Part 1

Margaret Bonds heard her magisterial setting of W.E.B. Du Bois’s CREDO performed just twice: once with piano in Washington, D.C., and once with orchestra in California. Both of those performances were in 1967. On 21 April 1972 she wrote Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic had begun rehearsing the work, but Bonds never heard that performance: she died on 26 April and it took place — excerpts only — on 21 May, less than a month later. The version with orchestra was performed again in 1973 by the Compton Civic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Lampl, with the Los Angeles Jubilee Singers prepared by her close friend, the legendary choral conductor Albert McNeil. Then, because it was unpublished, the CREDO lay silent for nearly half a century. Even Dr. Rollo Dilworth’s excellent D.M. thesis (2003) was unable to break that silence.

That’s three and a half performances in five years, followed by 49 years of silence.

Now, in 2022, the CREDO is published. In the Spring of 2021, deep in the heart of the COVID-19 lockdown, Frederick Binkholder and the Concert Choir of Georgetown University produced a wonderful set of vitual performances of excerpts, with Katerina Burton and Joshua Conyers as soloists (movements 1, 2, 6, and 7), and seven performances of the entire work are slated to occur in the first six months of this year. The CREDO finally has a chance in the world. Those performances:

  • Feb. 15: Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare, with Anton Nel, piano, in Austin
  • March 12 (THIS SATURDAY) in Charlottesville, Virginia.: Michael Slon and Oratorio Society of Virginia
  • March 26: Washington D.C., Allan Laiño with the Congressional Chorus and NorthEast Senior Singers (arr. with brass and organ)
  • April 2 in Washington, D.C.: Frederick Binkholder and Georgetown University Orchestra and Chorus (orchestral, with The Montgomery Variations)
  • April 28 in New York City: Malcolm J. Merriweather and the Dessoff Choirs (orchestral)
  • May 6 in Kansas City, Missouri: Jennaya Robison and orchestra and choirs of the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
  • June 4 in Washington, D.C.: Frederick Binkholder and the Capitol Hill Chorale (with piano)

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF MUSIC PUBLISHING suppressed Bonds’s voice, as enunciated in the CREDO, by ensuring that the work remained in manuscript: as long as it’s in manuscript, its capacity for being performed is virtually non-existent. Publishers are more reluctant to publish music — especially large works, such as the CREDO — by women composers and composers of color. Thus their music remains in manuscript, and thus it is sidelined.

Publishers have the ability and the obligation to right that wrong RIGHT NOW, and so do scholars. Performers have an obligation to support those scholars and publishers. And teachers have the ability and an obligation to make sure that this music, once available, becomes mainstreamed for their students. It’s not enough for this music to be performed a few times, listened to a few times: unless it is taught, mainstreamed into the curricula of classical music, it will fall silent again.

Fifty years of silence for the CREDO, followed by seven performances in six months: that is testimony to what is possible if only the musical world will do its part. Hildegard Publishing Company took a big chance when they printed Margaret Bonds’s choral magnum opus as part of their Margaret Bonds Signature Series, but these seven performances make clear that their principled and passionate gambit offers immense rewards to a musical world desperately in need of change.

(To be continued.)




A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.

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John Michael Cooper

John Michael Cooper

A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.

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