As Robin is out all day, at Leeds University, putting a few students through their paces prior to their exams, I decided to follow a lead sent to me by one of our American readers, so many thanks to 'kamel'.
I was referred to a story on NPR, (National Public Radio) in the US.
They were running an interview yesterday on William Grant Still, an African/American composer, in which his granddaughter was talking about his life. Although unable to hear the entire interview with Judith Ann Still, extracts are available here.
It's a fascinating story which depicts the problems faced by a black composer/performer throughout his life.
He was born in 1885, Mississippi, and as a child enjoyed listening to opera with his stepfather and also attending concerts.
By 1914 he was playing the oboe and cello professionally, and thanks to an inheritance from his father, was able to undertake further musical studies at Oberlin College, until he was recruited into the navy where he remained until after the war.
Throughout his career he dedicated his life to composing/arranging/conducting and performing.
Still's has been characterized as an :
'American composer whose musical works included African American themes and spanned jazz, popular, opera, and classical genres.
He created over 150 musical works including a series of five symphonies, four ballets and nine operas.'
Whilst listening to the interview it struck me how sad it was that Still was not only struggling to get pieces performed in the same way as many composers do, but also had to deal with huge prejudice.
He did, however, continue with his quest throughout his life, despite the many obstacles.
I must confess that I was not familiar with his works, but having read/listened to an account of his life, was intrigued, and have since listened to some of the many pieces available. So far, I have really enjoyed what I have heard, and you can 'feel' the 'American' style of orchestration shining through. This is something of which his family are rightly proud.
He was unsuccessful in getting any of his music recorded whilst he was alive, but his family have since rectified the situation and now his music can live on through the various and varied available albums.
'As always, it was sheer pleasure to observe Robin Hill's remarkable fluent technique: everything looks easy when he plays it.' Colin Cooper- Classical Guitar Magazine ----- 'Wonderful for their (Hill & Wiltschinsky) precision, touch and clarity of sound... refined virtuosity, the achievement of a long interpretive process.' Il Giornale D'Italia (Rome) ----- 'I loved your CD and thought your technique and performance were fabulous...' Rick Wakeman