The Passing of the Torch and Songs by Women Composers

By Strempel, Eileen | Journal of Singing, September/October 2015 | Go to article overview

The Passing of the Torch and Songs by Women Composers


Strempel, Eileen, Journal of Singing


This column has been presided over by the inestimable Judith Carman for eighteen years. The generous sharing of her knowledge with the Journal of Singing readership has spanned nearly two decades, and has assured countless singers and teachers are informed of the best new music publications, helped our membership to remain in conversation with beloved art song composers, and-most of all-inspired us with incredible possibilities for expanding the musical canon. Judith has been a tour de force with tremendous impact, both through this column and numerous books, including her Yoga for Singing: A Developmental Tool for Technique and Performance and Art Song in the United States, 1759-2011. Her inquisitive and energetic example has served both as an inspiration and as an aspiration for all.

As the incoming manager of this column, thematically coordinating the reviews-either with other content planned for the volume or with some overarching theme-will continue to bring attention to music perhaps otherwise overlooked. The additional possibilities of guest authors-with different perspectives and areas of expertise-are also compelling, and I hope you'll join me in welcoming occasional guest contributors.

For this inaugural column, a focus on new publications featuring music of women composers seems appropriate. I've been a champion of female composers throughout my career, and it was a special delight to find a bevy of treasures in the many boxes of music bequeathed to me from Judith. With thanks for her kind mentorship, and in the long-standing spirit of her column, I'll begin sharing from this rich trove.

Price, Florence B. (1887-1953). 44 Art Songs and Spirituals by Florence B. Price for voice and piano, edited by Richard Heard. ClarNan Editions, 2015. Tonal; A^sub 3^-A^sub 5^; regular meters, varied tempos; both the piano and voice parts are of medium difficulty.

Florence Beatrice Price is a seminal figure among African American composers. She was the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra (Chicago Symphony, 1933), and to achieve distinction as a composer both nationally and abroad. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the prodigy performed her first recital at age four, and by age fourteen began to pursue a double major of piano and organ studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. As a student of George Chadwick, Price flourished in her musical studies, although she was encouraged to pass as a Mexican to blunt the impact of the racism of the time. Upon her graduation she returned briefly to Arkansas, but an intense period of racial unrest ensued that culminated in a lynching. Seeking safety, she departed with her husband to Chicago. Price was welcomed into a thriving black musical community and continued her studies at the University of Chicago. Despite her growing fame, challenges loomed. She divorced, and subsequent financial pressures necessitated sharing lodging with her composition student, Margaret Bonds. Through her friendship with Bonds, Price was introduced to two luminaries that would deeply impact her career: Marian Anderson and Langston Hughes. Marian Anderson sang Price's arrangement of "My Soul's Been Anchored in de Lord" in her historic Lincoln Memorial concert of 1939, while the poetry of Hughes inspired many of Price's most influential songs.

Price's musical style is fairly conservative, with a late-romantic harmonic palette. Evoking Antonín Dvorák, Price imbues her music with characteristic black idioms, ranging from the cakewalk to juba rhythms. She composed over 300 works, including a wide range of art songs, spirituals, symphonies, and works for the organ, piano, and violin. As evidence of growing recent interest in Price, a recent symposium featuring the life and music of Florence Price was held at the University of Arkansas in January, 2015.

This 2015 collection of her songs was edited by Wake Forest University tenor Richard Heard, and includes songs from his most recent CD, My Dream: Art Songs and Spirituals by Florence Price. …

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