THE WORLD PREMIERE OF FLORENCE PRICE’S FIRST CHORAL-ORCHESTRAL COMPOSITION
The Song of Hope sounds at Ithaca College under the baton of Michael Stern
[ This post is occasioned by the world première of Florence B. Price’s “Song of Hope,” to be given at Ithaca College by a chorus made up of the Ithaca High School Chorale, Cornell University Chamber Singers, and Ithaca College Madrigal Singers, along with the Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra, all under the baton of Michael Stern, who is currently pursuing his M.M. in Conducting at Ithaca College. Ithaca College School of Music senior Naya Griles will sing the solo soprano part, and Ithaca College alumnus Holden Turner will sing the baritone solo. See here for event details and here for livestream registration.]
Florence Price never heard her Song of Hope performed.
That fact is a tragedy — for the Song of Hope offers a vision of hope in all its glorious audacity, born of a time of heartbreak and deepest trouble. And that vision rose like a phoenix not from the usual formula for creation, whereby a poet creates the words and the composer selects them and interprets them musically. No. These words, as the autograph tells us, were penned by Florence Price herself:
The autograph also tells us, via a retroactive dating, that the Song of Hope was composed in 1930. That means that Price wrote these words either just as her first marriage (to Thomas Jewell Price) was ending or just after she had filed for divorce. (According to Dr. Rae Linda Brown, the couple separated in March 1930, and Thomas was summoned to divorce court on 1 September, and the divorce became final in January 1931.) The autograph does not provide a more specific date, but either way Price, having moved from her native Arkansas to a strange and enormous city, was facing a decidedly uncertain future — not only in terms of income and livelihood, but also as a single mother of two young daughters.
And that context makes these words not only audaciously hopeful, but brave, courageous:
Price’s words were beautifully recited by Angela Arnold in a wonderful concert given on 27 February 2021, as part of a beautiful concert titled Singing Hope: Praise through a Pandemic and given by City of Refuge UCC and First Church Berkeley (see here for that reading). But the music has until now remained silent, silenced by after-echoes of the same systemic racism and sexism that doomed it to silence in Price’s own day.
(For those who are interested, the autograph full score for the Song of Hope was part of the widely reported discovery of a trove of Florence Price in an abandoned house south of Chicago in 2009 and the acquisition of those autographs by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. It’s been available to the public, but ignored, since 2015 (shelfmark MC 988a Box 11, folder 8). G. Schirmer published it in 2021: it is now easily accessible for all who are interested in learning more about the genius of the amazing Florence Price.)
It’s a significant event, this one. I asked Mr. Stern for a few comments on it, and he readily supplied the following:
The posthumous première of Price’s Song of Hope will be given at Ithaca College on 26 March 2022 at 8:15 p.m. EDT, with a pre-concert talk beginning at 7:15 p.m. EDT. See here for event details and here for livestream registration.
(This is a follow-up to a post about the Song of Hope shared on 24 February 2021. See here for that original post.)