William Grant Still for a White Audience

On July 23, 1936, William Grant Still made his debut in Los Angeles conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. The article I found on this, written by Lawrence LaMar, describes how “an outstanding history making triumph as been achieved.” This performance was only a couple of years after Still won the Guggenheim Fellowship award for “Land of Romance” and “Afro-Symphony Orchestra.” Our class has been looking at the impacts of black nationalism within “American” music and how it has shaped today’s music. This discussion couldn’t be held without William Grant Still and his “Afro-American Symphony.” Even during the 1930’s, the public knew of its impact and what was taking shape, and how it could change history in music. Out of the 20,000 seats at the Hollywood Bowl, 12,000 of them were filled. This sounded like an average amount of attenders based off how the author was describing it. However,

“about 250 of the 12,000 people assembled in the Hollywood Bowl that seats 20,000 were of the Race. This number, although small in comparison to the whole, represents an increase over past regular season bowl attendance of Negroes.”

 

It is interesting to read how 250 might not have been a large number of people “in comparison to the whole” but that it shows that persons of color are increasing in numbers for attending the bowl.
This article views William Grant Still and thus his pieces as valuably important for American and American music. The writer states, “Each of the gripping symphonies that conveyed the feeling of the Race American toward the land of his folklore was marvelously rendered by the great orchestra that responded readily under the left guidance of its first Race conductor.” I found that this article showed some of the feelings that the BIPOC community was feeling towards Still and his compositions. The article can be used to shed light on this aspect as well as the ideas of how that ties into the impact on American music.
Another interesting aspect of this article is the literal, physical context around it. Surrounding this column in the Chicago Defender are many more negative articles about “members of race.” Titles such as “State Picnic To Be Feature Of Kentucky Hanging” stand out instantly to the viewer upon opening this paper. The article on Still is captivatingly uplifting and hopeful right next to the article that paints such a horrific image for the BIPOC community.
Another aspect of the context around the article on Still is the emphasis on music that this community holds. Simply turning the page of this newspaper brings you to BOLD headlines you can view in the following photos.
Citations:
LaMAR, LAWRENCE F. “WM. GRANT STILL CONDUCTS SYMPHONY AT LOS ANGELES: 20,000 HEAR WORLD-FAMED COMPOSER IN DEBUT AT HOLLYWOOD BOWL; APPLAUSE DEAFENING.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Aug 01, 1936. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/wm-grant-still-conducts-symphony-at-los-angeles/docview/492575722/se-2?accountid=351.

Amy Beach: musician in spite of her family

Today many listeners of classical music are familiar with the music or at least the name of Amy Beach. A prodigy from a very young age who came to fame through her virtuosic piano performances made her lasting mark in her compositions. Her life was defined by her gender because women, especially those of Beach’s social standing, were not to support themselves. Even though her parents were distinctly aware of Amy’s talents, they stuck with the status quo plan for young women of the time: some formal schooling, lessons in the arts, and marriage.[1]

In her article published in many women’s magazines in the early 1900s she does not fault her family for so obviously holding her back when she had so much to do in music. Rather she saw her mother’s education style as a way to ease the young prodigy into music without becoming overwhelmed. Beach’s article almost exclusively focuses on the relationship between Amy and her mother, as well as her career as a performer and composer.[2]

Beach’s success as a musician almost depends on this sort of frame that women were expected to live in. There is no doubt that Beach could have done amazing things if afforded the right to a fancy musical education that men had available to them. However, her affluent family history and unique life story allowed (or forced) her to stand out among other women. I mention forced because Amy hardly had any choice in her study of music or the path it would take.[3]

Beach had the opportunity to become a self-taught musician after her little formal training because she did not have the duties of a domestic wife like many other women. After her husband’s death in 1910 she was able to take many tours of Europe and make her name even larger.

All of these facts make for a confusing picture of Amy Beach. On one hand we have a woman who is a prisoner in her time where women aren’t allowed to study music at high levels and must submit their wills to their parents and husbands. On the other hand we have Beach as a child prodigy who has led the way for other women composers after her and succeeded because of her circumstances, but could have thrived even more in a more accepting culture.

 

[1] Adrienne Fried Block, Amy Beach: Passionate Victorian, (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1998), 298.

[2] Judith Tick ed., Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 323-327.

[3] Walter S. Jenkins, The Remarkable Mrs. Beach, American Composer, (Warren: Harmonie Park Press, 1994), 66-68.