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Musical work of William Grant Still covers gamut

Permit my customary pride in Dayton’s burgeoning arts scene to reach button popping intensity.  Last week the music of William Grant Still was celebrated in a festival full of great performances.

Still has been called “the dean of American Negro composers.”  His opus, while not in the standard repertory of orchestras and opera companies, is recognized as among the most important American musical contributions of the last century.
Still’s Dayton roots are deep.  Born in 1895 in Mississippi, he was a student at Wilberforce University. During that period, he played in bands here in Dayton to augment his income.    

The Great Depression and racial laws and attitudes made life a challenge for Still and other persons of color. His talents were recognized, making scholarships available for his continued study.  As a musician, his goal was composing serious music.  This festival is testimony to how well he attained that goal.

The impetus for the festival came from Wilberforce.  When approached, Maestro Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic joined forces to make the festival a truly major musical event.

A recital in Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad Freedom Center began the series. Professor Everett Jones III, chairman of the festival, hosted a marvelous concert of selections from Still’s opera, Troubled Island.  

Dayton Opera star Adrienne Danrich led the cast and chorus in a stunning group of excerpts from this dramatic and musically exciting opera.  Based in Haiti at the end of the 18th Century, the opera has all of the tragic elements celebrated in grand opera.  

Danrich sang arias from the three major soprano roles.  She was assisted by tenor Tifton Graves, baritone Eric McKeever and a chorus from Stivers School of the Arts. Dayton Opera’s Jeffrey Powell conducted and Brian Cashwell provided the piano accompaniment.    

The opera is full of great music. Adrienne Danrich will soon be known as the successor to the greats, Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson.  I call her that now!
Her amazing vocal powers have power and range, yet modulations of tonal beauty that make the listener sigh with pleasure.  Still’s music, full of both drama and beautiful expression was a revelation.  The opera deserves more frequent performances.

There is an act II duet with Danrich and Graves singing for nearly ten minutes.  It covered every aspect of the operatic spectrum, leaving the audience cheering in appreciation.

The festival continued with a pair of Classical Concerts by the Philharmonic and one of Maestro Neal’s engaging Classical Connections. At every venue, Judith Still, daughter of William Grant Still, gave charming remarks about her father and concert pianist mother, their lives and tribulations. Hearing Still’s music presented so marvelously was the triumph which justified, in part, his troubles and woes.

The Classical Concerts featured three of Still’s compositions and Dvorák’s great Symphony No. 7. The Dvorák has American roots in the composer’s fascination with Negro spirituals and American folk music learned during his sojourn in the US between 1892 and 1895.

It is enough to say that our great symphony orchestra discharged the Dvorák with élan and gusto.  Every section of the orchestra was busy with the mellifluous themes and rhythms of the great Czech composer. Spontaneous applause greeted the end of each movement to the delight of Maestro Neal and the orchestra.

The three Still selections demand further review. The concert began with Still’s Festival Overture.  From the opening horn trio through every part of the large orchestra, the music resonated with a robust joy that made Still’s musical ability crystal clear to the audience.

After intermission, the orchestra was joined by Professor Everett Jones at the piano for a Philharmonic debut performance of Kaintuck’, a poem for piano and orchestra.  Full of jazzy, earthy music, the work was a pure delight.  Pianist Jones set the tone with his fluid style pouring out the complex rhythms and ornamentations which made this “classical jazz.” The orchestra responded with its own joy-filled passages.  Suddenly the music just ended without the customary coda or fanfare.  It took a minute before the enthusiastic applause began in thanks for this wonderful piece of genre-striding music.  

The final work was Still’s Symphony No. 1, Afro-American. Maestro Gittleman explained from the podium that Still had inserted lines from the poetry of Dayton’s poet laureate, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, before each of the four movements.  

As a special commemoration of Dayton’s heritage, Gittleman invited U.D. professor and Dunbar scholar, Dr. Herbert Martin, to read the poems that Still quoted.  This was more than a touch, it was a revelation. Dr. Martin’s delivery, both in dialect and in classic poetic style, was music as well.  

We have had the privilege of hearing Herbert Martin reading and speaking on Dunbar and his poetry, and Martin’s own poetic outpouring.  Herb Martin is a treasure – we are so fortunate to have him!

The first movement of the Still symphony began with a haunting English horn tune and developed into a jazzy, spirited sonata complete with muted trumpet ala Louis Armstrong.  The second movement was a Gershwinesque ballad of sweeping beauty.  The third was a Dixieland treat with banjo accompaniment.  The final movement, prefaced by a stunning poetic credo, was a majestic song of desire which ended in bubbling optimism. The spontaneous standing ovation was a real reflection of the great gifts of Still, Dunbar, Martin, our orchestra and Maestro Neal.

Due to space, I must omit a special performance by our Philharmonic Principal Quartet.  More about these gifted young artists next week.

Artist photos on display at Brown Street shop 

Oakwood resident and amateur photographer Toshio Tamaki was born in China and raised in Japan. He retains his Japanese nationality. He lived in the Boston area for 19 years and moved to Dayton in 1989. Since then he has lived in Oakwood with his wife and two children and two dogs.

While he has been working for one of the major national staffing agencies as an executive in the international division, photography has been his passion and he has produced numerous art prints and two published books. His main interest is to interpret the world in juxtaposition of the real and surreal, preserving the incidents as timeless moments.

Brown Oak Studio, 860 Brown St., has 23 black and white prints from Tamaki’s book, The Stranger, on display at the store through Dec. 29.

Bach’s Lunch concerts Dec. 12 at Loft Theatre

On Friday, Dec. 12 at 10:30 a.m. and 12 noon at the Loft Theatre, the Carillon Brass will present Bach’s Lunch, a series of two free holiday concerts. All five members of the Carillon Brass are members of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra.

The program features an eclectic repertoire, which includes jazz standards, brass-specific compositions, transcribed concert music, and traditional holiday favorites.
The Carillon Brass consists of Charles Pagnard, DPO Principal Trumpet; Alan Siebert, DPO Trumpet; Richard Chenoweth, DPO Principal French Horn; Tim Anderson, DPO Principal Trombone; and Tim Northcut, DPO Principal Tuba.  

Donors Boston Stoker will provide complimentary coffee, and the Whitney Fund will provide complimentary doughnuts at the 10:30 a.m. concert. Boston’s Bistro & Pub at the Gypsy will make box lunches available for purchase for $6 at the noon performance.

DVAC Mosaic/Chimera show Dec. 5 - Jan. 2

The Dayton Visual Arts Center presents a Juried Members’ Show: Mosaic/Chimera, on view Dec. 5 - Jan. 2 in the NCR Gallery at DVAC, 118 N. Jefferson St., Downtown Dayton.

DVAC members were invited to submit artwork in any media and size to be considered for Mosaic/Chimera, a themed, juried members’ exhibition dealing with how divergent parts are combined to create an integrated whole.

The DVAC gallery, at 118 N. Jefferson St., in downtown Dayton, is free and open to the public six days each week, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday - Saturday and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Also in the gallery during this time is the ever-popular ARTtoBUY Holiday Gift Gallery, a seven-week shopping extravaganza available until Dec. 27. For more information, visit or call (937) 224-3822.

Human Race presents A Christmas Carol Dec. 4 - 21

A Christmas Carol – The Human Race Theatre Company presents a new adaptation of the Dickens classic, complete with carols, December 4 -21 at The Loft Theatre.

All evening performances at 7 p.m. to accommodate families. Also, matinees 2 p.m. Sundays and 1 p.m. Sat. Dec. 20.

Tickets and more info at (937) 228-3630 or Group sales at (937) 461-3823.

Musica! to present Yuletide concert Dec. 13 & 14

Musica! will present a Yuletide concert entitled “a Tribute to Three Masters” at Shiloh Church in northwest Dayton and Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Oakwood. Highlights of this concert include Handel’s Chandos Anthem O Come, Let Us Sing Unto the Lord and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia On Christmas Carols.  As always, Musica! will be celebrating the season with fresh and fun arrangements of festive carols and holiday songs.  We gratefully acknowledge our Sunday, Dec. 14 concert sponsors, Mousaian Oriental Rugs and Paul and Susie Weaver.

Concert tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors/students and are available at the door. For further ticket and season information, call 229-3909 or visit the website at www.Musica

CONCERT II dates and venues:

Saturday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Shiloh Church of God
5300 Philadelphia Dr.
Dayton, Ohio  45415

Sunday, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m.
Sponsor: Mousaian Oriental Rugs / Paul & Susie Weaver
Lutheran Church of Our Savior
155 Thruston Blvd.
Oakwood, Ohio  45419


WSU’s Women in Art taking applications

The Wright State University’s Women’s Center is seeking applications for its 2009 Women in Art: Unheard Voices show. The show began as a collaborative effort of the YWCA Dayton, Wright State University’s Women’s Center and Studies program, and four artists. Unheard Voices showcases the work of women who have not yet shown a full body of their work publicly.  

Applications are accepted from the community and artists are selected by a panel of past artists and Women’s Center staff. This is a two-year commitment. The first year you will show your work with the guidance of a mentor and the second year will be spent mentoring a new artist through the process. To apply, go to the Women’s Center website: and complete the online application form.

Deadline to submit an application is Monday, Dec. 15, 2008. For details, please contact the Women’s Center at 937.775.4524 or

Youth piano competition seeks entries by Feb. 14

The Dayton Chamber Music Society is calling for entries to the Eleanor McCann Piano Competition for Youth which will take place April 4, 2009 at Christ Episcopal Church, 20 W. First St. in Downtown Dayton.  First place prize is $1,000; second place prize is $500.

The competition is being held in memory of the late Ms. Eleanor McCann who “dedicated her life to the introduction of area young people to the excitement of music and its developmental effects,” according to the announcement received.

The number of finalists will be limited to a maximum of eight to ten and will be chosen from CD recordings. Each finalist will be allowed a total playing time of twenty minutes.

The competition is open to contestants between grades 9 and 12 as of the 2008-09 school year (no exceptions) and must reside in Montgomery, Miami, Greene, Clark, Warren, Clinton or Preble County.

To receive an application form and entrance procedure requirements, call 436-2603 or e mail a request to Materials must be postmarked no later than February 14.



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