Conservatory Honors Black History Month Through Concerts and More

January 27, 2021

Erich Burnett

to be young, gifted, and Black. Oberlin College Black History Month 2021

Series begins Feb. 4, continues throughout the month on Oberlin Stage Left.

Oberlin’s emphasis on underrepresented composers is a year-round, every-year effort. The conservatory proudly programs the music of traditionally recognized Western masters alongside selections representing a broad spectrum of composers who are Black, women, or historically marginalized in any number of other ways.

In 2020, Oberlin’s longstanding commitment to equity and diversity was articulated in the Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity as well as Oberlin Conservatory’s Racial Equity and Diversity Action Plan, which grew out of the initiative led by Oberlin President Carmen Twillie Ambar.

In February 2021, the conservatory will honor Black History Month with a series of events that underscore Black contributions to classical music and that highlight the work of accomplished, often overlooked Black composers.

The series, "A Celebration of Black Artistry," will be broadcast on Oberlin Stage Left, the conservatory’s virtual programming platform.

It all begins Thursday, February 4, with an overview of the month’s offerings and a poignant look back on the numerous Oberlin Stage Left programs that have addressed issues of race in music. Airing at 7:30 p.m., the program will be hosted by Chris Jenkins, Oberlin Conservatory's associate dean for academic support and liaison to the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

It will be followed on Saturday, February 6, by the symposium “Decentering the Canon in the Conservatory,” through which four guest speakers will discuss the historical marginalization of music that falls outside the lines of the traditionally defined canon. Also moderated by Jenkins, the symposium will be broadcast live at 1:30 p.m and will include brief presentations by each guest followed by a Q&A period.

The month continues with four celebrations of music by Black composers, with each concert boasting unmistakable Oberlin ties.

Chris Jenkins.
photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

“One of my favorite aspects of this year’s concert programming for Black History Month is that it showcases the diversity of styles among African American composers,” says Jenkins. He notes the stark range in time periods represented—from the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the child of a wealthy Frenchman and a Senegalese slave, who became a noted Parisian composer, violinist, and competitive fencer; to modern artists including flutist-composers Valerie Coleman—Performance Today's 2020 Classical Woman of the Year—and Allison Loggins-Hull of Flutronix.

“There may be some aesthetic commonalities,” says Jenkins, “but there is no one style uniform to Black composers, and the range of our programming demonstrates the heterogeneity of this group.”

Dates and details for each concert are as follows:

Thursday, February 11 (7:30 p.m.):
Presented live from Warner Concert Hall, this program joins two works by William Grant Still—an Oberlin student more than 100 years ago who went on to become known as “The Dean of African American Composers”—with one by conservatory horn professor Jeff Scott.

Violin professor Sibbi Bernhardsson teams up with piano professor Haewon Song on Still’s Pastorela; Song joins violin professor David Bowlin for Still’s Blues from Lenox Avenue; and Bernhardsson and piano professor Robert Shannon perform Scott’s Transparencia.

Thursday, February 18 (7:30 p.m.):
Associate Professor of Voice Katherine Jolly hosts this concert of solo and chamber music repertoire.

Flute professor Alexa Still will perform Valerie Coleman's Danza de la Mariposa and Allison Loggins-Hull's Homeland; viola professors Peter Slowik and Kirsten Docter team up with alumni violists Troy Stephenson ’20 and Marlea Simpson ’16 for A Canadian Boat Song by Maurice Arnold; Alexa Still, bassoon professor Drew Pattison, and piano professor James Howsmon present Rêverie Champêtre by Edmond Dédé; organ professor Christa Rakich performs William Grant Still's Elegy for Organ; and Alexa Still and James Howsmon conclude with William Grant Still's Summerland and Quit Dat Fool’nish.

Thursday, February 25 (7:30 p.m.):
Jeff Scott returns to host this performance that includes Abel Meeropol’s Strange Fruit (performed by Scott on horn), Ulysses Kay’s Sonata for Bassoon and Piano (performed by bassoon professor Pattison and piano professor Howsmon), Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Stomp (featuring Oberlin’s ensemble in residence, the Verona Quartet), and Scott’s own Sacred Women, performed by the Oberlin Orchestra, under the direction of Raphael Jiménez.

Sunday, February 28 (4:30 p.m.):
The series concludes with a second livestreamed recital from Warner Concert Hall. Violin professor Francesca dePasquale and Howsmon will perform Still's Suite for Violin and Piano; faculty cellist Darrett Adkins presents excerpts of solo works by Jeffrey Mumford; and Bowlin and faculty harpsichordist Mark Edwards perform Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in G Minor by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

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