Let’s Talk About Classical Music

Contrary to popular belief, classical music within the black community was active prior to the Civil War. Considering that most of these African American composers resided in the north, the African Americans received formal classical music instruction from immigrant European musicians, local practitioners &/or were self taught. Generally, the compositions written were based on European models with tuneful melodies and simple diatonic harmonies. After Emancipation, there was an increase in opportunities for black composers and also an increase of black composers incorporating black folkloristic elements in their compositions. Some of these opportunities opened doors for training in larger musical forms such as opera and symphony. Musicians that emerged post-emancipation exerted a large amount of influence on concert life in Black America. Musical nationalism was at the core of this large emergence of black composers. Prominent composers include William Grant Still, Shirley Graham, Harry T. Burleigh,  and Francis Hall Johnson.  Burleigh was extremely influential as an African American composer, and gained broad acceptance nationally in the United States. He excelled in writing solo songs, and arranging Negro spirituals and folk songs as art/classical songs. Commodification was apparent obviously especially in the beginning times of classical music (when black composers were not appreciated as they should have been); but the originality of black composers post-emancipation eventually demanded the respect it deserved and some black composers (not all), finally got credit.

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Classical music has influenced numerous genres including but not limited to rock, pop, romantic music, and so on. Classical music introduced a new way to embedding intensity and emotions to musical art; in addition to this, classical music introduced the concept of chorus and another form of expression through instruments – orchestras – , even the opera.

Classical music is usually a genre that is deemed caucasian because many are not informed on the influence of black composers within classical art history. Classical music is much larger than the opera and orchestras, it is a very intense and emotional art form that has earned worldwide respect due to the high musical talent it requires. In doing the readings on classical music, I couldn’t help but think about the scene in the Titanic when the musicians stayed to play that sad song when the boat was sinking. While watching the movie, I thought it was so stupid; but while reflecting, the music that they were playing added so much more emotion and intensity to the scenes. Yes, the musicians are white, but this weeks post put the emotional and harmonious characteristics of classical music into perspective when I compared it to my experiences with classical music.

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