TCC Orchestra to feature works by African American composers

Dr. Nse Ekpo will be a guest conductor of Scott Joplin’s classical ragtime compositions when the TCC Orchestra performs works by a trio of African American composers on March 2. Photo courtesy of Nse Ekpo

The Tacoma Community College Orchestra, conducted by Dr. John Falskow and Dr. Nse Ekpo, is slated to perform a concert March 2 at 7:30 p.m. The program, featuring music by African-American composers, is called “American Expressions.”

On the schedule for the evening are three of Scott Joplin’s ragtime compositions, from “The Red Back Book;” George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings” and Florence Price’s “Symphony No. 1.”

Price is especially interesting. She was an African American composer who was based in Chicago. Born in Little Rock, Ark. in 1887, she died in 1953 and her music was largely neglected during her lifetime, though she did receive some national attention and some of her works were performed by the Chicago Symphony.

In recent decades, however, interest in Price’s compositions has gained recognition. Much of her work is being rediscovered – literally rediscovered. In 2009, a trove of her music was found in a derelict cottage that had been Price’s vacation home. During her lifetime, Price composed four full symphonies in addition to concertos and chamber music compositions. “Symphony No. 1,” which the TCC Orchestra will perform, has been described as possessing a “hypnotic stillness.” Price is said to have written “luminous” passages for wind instruments and to have had a special feel for the bassoon. (So to all my fellow bassoon aficionados, take note!)

Joplin (1868-1917), the “King of Ragtime,” wrote 44 ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet and two operas over the span of his career. Joplin refined the ragtime music of honky-tonk piano players and combined Afro-American music’s syncopation with 19th-century European romanticism to elevate the form. The real title of the Red Back Book is “Standard High-Class Rags,” published by the Stark Music Company of St. Louis around 1912. Among musicians, however, the popular name came from the red color of the front and back page. The book contains 15 “classical” rags in the collection.

Walker, who is still with us, is the first African American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, which was awarded for “Lilacs” in 1996. “Lyric for Strings,” the piece to be played by the TCC Orchestra, was written in 1946 after the death of Walker’s grandmother. It was composed while Walker was a graduate student at the Curtis Institute of Music. After a brief introduction, the principal theme is stated by the first violins with imitations appearing in the other instruments. The linear nature of the material alternates with static moments of harmony.  After the second of two climaxes, the work concludes with reposeful cadences that were presented earlier.

“American Expressions” takes place Friday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. at TCC Building 2 (close to South 12th and Mildred). Admission is free, but donations are accepted. For information call (253) 460-4374 or e-mail jfalskow@tacomacc.ed. TCC Music’s facebook page is

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