..it was in 2010 when I was first at Cedar Hill having created an enrichment program for Washington National Opera, in collaboration with DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities. That presentation was called Black Women In Opera Celebrate Black Women In Community. On October 24 2015 there is to be another gathering at Cedar Hill, with new partners and ongoing collaborators. This event is an original enrichment for Stanford in Washington, and is being shared as programming enrichment with Stanford in New York; to be creating for these two constituencies of students is a marvel for me, as well as an incredible opportunity for facilitating connection to DC history, as well as threads of a national, historical narrative, through the life of the last resident owner of Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass. Several skeins of education weave through this event, by way of Douglass. In November 2015 WNO is mounting a production of Philip Glass' opera Appomattox. Though its initial incarnation was premiered in 2007 with the San Francisco Opera, there was work to be done on the piece and the Washington National Opera commissioned Glass to re-visit it. It is this reimagined creation which will receive its premiere in DC. With this unique event I found myself in a position to pull several threads of opportunity into one tapestry; SIW has kept to a track of offering enrichment programming on issues and paradigms of diversity. In seeking to further expand their students' view into contextualizing conversations on race, civil liberty, and our nation's gripping tatter, into the harrowing march of civil war, the fact of the opera and the site of Cedar Hill became cause of a mutual exposition. Cedar Hill was Frederick Douglass' house and acknowledged home from 1877 to 1895. Here he would often have evenings of song performed in his parlor with the windows opened wide, so that his community could enjoy the music too. This was a purposeful exchange of society, as it was meant to offer opportunity to singers and musicians of color, so that all could see that music, in itself, held no barriers, but was available to be performed for anyone who would take it up. Douglass, a man of exacting proportions of intellect and endeavor, by the late 1800's was very widely traveled and accustomed to a wide variety of music; he shared knowledge easily, and with a deliberate taste for assortment. Salon opportunities of socializing at his home included the music of spirituals as well as 'parlor songs' -a term for the American response to the fashion of European 'art songs', and performed by singers in the intimate settings of recitals, or salons. Here are some selections of spirituals, and 'parlor songs' that might have had moment on Cedar Hill.
All God's Chillum Got Wings -Spiritual
Ain't That Good News -Spiritual
Think On Me -composed (1850's) by Alicia Ann Scott
Douglass would have heard original "art songs" in his traveling through Europe, and during the period of 1885 - 1887 he would have come across the songs of Johannes Brahms who was contemporary to this time, prolific and well known as a composer of the German art song called "lied"..
Sommerabend - composed (1885) by Johannes Brahms
At twilight the summer evening lies
Over green fields and forest;
Golden moon in the blue sky
Shines down, hazy, fragrantly refreshing.
By the brook chirps the cricket,
And the waters are stirring,
And the wanderer hears a ripple
And a breathing in the stillness.
Yonder, alone, by the brook,
The beautiful mermaid is bathing;
Arm and neck, white and lovely,
Shimmer in the moonlight.
Though not heard on Cedar Hill, Charles Ives is an American composer creating at the beginning of the 20th century. He took the many models of Europe, but sieved the form through American folk music and American ethnic rhythms into a style of classical interpretation that spoke of American origins and 'soundscapes'. Ives utilized the model of 'art song' to inform a growing musical language, reaching into atonality.
Afterglow –composed (1922) by Charles Ives
Moving forward into the musical landscape of American composer Philip Glass .. Appomattox presents us with many of the characters of the civil war period, but central to this narrative is the character of Frederick Douglass. In its entirety the opera skews time and weaves a tale that presents dynamics of power, with issues of civil liberty, through an assortment of historical characters that include President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, as well as President Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Philip Glass' musical idiom is essentially referred to as "minimalism", in that his use of orchestration and rhythmic dynamics are spare and utilized to accentuate and articulate patterns of speech and sketch specific emotion. At first fully embracing this style of idiom, Glass, as he progressed from enfant terrible, to eminence grise, emended his identity to that of "being a composer of music with repetitive structures". These are some samples of Glass' music. The piece, Dance, was created in 1979, and was a work done in collaboration with Lucinda Childs (choreographer) and Sol LeWitt (artist); it was premiered in Amsterdam, then at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Dance 8 - composed (1979) by Philip Glass
Moving closer to composition of Appomattox, Glass' Symphony No.8 was written in 2006.
Symphony No.8 - 1st movement (partial) -composed (2006) by Philip Glass
During the program at Cedar Hill on the 24th October, along with a selection of parlor songs performed by local performing artists, there will be selections from Appomattox presented as well. ..in seeking to create this full program I have revisited a great deal of Douglass' writings and speeches.. These are two which resonate with the wide dynamics of compassion and Abolitionist fire that was embodied within the man.. Douglass the Abolitionist; content of 'July 4th' speech (1852) Douglass as Statesman; giving the oration at the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument, in Lincoln Park (1876)