Harry T. Burleigh & Dvorak

Harry T. Burleigh: Encounter, Appropriation, Nationalism, and the man who taught Dvorak the Spirituals.

Around here, we think a lot about Dvorak’s time in Iowa, and his visit to the Czech Hall on West 7th Street.  But, his time in New York was also crucial to the perspective he gained “From the New World”, as it were.

In New York, Dvorak ran into a wonderful musician named Harry T. Burleigh, who became both student and mentor to Dvorak.  Burleigh was a baritone and double-bass player, and ultimately a great composer, arranger, and editor.  He was a young Black man from Erie, Pennsylvania, attending the National Conservatory in New York (now Juilliard), when Dvorak met him.

Not only did Burleigh sing many of the traditional Black Spirituals for Dvorak; he became a good friend to the older composer, and helped him to absorb a great deal about American music and culture.  He studied composition with Dvorak, eventually composing orchestra music, and arrangements of a great many Spirituals which are still standards of art song today.  Dvorak recognized his intellect, broad interests, and attention to detail, and recommended him to his publisher, Ricordi of Milan, as an editor.  When I first learned this, I got out my Billé double bass etudes (learned by every serious bassist of the last 100 years), because I knew it was published by Ricordi.  Sure enough, there was “H.T. Burleigh, Editor”, in the book I had owned for 40 years.

Dvorak famously said that American composers should focus on using Black music, Native American music, and other folk music to build a truly American Classical music.  Was he also a cultural appropriator?  I don’t feel qualified to make that judgement.  I know that he was a Nationalist composer of the original type: he was a member of an ethnic group that had long been dominated by an empire, and was struggling to define their national identity through art. That sort of Nationalist musician ran from 1848, right up through Sibelius and Paderewski.  His advice to Americans would have come from that self-understanding. 

On the other hand, Wagner and others had already started spreading a toxic Nationalism by that time.  And Debussy, at the 1889 exposition in Paris, had encountered Javanese Gamelan music through a consciously Orientalist, exoticist lens, as a representative of a colonizing culture.  His use of Southeast Asian techniques was clearly appropriation.

I can’t think about that era of European classical music without also thinking about these broad cultural themes.  But, I also really admire Mr. Burleigh and what he achieved.  His arrangements are exquisite.  There was a time when most vocal recitals in the U.S. would end with one or two Spiritual arrangements, often by Burleigh.  As a final note, he had regular weekly singing gigs at the most prominent Episcopal Church in lower Manhattan, and its most prominent Synagogue, concurrently, for decades. 

– Jim Waldo

We Win When We Read

Submitted by Linnea Swenson Tellekson:

The Racial Justice Network’s Education Committee collaborates with the We Win Institute to provide beautiful books to Black children through We Win When We Read (and any other children who show up). For the rest of July, the Wild Rumpus Book Store in Linden Hills Minneapolis is making it really easy for you to provide children and youth with a book by and about people who look like them. Here’s a link to the site: https://www.wildrumpusbooks.com/WeWinWhenWeRead
The incredible power of seeing myself represented in the spotlight is something I have taken for granted as a White person. I’ve grown up and been surrounded by books and media by and about White people. One year the theme was She Speaks Her Truth for the National Summit for Courageous Conversations about Race. Except for the first, short speech when Glenn Singleton announced the theme, every single speaker, break-out leader, and entertainer was a woman. I realized by about the second day that never before in my life had I experienced one woman after another on stage, leading and teaching. It was an incredibly empowering and exciting experience for me. I didn’t share the race of any, but their womanhood prevailed. It gave me a visceral and personal understanding of the importance of having a curriculum that reflects the students. 
Last summer for the Juneteenth celebration in North Minneapolis, we launched the We Win When We Read initiative. Since then, the Racial Justice Network Education Committee has given away over 2000 books at various events. The children and youth love the books, and it’s wonderful to be able to provide them stories of interest to develop their love of reading. 
Please click the link and read more about We Win When We Read by Titilayo Bediako. Take a look at the wish list and buy some books! Your donation will be picked up at the end of the month. All you have to do is choose which book/books to buy! Here’s a link to the site: WeWinWhenWeRead WISH LIST

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate

Submitted by board member Kris Kautzman:

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a Chickasaw classical composer and pianist from Norman, Oklahoma, who expresses his native culture in symphonic music, ballet and opera. His work, which always authentically centers native peoples and cultures, has been performed around the world. I first met Jerod during his 3-year “Music Alive” residency with the South Dakota Symphony. In addition to performed commissions, his work with the SDSO included the expansion of the Lakota Music Project, where he taught composition to youth across several native communities. Jerod’s optimism and joyful energy are an inspiration, and his passion for collaboration imbues everything he creates! Here’s a recent interview on a Chickasaw news program, where he shares updates on creative projects during the pandemic (there were many!). You can also click here to listen to Chokfi’, a dynamic work for strings and percussion premiered by the Seattle Pacific University Orchestra in 2020. Want to go deeper? Check out “Ghost of the White Deer”, a gorgeous concerto for bassoon and orchestra, performed by the Dallas Symphony. Enjoy!

Castle of Our Skins

From MSO Board Member Kris Kautzman:
A couple years ago I had the honor to connect with of Castle of Our Skins, a Boston-based concert and educational organization dedicated to celebrating Black artistry through music. From classrooms to concert halls, COOS invites cultural curiosity and exploration into ​Black heritage and culture, spotlighting both unsung and celebrated ​figures of past and present. Their website is a treasure trove of stories, interviews, and performances. Like their Facebook page to get regular updates, and check out the winning videos from their recent  Black Composer Miniature Challenge: 30 second pieces for solo piano, solo viola, or viola-piano duo.