Black Music History Facts: William Grant Still

Hey hey!

It’s day 2 of Black History Month, and I’m back with more black music history fun facts!

William Grant Stills is a classical composer and gas had major orchestras play his compositions. He was a trailblazer for the African Americans in the world of classical music.

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  • Born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi
  • He started taking violin lessons at the age of 15. He then taught himself clarinet, saxophone, oboe, double bass, cello, and viola (He was pretty amazing, no?)
  • Still actually went on to Wilberforce University to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree.
  • He conducted the band at his university and started composing and orchestrating…all while teaching himself to play more instruments.
  • Received a scholarship to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
  • He was a student of George Whitefield Chadwick and later Edgard Varèse. (Both were composers/musicians)
  • Worked as an arranger for popular music
  • Played in the pit for various musicals
  • In 1934, we starting writing his first opera. He went on to write 8 operas.
  • In 1949 his opera, Troubled Island, was performed by the New York City Opera. It was the first opera by an African American to be performed by a major company.
  • He went on to conduct the New Orleans Philharmonic in 1955. He was the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the south.
  • He was also the first African American to have an opera performed on television in the US. A Bayou Legend premiered on PBS in 1981.

Afro-American Symphony – I. Moderato Assai

This symphony was the first one written by an African American and performed in the US by a major orchestra. As you’ll hear, this piece has classical and blues elements. The best of both worlds!

 

 

 

Sunday Student Features: William T.

Hello and Happy Halloween!

This week for my Sunday Student Feature, I present to you my classical piano student, William (Will)! He’s a very intelligent, eager, headstrong and talented 13-year-old. He’s been taking piano with me for about 6 months. He’s one of the few students I have that genuinely love Classical music. He’s very eager to learn as much as he can about it. He had already taught himself quite a bit before we met and he’s also great at playing by ear. What we mostly work on in our lessons are technique and reading music. Will has also expressed an interest in composing, which I am very excited to work on more with him as time goes on. This young man is a very hard worker and has an insane amount of potential. As I say about all my students, it’s truly a privilege to be a part of his musical journey, and I hope it takes him far 🙂

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William chose to play an excerpt from the First Movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. He only had the piece for a couple of weeks prior to filming this video. Being a student in all AP classes and balancing piano lessons, is not an easy task. But Will rose to the occasion, and I am very proud of him and the progress he’s made!

– Bri