WDAV host Joshua Hood spoke with Timothy Holley while introducing radio listeners to inspired works by American composers. Dr. Holley, a scholar and cellist at North Carolina Central University, chose some of his favorite recordings, in celebration of Black History Month. They included works by H. Leslie Adams, Valerie Capers, Adolphus Hailstork, Undine Smith Moore, and Coleridge Taylor Perkinson.

The host and his guest conversed about the music on this program. They also spoke about their experiences as musicians. In his introduction, Hood talked about his “personal journey,” one that undoubtedly gradually unlocked a trove of music. Holley, now a scholar of the Black classical music tradition, walked a similar path. In fact the two colleagues were mentored by some of the same faculty members in college. The program we heard was the product of some of that conversation. And it featured a broad selection of compositions, from the art song to post-modern string music, all penned by African-American composers. Each one will make a unique contribution to the American canon.  

The first recording was Adolphus Hailstork’s (b.1941-) string orchestra piece, Sonata da Chiesa (1990) which was performed by The Orchestra Now at the “Out of Silence” program at Bard College in September 2020. (You can find it on YouTube). A post-modern version of the baroque form, this composition is rich and colorful, and evoking wonder. There is a hint of traditional English flavor here; perhaps an influence from the composer’s early life as a young chorister. But Hailstork is a prolific composer who continues to create art while engaged as Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University. He is currently composing a tribute to the memory of George Floyd.

Valerie Capers (1935- ) is known for her jazz piano performance, but she began her life as a classical musician and composer. Song of the Seasons, commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute in 1987, is considered American Art Song, a genre influenced by European impressionism and American jazz. Listeners heard “Spring” and “Winter” where Holley joins Anita Johnson (soprano) and Susan Gray (piano) on this splendid recording available on Albany Records.

The program also included Leslie Adam’s 1988 setting of “The Wider View” for tenor and piano. Holley’s recitation of the poem was lovely. The performers on this recording were Daryl Taylor, tenor and Robin Guy, piano.

Known as “Dean of Black Women Composers,” Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989) grew up with the music of the American Baptist Church. In contrast with Hailstork’s Episcopal upbringing, Smith Moore’s music draws on the folk music of the American South. “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” from her 1969 Afro-American Suite is still widely performed. Dissonance and minor mode evoke the pain and suffering of enslaved people. Sadly, it is still relevant. The recording we heard was made at a concert in Asheville, NC.

Hood closed the program with the final movement from Sinfonietta No. 1 (1954-1955) by Coleridge Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004). Marked Rondo: Allegro Furioso, the piece is driven by a fast “moto perpetuo.” Coupled with syncopation in the melody, it will put a spring in your step. The recording was performed by the Chicago Sinfonietta and conducted by Paul Freeman. Available on Cedille.

None of these pieces break boundaries; you will find them immediately accessible. Still, they represent the finest of American-made compositions and deserve your attention. The only short-coming of this edifying program – it could have been longer. But you can listen again. Tune in 89.9 FM or stream on your computer WDAV.org on February 5 at 5:00 p.m. E.T. For more information, please visit https://www.wdav.org/programs/lift-every-voice.

Addendum: Hood and Holley conversed early in the year. Their conversation was edited for the Lift Every Voice program.