African-American composers honored at Drexel concert

Drexel University’s concert band will celebrate Black History Month this week with a concert at the Kimmel Center presenting an evening of music by African-American composers. But Dr. Mike Moss, the band’s director, warns audiences — as he does his students — to leave their preconceptions behind.

“I think we’re all in the process of discovering how wide the diversity is,” Moss says. “There’s a piece [Roger Dickerson’s ‘Essay for Band’] that sounds like Hindemith, written by Branford Marsalis’ godfather. Then there’s a piece from 1911 that is a reflection of a black man improvising something that sounds like a spiritual.”

The evening’s centerpiece is a pair of commissioned works by Valerie Coleman, a founding member of the groundbreaking chamber music ensemble Imani Winds. But the program ranges over a century of music, representing research that Moss has explored into the work of African-American composers for two decades. Pieces include jazz composer/trumpeter Oliver Nelson’s Bach-inspired “Fugue and Bossa” and renowned concert violinist/ composer Clarence Cameron White’s “Triumphal March.” “If you ask even quite accomplished classical music practitioners what African-Americans have done in classical music, there’s very little information,” says Moss. “Yet there’s a large story to be told.”

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