GALLIPOLIS — The popular music of today can trace it’s past back to the earliest African American music in America. Take a journey of these musical roots on Feb. 11 when The Ohio Valley Symphony’s Woodwind Quintet joined by the Washington Elementary C.A.T.S. Choir celebrates the music of African American composers.
The 2 p.m. concert at the historic Ariel Opera House is free and open to the public.
The earliest African American music is based on the Christian roots of spirituality. Songs of worship, pain, hope and even songs with secret messages were characterized by a pentatonic structure (think the black notes on the piano) with syncopated rhythms. Few of these spirituals have known composers but later African Americans picked up these characteristics and moved forward with them composing more formally. W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin and William Grant Still are some of the late 19th and early 20th century composers featured along with a later 20th century composer, Moses Hogan.
Ohio Valley Symphony Woodwind Quintet members hail from the tri-state region and are long-time members of The Ohio Valley Symphony as well as a number of other music ensembles in the area such as the West Virginia, Huntington and River Cities Symphonies as well as other chamber ensembles. Three of the five performed for the first OVS concert on April 1, 1989 in a not-yet-restored Ariel Opera House. A woodwind quintet is a combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. While not made of wood, the horn has a mellow sound that blends well with the woodwinds.
The C.A.T.S. choir (Creative, Academic, Teamwork and Success) under the direction of Mr. Christian Scott (5th Grade Teacher) and Mrs. Marilyn Wills (Music Teacher) is comprised of Washington Elementary students who love singing and have a desire to learn more about music and performing. The choir is comprised of third, fourth and fifth grade students and meets each week during the after school program.
Among composers to be featured include William Grant Still by The Ohio Valley Symphony Woodwind Quintet.
Still composed over 150 works, among those eight operas and five symphonies. He was the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. He attended Wilberforce University as well as the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio. Because he collaborated with cultural figures such as Langston Hughes and Alain Locke, Still is considered to be part of the Harlem Renaissance movement.
Previous Ariel Opera House Black History Month celebrations included features surrounding local historical figures John Gee and Dr. Edward Bouchet. Gee managed to become a community leader during this time due to his skill, ingenuity and work ethic. He was historically remembered as a builder of homes. He built houses of brick, some of which are still standing to this day. He began to buy up land and became one of the largest landowners in Gallipolis in the 1800s. His property started at the Ohio River and stretched westward out Pine Street and north on Second Avenue.
Bouchet, the deceased African American physicist, teacher and principal, was known historically for being the first African American graduate of Yale College, the second African American to be nominated to the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the first African American to earn a Ph.D., as well as being the sixth person of any race to earn a doctorate in physics in the Western Hemisphere. He served from 1908 to 1913 as a principal and teacher at the late Lincoln School in Gallipolis on Third Avenue before it closed in 1951. The Lincoln School was known to have served African American students of the time.
According to previous statements by Bobette Braxton, of the John Gee Historical Society, “history walks with two legs in Gallipolis and people never know when it hits them in the face.”