Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Conveying History Through Song

As I have mentioned on this blog before, our family really loves the study of history. And for me, the study of history is about people, where they lived, how they lived, how they worked, what they wore, what they sang. . . you get the picture. All cultures throughout history have developed their own special music, folk art, and dance. When we study history, we should find out all we can about the way people lived at that time.

Today I found an article which really touched me. I just saw the movie The Great Debaters - which I loved, by the way, and I have been thinking about all that the black minority has been through. I will never fully understand, of course, but I do care.

Reading this article, especially the following paragraphs, really spoke to me about how strong the human spirit is - that will to live, to go on, not to be crushed. It reminded me of James' speech at the end of The Great Debaters and how even though he had witnessed something horrible, frightening, and sickening, he was not going to give up. He was not going to hide or live in fear.

"I was working with filmmakers on the Africans in America team who wanted slave songs, and they kept saying some of the songs I sent were too upbeat, too jolly. I told them that African-Americans would never have made it through slavery if they'd done only the mournful stuff.

"Think about black people coming to freedom with hope and wanting to know about their children, wife, husband, mother. Four million people who somehow have survived but are stunned because they had to absorb losing so much, who are going on in spite of losing so much, and finding a way to shout despite losing so much. With us laughter and tears are very close together; dancing and moaning are very close together." She pounded on her thigh, a fast, syncopated rhythm. "Dance! Drumming! It's a sanity thing. Even in a catastrophe, there had to be some time when you would smile and you would laugh. Or you wouldn't survive." She sang for me: "This is a mean world to live in till you die, without brother, sister, mother, father..." Despite the words it was a lilting song, full of joy. "I get audiences to sing along," she informed me. "I tell them even if you lose everybody there is still something in you that says, 'Since I am alive, I will go on.' How do you express that? Here you have it wrapped up in a jumping song. If you told the truth only in the pain and tears, you couldn't stand it for long. You have to have the moans and sadness, but also the shouting and celebration."

The entire article is really worth your time to read.

Conveying History Through Song
Bernice Johnson Reagon adds cultural nuance and period flavor to rousing a cappella renditions
By Michael Kernan,, February 01, 1999

In late 1961 the civil rights movement burst upon the scene in Albany, Georgia, as that town's African-American population galvanized to stand against segregation. A mass meeting at the Mount Zion Baptist Church was packed with people, from student activists to comfortable, middle-aged conservatives.

Cordell Reagon, an 18-year-old organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had discovered many talented singers in the SNCC workshops held in that community, among them Bernice Johnson and Rutha Harris, preachers' daughters studying voice at Albany State College. Reagon, Johnson and Harris were part of a small group of vocalists who led the singing in mass rallies, and that night, along with 500 others, they exploded in song.

Working without piano or any other accompaniment, the singers took the roof off the church. Everyone sang, everyone cried, the whole group swayed to the closing song, "We Shall Overcome," and people stayed on after midnight, wanting never to leave. It was one of the great moments in the American struggle for racial justice.

Her work in the movement was also a defining period in the career of Bernice Johnson Reagon, who eventually abandoned her plans for a career in classical music to work with a group called the Freedom Singers, founded by Cordell Reagon, whom she later married. She simultaneously pursued a solo career, making her first solo recording at age 19.

Bernice Reagon went on to found important musical groups herself, including the Harambee Singers in 1966 and the world-famous women's a cappella group Sweet Honey In The Rock in 1973. Along the way she picked up a doctorate in American history, a distinguished professorship at American University in Washington, D.C., the title of curator emeritus at the National Museum of American History, and a MacArthur 'genius' grant.

You can find the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Amy Beach, composer and pianist

Amy Marcy Cheney was born on September 5, 1867 in Henniker, New Hampshire, to a prominent New England family. Her mother, Clara Imogene (Marcy) Cheney, was a talented amateur singer and pianist. Young Amy was a true prodigy who memorized forty songs at the age of one and taught herself to read at age three. She played four-part hymns and composed simple waltzes at age four. By the age of six, she began studying piano with her mother and performed her first public recitals one year later, playing works by Handel, Beethoven, Chopin, and some of her own pieces. In 1875 the family moved to Boston, where Amy studied with the leading pianists. She made her Boston debut in 1883, and two years later played her first performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Wilhelm Gericke conducting Chopin's Concerto in F Minor.

In 1885, she married Henry Harris Aubrey Beach (1843-1910), a physician, Harvard University lecturer, and amateur singer. Her husband requested that she limit her public performances, so she focused her musical energies on composing. She had only one year of formal training in harmony and counterpoint with Junius W. Hill. Beyond that, she embarked on a course of independent study, analyzing the compositions of master composers as models and translating theoretical works such as Berlioz's treatise on orchestration.

In 1892, Beach achieved her first notable success as a composer with the performance of her Mass in E-flat by Boston's Handel and Haydn Society. She became the first American woman to achieve widespread recognition as a composer of large-scale works with orchestra. Beach's national reputation grew through her equally well-received Symphony, op. 32; Violin Sonata, op. 34; and Piano Concerto, op. 45.

Following the success of her Mass in E-flat, Beach received important commissions for vocal and choral works. In 1892, the Symphony Society of New York premiered her concert aria, Eilende Wolken, op. 18, the first composition by a woman played by that orchestra. For the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, she wrote the Festival Jubilate, op. 17. The 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha commissioned her Song of Welcome, op. 42.

After her husband's death in 1910, Beach sailed for Europe to establish her reputation there as both a performer and composer. She received enthusiastic reviews for recitals in Germany and for her symphony and concerto, which were performed in Leipzig and Berlin. She returned to the U.S. in 1914, where she concertized in the winters and composed in the summers. In 1921 she became a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where she composed most of her later works.

Beach assumed many leadership positions, often in advancing the cause of American women composers. She was associated with the Music Teachers National Association and the Music Educators National Conference. In 1925, she was a founding member and first president of the Society of American Women Composers. Following her death on December 27, 1944, Beach's royalties were given to the MacDowell Colony, as prescribed in her will.

Listen to this haunting piano solo by Amy Beach beautifully played by pianist and author Joseph Smith.

Hermit Thrush at Morn

Friday, June 13, 2008

Center Stage Opera

Working with the chorus for Center Stage Opera in recent weeks has really been fun! I am meeting wonderful people and hearing some terrific singers. Tonight is my first performance with Center Stage. I look forward to hearing Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Giuliano sing the role of Manrico.

A member and Senior Vocalist and Soloist in The United States Army Chorus since 1988, Antonio is an interesting fellow. Check out his website here.

Ten Reasons to Homeschool Teens

Last Saturday, our second oldest son graduated from our homeschool. When life calms down a bit, I want to write about his graduation. But meanwhile, I wanted to share with you how glad I am that I homeschooled my two oldest through their high school years. For each homeschool family and teenager, the benefits are no doubt different and individual. For my two sons, homeschooling them gave them the time to develop their unique gifts and really pursue their passionate interests.

Elizabeth Smith has written a wonderful list of reasons for continuing homeschooling through the teen years. The list would really be applicable to any family who homeschools. Non-homeschoolers might want to consider her list as well.

Ten Reasons to Homeschool Teens

by: Elizabeth Smith

1. Cement family relationships. Relationships are the most important thing in family life. When teens are away from home for six to eight hours a day, subtle changes begin to erode relationships at home. Divided allegiance or “serving two masters” can shake their foundation. The result is diminished family ties and parental influence.

2. Individualized education based to needs. You can customize your teen’s education to provide motivation for gifts and abilities. In areas of academic weakness you can provide extra time and help. No classroom setting can offer this consistent and loving support.

3. Accelerated academic progress. Many homeschooled children are academically ready to do college level work between the ages of 14 and 16. Age/grade isolation or segregation inhibits socialization. Available research demonstrates that homeschooled children are ahead of their public school counterparts in maturity, socialization, and vocabulary development.

You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Teacher's lessons go beyond music

I will probably never play piano or sing in Carnegie Hall. And I am ok with that. Making music, teaching music, directing my choir right here in my town is really enough. And that's what I love about music. Music is for everyone - it is the universal language. It can be your hobby - it can be your livelihood. One of my musical mentors, Joan Boytim, is a very, very fine musician, as a singer, a pianist and a French horn player. Yet she has devoted her life to teaching young singers, mostly high school students. And there are so many others like her in my town and in yours.

I just read an article that I had to share about a single mother who is a medical doctor and a pianist. She teaches piano on the weekends. I think you'll agree that she is truly an inspiration!

Teacher's lessons go beyond music
GAIL SMITH-ARRANTS, The Charlotte Observer

CONCORD - The teacher tapped the top of the old upright piano with long, slender fingers, like a metronome.

Listening was a 17-year-old who used to goof off in class because he wasn't really into piano.
"Keith has been my special project for the last three years," Dr. Honnie ("honey") Spencer likes to say.

When he started lessons, Keith Moore Jr. poked at the keys with one finger.
But it's much more than just learning notes and music. Spencer teaches lifelong lessons, from developing confidence to being patient with the piano and yourself.

Moore is one of dozens of students Spencer has taught for free over seven years. A family physician, Spencer founded the Logan Community Music School in Concord, wanting to breathe music into the lives of children and adults who otherwise couldn't afford lessons.

You can read the rest here.

How a Piano is Made

Monday, June 9, 2008

Barbara Curtis on the Alex Barton story

I love to read Barbara Curtis' Mommylife blog. Today she told her readers more about Alex Barton, the little five year old autistic boy who was voted out of his kindergarten class at the instigation of his teacher. Yes, you read that right - his teacher.

Barbara, knowing something about special needs children, as she is the mother of 12 children, including four with Down syndrome, has written an article for the Christian Science Monitor.

Alex Barton's story is tragic. But the blessings are real.

By Barbara Curtis from the June 10, 2008 edition

Waterford, Va. - Recently, a Florida teacher seeking relief from a challenging special-needs student named Alex Barton did the unthinkable: She stood him before his kindergarten peers and encouraged them to say what they didn't like about his behavior. Then she asked the students if they wanted him back in class after his reportedly disruptive actions earlier that day. By a vote of 14 to 2, they booted him.

Alex's mom was understandably outraged; she plans to sue. The resulting media sound and fury has brought to light the quiet revolution in public schools across America: the placing of special-needs students into regular classrooms.

Federal law holds that children with disabilities have a right to a "free and appropriate public education." But free for whom? Not for the taxpayers, who must foot the bill for the testing, evaluation, special therapy, and classroom support needed by the differently-abled students, who are increasingly popping up in classrooms.

That has parents everywhere asking themselves an uncomfortable yet critical question: Does the practice of inclusion detract from my child's education? Is it really worth it?

Read entire article here.

Our Oldest Son at College Graduation

Our oldest son, David, on his graduation day at Messiah College.