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      Something beautifully transformative will happen tonight (Tuesday, 9/13) in Monrovia.

      By Debra Penberthy 

      The San Gabriel Valley Choral Company (SGVCC) will present classical music by composers of African descent during the 3rd Annual Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Concert at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Monrovia at 8pm.  The project is the brainchild of rising choral music star Dr. Zanaida Robles, Artistic Director of SGVCC, a native of Monrovia, and a graduate of USC’s doctorate in choral music.  As an African-American classical singer, composer, and conductor herself, she has a deep passion for the lineage of classical musicians of African descent.   As a doctoral student, she chose to focus on the works of Coleridge-Taylor, an Afro-British composer who was active around the turn of the 20th Century and inspired many African Americans due to his great success in a field in which few others of African descent had achieved popularity.   Coleridge-Taylor was affectionately called the African Mahler of his time, but his works fell out of favor after his death.  In an effort to reintroduce audiences to his works, Dr. Robles started this concert series.  The concerts feature Coleridge-Taylor’s works alongside the works of other composers from the African diaspora, including works by Dr. Robles herself.

      Zanaida Robles

      Zanaida Robles

      At Carnegie Hall

      Tonight’s concert marks the beginning of a major undertaking by SGVCC.  In the summer of 2018, the Monrovia-based choir will go on its first concert tour to New York, where they will perform at Carnegie Hall.    There, they will present Coleridge-Taylor’s seminal work Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, an epic choral and orchestral cantata on the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  It will be the first time in about 100 years that this work has been performed at Carnegie Hall, a true accomplishment in service of Dr. Robles’ larger goal of bringing Coleridge-Taylor’s work back into the canon of classical choral works.

      I sat down with Dr. Robles to discuss this project within the larger context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

      This might be too grand of a question but how does Black music matter in light of the Black Lives Matter movement?

      It’s a huge question, but I do feel that because I’m a Black musician, I can’t separate that thought from the movement that’s happening right now.  It shines a light on all things Black that matter, including music.  For me, it’s that Black classical music matters. And for me that’s the important distinction. It’s important to highlight the fact that other music produced by African Americans has seemed to matter more than Black classical music.

      Like other styles associated with African Americans like hip hop, rap, and R&B that have made a lot more money and been identified with African Americans?

      Exactly, and that music doesn’t necessarily represent all African Americans or people of African descent and the totality of their experience and artistic output. And the other element I’m exploring with the works of Coleridge-Taylor is to say, ‘Here’s the music that in America we don’t associate stylistically with African Americans but that is relevant.’ And also to say, ‘There are people of color besides Americans of color.’  There are Afro-British and there’s a whole huge underrepresented population of folks in Central and South America where the percentage of people of color is way higher than it is in America.  And it doesn’t seem to me that they’re being given the microphone at all in terms of their experience in fine arts.  So, it’s a process of identifying those folks.  And for me it’s finding the musicians from across the diaspora to give voice to them and to say their music matters and that we have something to learn from them.

      So, tell me more about why Black classical music matters?

      It matters because it hasn’t mattered enough before.  Because we need to represent African Americans in music beyond what stereotypically represents African-Americans. It’s like uncovering what’s already there–uncovering the high art, the accomplishments and the heritage that really does exist in the African-American community.  There’s a classical music heritage that is being ignored.  And that’s why black classical music matters.  It’s to give voice to that heritage that has been ignored and that has potential to enrich and uplift a community that has traditionally felt put down and strangled.

      Tickets to tonight’s concert may be purchased online or at the door.  See here for full event info and to purchase tickets online.

      Click here to find out more about SGVCC, including how to audition.

      Full disclosure: Debra Penberthy is a member of SGVCC’s Board of Directors, a volunteer position.


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