Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 7:30 pm in Person Recital Hall.
Dr. Timothy Holley (violoncello) and Mr. Adam Mitchell (tenor and UNC music alumnus) in a program of music for tenor and cello written by African-American composers, Gary Powell Nash (Fisk University), Stephen Michael Newby (Seattle Pacific University), and Bill Banfield (Berklee College of Music).
Work, Play, and Spirit Songs for Tenor and Violoncello
“Work and Play” (2012) Gary Powell Nash, b.1964
Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
1. The Dilettante: A Modern Type
2. By The Stream
Spiritual Fantasy No.1 (1991) Stephen Michael Newby, b.1961
I. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
II. Plenty Good Room
Spirit Songs (1992) Bill Banfield, b.1961
1. Were You There?
3. Hold On
To open this evening’s program, Dr. Gary Powell Nash (Fisk University) has graciously provided the following comments:
Work and Play is a song cycle composed for tenor and cello using Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poems “The Dilettante: A Modern Type” and “By The Stream”. Many American composers have made settings of Dunbar’s poetry. His poems, many of which are written in a late 19th -early 20 th -century African-American dialect-- are strophic, having a consistent rhyme scheme that provides a wealth of imagery and natural lyricism implying their written intent: a musical setting. The melodic and motivic nucleus for this song originated from the composer listening to someone reciting the text and notating recurring rhythmic patterns, and composing melodies supported by these rhythms. “The Dilettante: A Modern Type”
suggests a kind of meandering through life, as it were, with very little sense of direction, just as someone who’s considered a dilettante might be. Written in an F# minor modality, it demonstrates a directionless feeling while using the direct strophic nature of the text to support the music. The cello provides a broad yet modest rhythmic pulse and harmonic support with complementary countermelodies. The cello part also exploits advanced techniques for special effect as natural and false harmonics, pizzicato and high-register passagework. In stark contrast, “By the Stream” is light and playful, marked “playful, dance-like, quasi bossa nova”. Using a D major modality, the setting is very energetic, with highly syncopated rhythmic passages for the cello called for in the same manner as the former movement”.
Dr. Nash is Professor of Music Theory and Technology at Fisk University, and directs the Fisk University Jazz Ensemble. Work and Play was composed for alumni Adam Mitchell and Christian Adams in 2012 after the VIDEMUS@25 Festival at UNC.
The Spiritual Fantasy No. 1 for tenor and cello is an “early” work, characteristic of Stephen Michael Newby’s graduate student compositional efforts completed with William Bolcom and Leslie Bassett at The University of Michigan. The title and treatment of the Negro spiritual as “concept” also reflects the influence of another of Newby’s mentors, Dr. Frederick C. Tillis of The University of Massachusetts/Amherst, who composed a series of twenty-two Spiritual Fantasies for varied instrumental and ensemble combinations using and treating the Negro spiritual with immense compositional depth and imagination. Stephen gave me a score to this work during the brief time we were at U-M concurrently. It has remained in my library since that time, awaiting such a unique performance opportunity as the 2016 Composers of Color Collective Conference, which convened at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University this
past May, where it received its long-deferred first performance. Its contrastive settings of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” and “Plenty Good Room” are a strange, reformulated departure from the “original folk or even the Western art-music performance orientation” that audiences have depended upon so heavily when listening to the arranged songs first introduced to American and European audiences by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870s.The cello introduction creates a unique atmosphere but manages to somehow avoid any quotation of the folk song. The musical setting moves very quickly and smoothly from this odd introduction to a punctuated “phrase within verse” (“true believer in the Heavenly land”) that goes by so quickly the listener might miss it. The first song itself ends with an abbreviated return to the cello opening, but as with all the contrastive melodies and disparate rhythmic gestures, it ends nearly as soon as it begins. The second song, “Plenty Good Room” also opens with a cello introduction bearing a much
closer quoted resemblance to the folk melody…even though the tenor voice intones a “different” melody than the one with which we’re probably most familiar. Both voice and cello are soon engaged in a rhythmic conversation (perhaps a sparring match as well) only interrupted by the loud cello chords and the line “I would not be a backslider”. In contrast to the opening song, “Plenty Good Room” leaves something to be desired in terms of full textual quotation and the fullest sense of form embodied within. In choral and congregational renditions of this song, the return of the refrain (always sung first and last after all verses) contains significant meaning: there NEEDS to be “plenty good room” for the backsliders and gamblers…a full refrain’s worth!! But Newby’s setting is so abbreviated, containing only the words of the song’s title: same message, but much LESS form, fuss and feathers in the testimony!! Dr. Newby is Associate Professor of Music, Director of Composition, and serves as the Director of the Center for Worship at Seattle Pacific University.
Bill Banfield, like Stephen Michael Newby, is a native of Detroit and studied at the University of Michigan. He is Professor of Africana Studies/Music and Society at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Bill Banfield’s Spirit Songs for tenor and cello are the amalgamation of folksong arrangement and original composition, each artistic approach
cooperating within the creative process and its expressive product. Aside from the familiar melodic quotation of “Were You There”, Banfield crafts his setting as a dialogue with the cello "meditations" interspersed between each verse of the spiritual. Within each meditation, a variety of harmonic and percussive effects are called forth, both to enhance the imagery and intensify the emotional significance of each verse. "Soon (And Very Soon We Are Going To See The King)" was a popular gospel song written and recorded by Andrae Crouch in 1975. Banfield "frames" the familiar chorus within separately composed music intended to introduce and provide “structural compliment" for it (the reason for its truncated title). The middle song culminates at climax, moving immediately into "Hold On". This closing song is characterized by hard-driving rhythmic accompaniment (all cello-executed!!), and clearly recalls Black popular music of the 1960s and 1970s. The challenge of playing with such a stylistic and expressive approach calls for the risk of playing with reckless abandon!! There is a strange sense of “rhythmic disjunction" present in this song directly related to its refrain, "Keep yo' han' on de plow an' hold on". Banfield describes this as the "bumping, disjointed effect of plowing a field behind a mule". Such a comment casts clear recognition upon the historical importance of the Negro spiritual tradition and its legacy, whose deepest meaning is found in the recognition of its inherent multiple contexts and “thorn-crowned experience”-- the Holy Bible, unholy American history, and the torn experiences of a diverse community struggling to “take root in a foreign land”. The spiritual and emotional “progression” within these songs can also be equally understood and appreciated: identification with the Crucifixion defines the first song, expectation of the Second Coming resounds in the second, while faithfulness and perseverance prevail in the closing song, exhorting us to "hold on—but go bravely forward, staying faithful to the task at hand"
Adam Mitchell (tenor) has been performing popular and classical vocal repertoire in North Carolina for the past eight years. Some of his favorite performances include the presentation of a lecture recital on Spanish art song in the fall of 2012, performing as Azor the UNC Opera production of scenes from Zemire et Azor (Andre Ernest Modeste Gretry) in the Fall 2012, performing William Banfield’s Spirit Songs at the VIDEMUS@25 Festival hosted by the University of North Carolina in the Spring 2012, and performing as the tenor soloist for “Go Down Moses” by Moses Hogan on the UNC Men’s Glee Club Tour in January of 2012. He holds the Bachelor of Music degree with a concentration in Voice and a K-12 teaching licensure in music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2013). He studied voice under Dr. Louise Toppin and Dr. Valentin Lanzrein, and music education under Dr. Daniel Huff, and sang first tenor in the UNC Men’s Glee Club under Dr. Huff. In addition, Mr. Mitchell also completed an intensive study in Spanish art song through Project Canción Española at La Escuela Superior del Canto in Madrid, Spain under the instruction of Jorge Robaina and Julio Alexis Muñoz in Summer 2011, where he performed in recitals and master classes. Mr. Mitchell has taught elementary music in North Carolina for three years, and currently lives in Kernersville, NC, teaching there at Cash Elementary School in where in addition to school teaching, he also teaches private lessons in voice, guitar, and drums.
Timothy Holley (violoncello) is Associate Professor of Music at North Carolina Central University. He was an active participant in the VIDEMUS@25 Festival (2012), during which he met and coached Adam Mitchell and Christian Adams for their performance of the Banfield Spirit Songs. This evening’s performance can be said to “represent a christening and homecoming altogether”, as it is here at UNC that the creative genesis of the Nash cycle can be located—at VIDEMUS@25. Both the Nash and Newby works were premiered last May at the CCC 2016 Conference, and the Banfield Spirit Songs ALWAYS manage to shout a need for more performances!!