and recounts stories of trafficked humans in a flute sonata. Coleman is among the most-played composers living today, and her works are deeply relevant contributions to modern music . Umoja, her signature piece for wind quartet, is named after the Swahili word for unity and is listed by Chamber Music America as one of the "Top 101 Great American Ensemble Works".
Coleman's experiences in music from childhood to college inspired her to establish her own chamber music ensemble, Imani Winds, for which she is the resident composer. Using the name "Imani", the Swahili word for faith, she formed the chamber ensemble with African American woodwind players who might approach the music from a similar cultural background. From its beginning, they focused on repertoire inspired by African, Latin American, and North American cultures, and championed non-European composers that were underrepresented in contemporary music. In an interview with NPR, she recollected, "I used to be in the youth orchestra [as a child], and there were so many African Americans. But somewhere along the line, when I got to college, I was the only one in the orchestra. So I wondered what in the world happened here? It came to my mind that role models are needed."
The ensemble and their music has been met with high honors: winner of the Concert Artists Guild competition, resident-artists of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and winner of multiple ASCAP awards. The music industry recognized not only the musical qualities of Imani Winds' performances and studio albums, but the significance of their work. NPR Music acknowledged, "Imani Winds' members have earned a reputation for expanding the recorded wind-quintet repertoire, but in a way that's culturally significant." In advocacy and mentorship of emerging artists and ensembles, Coleman created the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival in 2011, a summer mentorship program, which invites musicians from over 100 institutions around the world to advance their own careers from the ensemble Coleman created with her vision of raising up underrepresented musicians. Read more
The Charlotte Symphony performs Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 on February 25 and 26, conducted by Paolo Bortolameolli. >> Learn more
According to the composer himself, John Corigliano was reluctant to try his hand at a modern symphony, but he felt it was the appropriate format for this particular work. "My Symphony No. 1 was about world-scale tragedy and, I felt, needed a comparably epic form," he wrote. The AIDS epidemic had affected him deeply, and inspiration came, in part, from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
"I was extremely moved when I first saw 'The Quilt,' an ambitious interweaving of several thousand fabric panels, each memorializing a person who had died of AIDS, and, most importantly, each designed and constructed by his or her loved ones. This made me want to memorialize in music those I had lost, and reflect on those I was losing."
The first movement of the work, Apologue: Of Rage and Remembrance, includes an offstage piano playing Isaac Albeniz' Tango, a favorite work of Corigliano's pianist friend, who is memorialized in this movement.
The second movement, Tarantella, was written in memory of a music executive and amateur pianist. With shocking percussion and brass interrupting an Italian folk dance, followed by a wistful clarinet, Corigliano has written that this movement represents his friend's descent into AIDS-related dementia.
Chaconne: Giulio's Song was written to remember Corigliano's college friend and amateur cellist, Giulio. A solo cello represents his friend while a second cello joins in, a remembrance of Giulio's cello teacher.
The final movement, Epilogue, is played against a repeated pattern consisting of waves of brass chords. Against this, each of Corigliano's friends and their music are recalled. The work ends as a solo cello holds the same perpetual A, finally fading away.
In the composer's own words:
The Charlotte Symphony performs Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 on February 25 and 26, conducted by Paolo Bortolameolli. >> Learn more Read more
A trailblazer in the American classical music tradition, Dr. Frederick C. Tillis bridged jazz and European classical music as a renowned composer, jazz saxophonist, and educator. Born in Galveston, TX in 1930, Dr. Tillis began composing when he was 20 years old. From 1950, he composed over 125 works, including symphonies, quartets, solo songs, and choral pieces, that reflected his ethnic and cultural background as well as many cultures and traditions experienced in his travels around the world.
Establishing his passion early in life, the young musician picked up the trumpet to perform in his elementary school's drum and bugle corps. At the age of 12, "Baby Tillis" was performing with jazz bands, traveling extensively with the Tillis-Holmes Jazz Duo and the Tradewinds Jazz Ensemble to Mexico, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. He earned a college scholarship to Wiley College, whereupon graduation, the new alumnus accepted the role of the college's band director. While pursuing a Ph.D in music studies, he volunteered for the Air Force and became director of the 356th Air Force Band, but returned to earn his doctorate degree from the University of Iowa. Dr. Tillis taught at several universities, eventually at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he became Director of the University Fine Arts Center and was the chief innovator
of the Jazz and Afro-American Music Studies Program.
Dr. Tillis is known for experimenting with the beauty of classical and the beat of jazz. Influenced by Schoenberg, Bach, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, African-American composers, and world music, Dr. Tillis blended African-American music with European classical music and incorporated both Asian and Western traditions. Known for his intricate melodies and rich harmonic textures, some of his works include A Symphony of Songs, a choral/orchestral work based on poems by Wallace Stevens and commissioned by The Hartford Chorale, Inc.; A Festival Journey and Ring Shout Concerto for percussion, written for Max Roach; and Concerto for Piano and symphony orchestra written for Billy Taylor.
His work continued as an educator and cultural ambassador throughout his life, traveling to advise the establishment of a jazz studies program at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, spending a three-week residency to help establish a jazz major at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand on behalf of the United States Information Agency, and sharing his talent as a Master Artist in Residence at the Akiyoshidai International Art Village in Yamaguchi, Japan. Having spent a long life making musical connections around the world, Dr. Tillis passed away at the age of 90 in May 2020.
At a UMass Amherst conference in 2010, Dr. Tillis reflected, "...Every place I've gone I've heard African - but not African only - American classical music....[We] had a thing for calling it America's classical music, and I think that's very valuable. Because if you look at music all over the world - and there's a European tradition, a very fine tradition; I write in it and so forth -- but then there's another tradition that has a rhythm; it has a melody; it has something altogether different that's all over the world, everywhere you go; you would hear African American music: China, India, it doesn't matter. So I think we're very much on target in calling it American classical music, European classical music....I think that those are the kinds of important things that should make us proud and also enlighten us; one of the things about African American music, jazz, is that it is a very spiritual kind of music." Read more
As a critically acclaimed violist and passionate educator, New York-based artist Jessica Meyer embarked on her composition career only seven years ago. In a recent interview for the record label Bright Shiny Things she explained, "After many, many years of playing new music and helping kids create their own music, I could not ignore the nagging feeling I had that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing. I started to write for myself, but once I started writing for other people in 2014, the floodgates were opened and I knew that without a doubt that was what was missing from my life."
In her solo performances, Meyer uses a single simple loop pedal to create a virtuosic orchestral experience using her viola and voice. Drawing from wide-ranging influences which include Bach, Brahms, Delta blues, Flamenco, Indian Raga, and Appalachian fiddling, Meyer's music takes audience members on a journey through joy, anxiety, anger, bliss, torment, loneliness, and passion.
Meyer's work Slow Burn had its premiere on March 18, 2018, performed by the string quintet Sybarite5.
It is also a combination of all the groovy music I like to listen to, at the heart of which is a theme that most singers wind up singing about at some point: that unrequited love that was never meant to be.
Hear Jessica Meyer's Slow Burn performed by your Charlotte Symphony streamed from the Knight Theater on Saturday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m. (watch through March 13)
Photo credit: Jiyang Chen
|A composer, violinist, and educator, Jessie Montgomery's music melds the classical tradition with elements of folk music, spirituals, improvisation, language, and social justice. As a rising star in today's classical music scene Jessie has made a name for herself composing works that have been described as "turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life" (The Washington Post).
Jessie was born and raised in Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1980s during a time when the neighborhood was at a major turning point in its history. Artists gravitated to the hotbed of artistic experimentation and community development.
Her parents - her father a musician, her mother a theater artist and storyteller - were engaged in the activities of the neighborhood and regularly brought Jessie to rallies, performances, and parties where neighbors, activists, and artists gathered to celebrate and support the movements of the time. It is from this unique experience that Jessie has created a life that merges composing, performance, education, and advocacy.
Through her music, Montgomery often explores the theme of what it means to be an American (especially a Black woman in America), her heritage, and what her parents have experienced in this country.
Montgomery's work, Starburst, was commissioned by the Sphinx Organization and premiered by its resident Sphinx Virtuosi in 2012. Montgomery writes:
Hear Jessie Montgomery's Starburst performed by your Charlotte Symphony - streamed live from the Knight Theater on Saturday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 pm (watch through Feb. 13). >> Details
Today marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. To celebrate this historic achievement, the Charlotte Symphony is using its platform to highlight the many contributions of women in classical music. We asked a few CSO musicians and conductors to share with us a list of women composers who they wish everyone knew more about.
"She's an extremely talented individual, an accomplished violinist and chamber musician in the Catalyst Quartet, and I've been so proud to perform her wonderful music alongside the rest of our canon of timeless art pieces. I hope we will continue to share her beautiful work with our Charlotte community!" - Principal Violist Benjamin Geller
"Gabriela Lena Frank is a varied & important fixture in American composition, has numerous awards & Composer in Residence credentials, and has founded a Creative Academy of Music which enables opportunity for dozens of up & coming composers. Her string orchestra piece 'An Andean Walkabout,' written for A Far Cry in Boston, is both visceral in energy & jarring rhythmically. A terrific, monumental piece that I love." - Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees
"I think her music is important to be celebrated because, to be honest, I just really like it. When I have performed some of her solo pieces, they have spoken personally to me, and I found myself lost in tunes that I wish I had written myself." - Trombonist Thomas Burge
"When I was 13 years old, Chaminade's Concertino for Flute and Orchestra was one of the first big flute solos that I had ever performed. It's a very popular piece for young flutists, and I didn't realize until years after playing it that Chaminade is actually female!" - Youth Philharmonic Conductor Jessica Morel
"Chaminade composed more than 400 pieces, but the Concertino is her most beloved and remains an important piece in the flute repertoire. Though her father did not permit her to attend the Conservatoire de Paris, she was able to study composition privately and eventually gained popularity as a composer and pianist." - Flutist Amy Orsinger Whitehead
an orchestral piece in celebration of the city's 250th anniversary.
"I think Nkeiru Okoye is important because her works incorporate many different sounds and styles from cultural areas that are both part of her own personal journey, and also are part of a larger narrative regarding the history of African American people. Spending her youth divided between living in New York and Nigeria, she offers an important personal perspective through her music that also highlights a broader cultural connection that resonates with many Americans." - Trombonist Thomas Burge
Inspired to learn about more women composers? A great place to start is Music Critic Anne Midgette's list of the top women composers in classical music from The Washington Post. Read more
A composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher, Florence Price is recognized as the first African-American woman to have a symphonic work performed by a major national symphony orchestra. Her extraordinary achievements during the racist "Jim Crow" era are a testament to her immense gifts and determination.
Born in Little Rock, AR in 1887, Price grew up in a middle-class household and attended the New England Conservatory, one of the few that admitted African-Americans at the time. Fleeing racial violence in her home state, Price moved with her family to Chicago where her career began to flourish. She won first prize in the Wanamaker Competition with her Symphony in E minor which caught the attention of Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Frederick Stock. The piece was premiered by the Orchestra in 1933 with The Chicago Daily News reporting "It is a faultless work, a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion ... worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory."
Florence Price's musical style was influenced by composers such as Dvořák and Coleridge-Taylor. It is infused with European and African-American musical and cultural elements, including spiritual melodies, gospel church music, and African instruments such as the marimba.
Her piece Adoration, arranged for Brass Quintet, was performed by members of the CSO's brass section on our latest al Fresco concert.
Though recognized in her day, Florence Price's memory and music faded into history - perhaps due in part to the relatively small number of surviving compositions. However, in 2009, nearly 200 of Price's manuscripts were discovered, tucked neatly away in boxes in an old fixer-upper in a suburb of Chicago. The discovery has prompted a happy resurgence in the popularity of her works. We can all hope that this re-examination of her talent and musicality will allow Florence Price to take her rightful place among the great American composers. Read more
For our 2018 performance of Magic of Christmas, new Charlottean and Emmy-winning composer Gary Fry composed a Christmas carol fit for the Queen City! Get to know Gary below.
Tell us briefly about how you came to be a composer.
I grew up in Iowa, and my parents were farmers. I loved music from an early age and had public school music training with wonderful teachers who encouraged me to write for high school chorus and jazz band. Following my time at the University of Miami (Florida)--where I met more great mentors in choral music and composition--I graduated with a double major in music composition and music education. I taught middle school general music in New Jersey briefly, began to write arrangements for music publishers, and in a couple of years got a staff position at a commercial music agency in Chicago. I've now written thousands of commercials and began to write arrangements for the Chicago Symphony Christmas program, which I did for 19 years. I still write a lot of music, especially for Christmas!
What's your favorite thing about writing music? Do you prefer composing Christmas music?
Three things. First, the "aha" moment when you think about a concept that really makes a piece work. Second, the moment when you hear musicians bring that concept to life for the first time; and third, when you see an audience respond to that concept the way you had hoped.
And yes, I love writing Christmas music! It's such a joyful season, filled with family and tradition and generosity and good will.
How do you gather inspiration when beginning to look at a piece like "Christmastime in Charlotte?"
Well, it's easy to be inspired when you consider all the things I just mentioned--and then, of course, there's the city of Charlotte itself and the things that make it special and the Christmas activities and traditions that make it unique.
You're from Chicago. What have you learned about Charlotte along this process?
It's been terrific for me as a new resident of the area to become acquainted with the city: learning the landmarks like Independence Square, and street names like Tryon and Trade, and nicknames like "The Queen City," and discovering the things that folks here commonly do at Christmastime (especially without the sometimes frigid weather I knew in Chicago). It's all been great fun, and though I definitely still feel like a newcomer, but that does give me a fresh view of just how dynamic and full of energy the city of Charlotte is.
How does this type of collaboration work?/How much input does the conductor have?
This is very much a collaboration! My first contact was with Mary Deissler (past CSO President & CEO), who has a wonderful vision of what the all-new Magic of Christmas concerts could be for the orchestra and for the city. And then there's Christopher James Lees--what a marvelous conductor and person, whose personality on the podium will really infuse the program with enthusiasm and joy and fun. And in seeking input from both of them, I actually wrote two songs with completely different melodies and musical frameworks, so that they could consider them both and choose the one they thought would work best for the orchestra and the program. And we're still fleshing out all the lyrics, with plenty of back-and-forth about that. They are both invaluable resources to a composer!
How many songs have you written total?
That depends on just what you consider a song! If mini-songs like commercial jingles count, that number would be well into the thousands. But if you're talking full-length, original songs with verses and refrains and so forth, it's in the hundreds. And as an arranger, I've written hundreds more arrangements of existing songs. So... a lot!
What makes a holiday tune "catchy," so you can't get it out of your head?
With a background in commercial jingles that are supposed to do exactly that, it boils down to simplicity, sing-ability, and repetition. The trick is to do that without being boring! I think it's also the way the words marry to the melody, and hopefully a little different sort of twist that sets the tune apart and gives it real identity.
For "Christmastime in Charlotte," my hope is that by the end of the very first performance, the audience is singing along!Read more
Approaching a newly commissioned piece, I start by listening. I want the know everything: What's the occasion, and what's the purpose behind it? What are the goals for the piece? What I'm doing by asking these questions is defining basic parameters: length and instrumentations the specific instruments you want to use.
But I'm also gathering background information that helps me to create a piece that works for the community. The more descriptive, the better. It helps me understand what's important, which helps sets up my mindset as I'm conceptualizing the piece.
With Charlotte Mecklenburg, my new piece for the Charlotte Symphony, a special request in this case was that all the music was to have been inspired by a residency, which meant that I wouldn't write a note or start thinking about concepts until I'd gotten acquainted with the city.
During my four-day residency, I did just that. Enjoying great cuisine, visiting different neighborhoods, guided tours of exhibits at the Levine Museum of the New South, catching a panoramic view of the city through from way up in the Bank of America building. Meanwhile, the Symphony had arranged for me to meet and interview 12 people, from Hugh McColl to Dae-Lee, all of whom impacted the city in differing ways, and all provided answers to five questions that I'd created with the new piece in mind. The visit ended, with a live outdoor performance of the Charlotte Symphony.
After getting back, it was time to engage in two of my favorite activities, for starting new compositions brainstorming ideas and organizing them into digital scrapbooks. I compiled answers to my questionnaire and conversation notes and made a general plan of the composition based on the parameters and visit. A piece like this involved some research. By exploring Charlotte's history, cultures, and current events, I was establishing an expansive knowledge bank of ideas.
Contributed by Nkeiru Okoye, composer. Read more
2. He was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts to Russian/Jewish immigrants, and began playing piano at young age of five.
3. Bernstein's rise to fame was rapid. He was unexpectedly named Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic with less than 24 hours' notice, when he was called upon to stand in for flu-stricken Bruno Walter. The program included works by Schumann, Miklós Rózsa, Wagner and Richard Strauss's Don Quixote with soloist Joseph Schuster, solo cellist of the orchestra. After a brilliant performance, he made the front page of The New York Times the following morning.
4. In a concert of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1, where he famously argued with the pianist Glenn Gould in rehearsal (Gould wanted a slower tempo), Bernstein made an announcement to the audience before they began: "Don't be frightened. Mr. Gould is here....in a concerto, who is the boss....the soloist or the conductor? The answer is, of course, sometimes one and sometimes the other, depending on the people involved." Ever the entertainer, who waited for the applause between each line of his address, Bernstein was later criticized for either attacking Gould or simply abdicating responsibility for the performance that was to ensue.
5. Perhaps his best-known work is the Broadway musical, West Side Story. Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the musical explored rivalries between two 1950's New York gangs (the Jets and the Sharks). What many don't know is that the musical was originally going to be about an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the lower east side of Manhattan. This idea was discarded, however, and replaced with the story we know and love today.
6. Bernstein was one of the first classical musicians to "master" TV. The Young People's Concerts existed in the US since 1924, but Leonard Bernstein brought them to a whole new audience in 1958 with the first televised concert of its type. Then, in 1962, The Young People's Concerts became a TV series, of which Bernstein conducted 53!
7. Bernstein was a close friend of Aaron Copland and recorded all of his orchestral works. He also played the Copland Piano Variations so regularly that they became his trademark piece.
8. He has been famously quoted saying, "I'm not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer."
9. Though considered a conductor and great pianist, Bernstein oddly never performed a solo piano recital. He did, though, conduct and play in performances of Mozart piano concertos (and memorably in the Ravel Concerto in G).
10. Bernstein died only five days after retiring. His death was a result of emphysema.
Source: CMUSE. Read more
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