Before we begin the listening videos for the month, I wanted to share this thoughtful video by pianist Samantha Ege about her recent album "Four Women," where she discusses the importance of playing music composed by people from all races and cultures. Have you noticed that many of the most famous pieces of classical music were composed by men from Europe? But women, people of color, and people from other continents have always been making music, too!
Florence Price was born in 1887 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her mother was a piano teacher and her father was a dentist. She went to college at the New England Conservatory of Music. Because there was so much discrimination against Black people at that time in American history, her mother told her to tell others that she was Mexican so that she would face less discrimination.
Florence price was not only a composer, but a pianist and organist. Here is one of her pieces for piano called "Sketches in Sepia."
(Sepia is the name for the brownish-red color that old-time film had; you can see that this pianist took the title of the piece literally and made this video in sepia! Do you notice how this video creatively uses colors to match the music?!)
Florence Price took a lot of inspiration from the folk songs and musical traditions of African American people. "Spirituals" is the name for a type of song that came from the singing traditions of African American slaves in the South of the United States, and the influence of this style of music is clear in this song by Florence Price. Most spirituals have lyrics that refer to ideas from Christianity (like this song does), but sometimes the words have double meanings as political or social statements that speak to all people, regardless of their religion.
This song is not a traditional spiritual, but she wrote it in the style of this beautiful tradition. Have you heard any Spirituals before? Some titles of famous Spirituals are "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Wade in the Water," and "Every Time I Feel the Spirit."
The influence of American American folk music is found in many of Price's compositions! Here's a famous spiritual that she used as inspiration for a piano piece: "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho." The title of the song refers to a story of a famous battle from the Bible.
First watch a traditional Gospel version of this song (Florence Price didn't compose this version). The video embed for this video might not work; click HERE if it is unavailable!
Next watch the version that Price composed. Do you notice how she kept the same, famous melody in the right hand of the piano, but added a traditional (and complex) left hand to go with the melody?
Florence Price was the first African American woman to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra. In all, she composed 4 symphonies and many other pieces for orchestra!
This video is the beginning of her first symphony performed this year! Just because we are all making music at home right now doesn't mean that we can't make music together! (I bet Florence Price never imagined her symphony would be performed like this!)
Can you spot the musicians in the video who are playing by themselves whenever they have a solo?!
Florence Price played the piano and the organ, so let's hear a few more examples of her pieces for keyboard instruments! She wrote many pieces for the piano in the style of lively dance music. This piece, called "Nimble Feet" is part of a suite called "Dances in the Canebreaks" (remember, a suite is a group of several pieces of music put together into a set!).
This pianist does a great job of showing the type of quiet concentration that is helpful when playing an instrument. What do you think about while you play the piano? Do you let other thoughts distract you, or do you focus only on the music?
Let's listen to another of Price's piano pieces, this time a Ragtime dance that she titled "Ticklin' Toes." If you participated in the Composer of the Month club in July, you might remember a Ragtime piano piece by Duke Ellington! Ragtime is a uniquely American style of music first created by Black musicians about 125 years ago.
This piano piece is extremely short (it only takes about a minute to perform!), but it is full of energy and has a beautiful melody. Watch the pianist perform this piece and notice how relaxed his hand position is; he really makes this music look easy to play!
In 2009, a married couple bought an old abandoned house near Chicago. It had not been lived in for many years; the roof was starting to cave in and people had broken in to it many times. Hidden away in the house, though, they found a large stack of music with the name "Florence Price" written on many of the pages.
Among the music discovered in this old house were the manuscripts for Price's two violin concertos. Everyone thought that the music for these concertos had been lost forever, but now we can enjoy the music again! In this video you can get a taste of the music from these concertos, and you can see what it looks like to be part of an orchestra doing a recording session!
For adults who are interested in reading more about the discovery of Price's manuscripts, here's an excellent article from "The New Yorker": The Rediscovery of Florence Price
As we finish up our month of exploring Florence Price's music, let's listen to another piece that features the piano! This Piano Concerto was written in the 1930s, and in this video you'll hear just a small portion of the piece!
Notice how focused the pianist is while he performs. You can tell from the way that he's playing that he knows every single note in this composition by heart!
Does this video leave you wanting to hear more? You can hear the whole concerto HERE.
Thanks for learning about Florence Price!
Price's music is an important part of our heritage as musicians in the United States!