“UNIVERSITIES, UNIVERSITIES, UNIVERSITIES!” (2)
A Title Explained, and a Significant Performance of Margaret Bonds’s Credo
I finished my first edition of the orchestral version of the Bonds/Du Bois Credo in the summer of 2018. Back then, I was mystified that the piece had remained unperformed since 1973 despite Rollo Dillworth’s 2003 dissertation that included an edition but resulted in no performances. And, having by then input Bonds’s masterful score note by note, bar by bar, from beginning to end, I was determined to end its silence. I wrote to my friend Greg Sandow, one of today’s most thoughtful and insightful sources of ideas on the classical music and its position in “the real world,” asking for suggestions as to how, finally, to get this extraordinary composition — a musical racial-justice manifesto the likes of which the world had never seen before, and has never seen since — performed.
His answer: “Universities, universities, universities!”
Greg’s main line of reasoning at the time was that university concerts can be programmed without the restrictive formalities — boards of directors, donors, etc. — that constrict programming for professional orchestras. I also liked the idea because, at the end of the day, students learn what they are taught; i.e., tomorrow’s students will learn what their own teachers learn today. The most effective way to bring the music of marginalized composers out of the margins is not to record and perform their music, because this is ultimately a dead-end street, but rather to teach that music to today’s students. If we do that, then tomorrow’s students will learn it.
Jennaya Robison, Raymond R. Neevel/Missouri Associate Professor in Choral Music and Director of Choral Studies at the Conservatory of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, is proving the wisdom of Greg’s suggestion this weekend with a performance of the Bonds/Du Bois Credo in its orchestral guise in a source-critical edition authorized by the composer’s heirs. I asked Dr. Robison if she would share a few words on the experience of bringing the Credo back into modern students’ understanding of the landscape of concert life, and she readily helped out. Here’s what she wrote:
The University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory choirs and orchestra will present the Kansas City premiere of Margaret Bonds’ Credo at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, May 6, 2022. The past two years have been difficult for everyone, especially difficult for performing artists. COVID, instances of racial injustice, political divisiveness — it was the “perfect storm” so to speak. Out of this struggle developed a collective consciousness in my students that is nothing short of phenomenal. More than ever, students want to engage in music making that makes a difference, that has something to say. W.E.B. Du Bois’ words and Margaret Bonds’ music has been the culmination of a year of finding ways to formulate music that makes an impact.
I’ve promised the students that we will always take the time to discuss the text of Credo as we rehearse it. Although rehearsal time is limited, I have asked the students to “unpack” the text when new material is introduced. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, I found several lines of text to be especially poignant: “the right to breathe and the right to vote.” The work is both a reminder of our shared humanity and a call to action. Some of our most interesting discussions surrounded the final movement of the work: “I Believe in Patience.” Is there room for patience when society is witness to such unbelievable acts of injustice? But Du Bois and Bonds use the word “patience” not to mean waiting for something to happen, but to mean persevering in the faith and knowledge that it will happen.
The work is challenging both musically and emotionally. It is important to me that the students feel that they have the opportunity to share their ideas about and, at times, their discomfort with the text. For many of my students, they feel as if they need “permission” to engage in singing texts that might not reflect their personal story. For other students, they need their peers to stand alongside them and reflect their communities’ struggles with race, including systematic racism and injustice.
To be able to offer the Kansas City premiere of Bonds’ Credo is an honor. At the same time, I feel that this music and text is sacred to a community of people of which I am a guest. My hope is that our efforts are worthy of the magnitude of this project and that it will make a difference on the lives of all who sing it, play it, or listen to it.
You see where I’m going with all this, why Prof. Robison’s words and this upcoming performance excite me so: although the Credo is now published in both its original piano-vocal guise and its later orchestral envisioning as part of Hildegard Publishing Company’s Margaret Bonds Signature Series, and has been performed in this guise at least three times this year, Prof. Robison’s vision, which will offer 150 young singers (plus orchestra!) a chance to declare the power and majesty of Du Bois’s and Bonds’s vision of racial justice in song — to make it a part of their own musical world, of themselves. This is what happened at the wonderful posthumous premiere of the orchestral version, given back on April 2, 2022 by the Concert Choir and Orchestra of Georgetown University under the choral preparation of Frederick Binkholder and baton of Angel Gil-Ordoñez. In the end, the way to end the forcible silencing of Bonds’s voice is to bring it to students and let them bring it to today’s audiences and, eventually, their own students.
“Universities, universities, universities!”
The combined choirs and orchestra of the UMKC Conservatory will perform the Bonds/Du Bois “Credo” as part of the Conservatory Finale in Helzberg Hall of the Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City on Friday, May 6, at 7:00 p.m., with Christine Jobson, soprano, Evan Nelson, baritone. The program also includes music by Handel, Viet Cuong, John Mackey, and Eric Whitacre. The hall is an architectural and acoustic marvel. Tickets are available here , and the event will also be livestreamed here .
Originally published at https://cooperm55.wixsite.com on May 1, 2022.