I’m doing something outside of the box this weekend for an orchestra concert. Allow me to ellaborate…
The holiday weekend looms with tributes and speeches celebrating one of the greatest and most influential speakers of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK weekend is a wonderful observation, one that encourages reflection on where we have been, where we are, and just how far we have yet to go as an American people.
But as we look ahead to a weekend of speeches, marches and remembrances, we should also remember that the March on Washington and other civil rights events were also filled with music: the music of hope, longing, suffering, and joy. This music, along with the poetry and literature of African Americans may be the initial impetus for change, one that became an accessible influence for people at far greater numbers than all the speeches, laws or social theories. Dr. King may have been at the head of this locomotive of change, but music and poetry were vital fuel for the engine.
Here is a link to a New Yorker story from last year (with videos) regarding the importance of music during the March on Washington:
In fact, I will posit that it was the music and poetry of African-Americans that began this train rolling along, decades before real social change occurred. The poetry of the Harlem Renaissance and the music of gospel, ragtime, blues and jazz was extremely popular across racial boundaries, representing the first foray of a large number of white Americans towards diversity. As migration moved up the Mississippi to the major urban centers, the backyard of Mark Twain’s America was populated with new voices for artistic expression. The music and poetry spoke with universal truths to which all could relate
I, as a white American, can truly “feel” the heartache of the Blues, just as I can experience the fear of isolation expressed in a James Baldwin poem or the freedom and joy of an early jazz dance tune. The syntax may be expressed through a culture not my own, but in the hands of a great artist, the meaning cuts through. We can all find a deep personal meaning in an American Spiritual just as easily as from Beethoven’s 9th or the King James Bible, if we allow ourselves the permission to look. And if we find meaning, then it also becomes ours, collectively
I was an infant when the March on Washington occurred, and although I don’t remember it, I nonetheless grew up with the legacy of the event. Dr. King’s speech was taught in school along with the entire Civil Rights Movement. But I also grew up with the legacy of music. Much of the music we listened to in the 1960s and 70s was but a short putt from whence it came. Not only R&B and Soul, but also Disco, which represented the upward mobility of a rapidly growing diverse middle class. And while none of this excuses or ignores racism and the continuing struggle for equality, it does give hope that what is really important is much closer than we think.
So in this context, an orchestra concert may not be as out of the ordinary as it first appears. Using poetry and music the evening will be an expression of humanity through poetry and music. It has been an honor and joy to develop this hour-long program for the evening.
MLK Day Celebration Concert: Utah Philharmonia and Friends
Monday, January 20, 2014, 7:30 p.m.; Libby Gardner Concert Hall
Daniel Tuutau, guest speaker; Ubeeng Kueq, piano; U Ambassadors Jazz Combo
||Adults $10 Students/Seniors/U Faculty & Staff $6/Arts Pass
He Had His Dream Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Three Black Kings: I. King of the Magi Duke Ellington
A Dream Deferred Langston Hughes
Maple Leaf Rag Scott Joplin
Three Black Kings: II. King Solomon Duke Ellington
Some Days James Baldwin
I Have a Dream Herbie Hancock, arr. R. Schmidt
Danzas de Panama: !V. Cumbia y Congo William Grant Still
Equality Maya Angelou
Three Black Kings: III. Dr. Martin Luther King Duke Ellington
Copyright, 2014. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat.