by Anthony R. Green
On August 17th and 18th, a number of significant composers, musicians, artists, and artistic personalities (and little ole me) traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to celebrate the 90th birthday of trailblazing composer TJ Anderson. Organized by the not-yet-formalized Composers of Color Collective (CCC) and the Anderson family, this weekend celebration included music, spoken word, speeches, composer presentations, important discussions for the future, a lovely dinner, a roast, and an incredible building-up of community.
The celebrations kicked off with a concert, then a champagne toast and cake. The performers featured included Jennifer Evans (dulcimer), Jun-Chin Lin (violin), Donal Fox (piano), TJ Anderson III (spoken word, son of the honoree), Timothy Holley (cello), Louise Toppin (soprano), and John McDonald (piano). The concert featured mostly works of Maestro Anderson, including 3 world premieres, a clear indication of this creative composer's indefatigability. The performances were stellar. A particular moment that stuck out for me, however, was the combination of Donal Fox's piano improvisations supporting the amazing, relevant text of TJ Anderson III. It is always beautiful to see creativity passed down through a familial lineage, clearly displaying the genius of the Andersons. Additionally, the world premiere of Evocation, performed sublimely with comfort and ease by Ms. Toppin and Mr. McDonald, revealed Anderson's poise at text setting, vocal storytelling, and pianistic freedom. What an astonishing revelation - a composition lesson for any composer in the room!
The next day's events started with a panel talk featuring Louise Toppin as MC, John McDonald, and TJ Anderson. Mr. Anderson talked about his life a bit, told some funny jokes, and encouraged the upcoming generation of Black composers to keep going, no matter what type of incidents may arise. Mr. McDonald discussed a book that will be released soon about TJ Anderson, and his pride regarding the chapter about Mr. Anderson's orchestration of Treemonisha by Scott Joplin. After his discussion, one could feel this book will bring justice to perhaps one of the most sour points in Mr. Anderson's stellar career. This discussion concluded with a recording of an orchestral work recently performed by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The piece - Bahia , Bahia (1990) - is an orchestral journal entry and reflection upon Anderson's time spent in Brazil. The piece consists of various soli and contemporary counterpoint, all setting up a fantasmagoria of Brazilian rhytms and gestures for its powerful conclusion.
Followed by this panel, Anthony Kelly lead a presentation of music by six Black composers: Brittany Boykin, Mark Lomax, Trevor Weston, Stephen Newby, Dwight Andrews, and myself. Each composer talked a bit about their lives and work before playing an audio clip. The music included a conservative, expertly crafted choral work, a jazz-fusion masterpiece, a contemporary work for professional vocal ensemble and children's choir, and powerful art songs setting text from the Bible and James Baldwin. I was the only composer to create a 6 minute clip of excerpts displaying my various approaches to composition, from conservative tonal music to experimental music. The audience responded well with engaging questions and important discussion.
After a break, the final event ensued. This event was a lovely dinner, musical performances by the Morehouse Men's Choir and John McDonald (solo piano). Comedy filled the room with roasts by friends and family of TJ Anderson, some particularly shocking, but in the most hilarious, respectful way! TJ Anderson gave a heart-warming speech to conclude the festivities.
As a relatively young, Black composer, this event revealed to me a generation of Black composers and performers who made it, despite the struggles and adversities of working in a country that - at that time - was less open-minded and welcoming regarding issues of race and diversity. People like TJ Anderson, Rae Linda Brown, and others helped form a community of composers and musicians who supported each other, employed each others, challenged each other, and acknowledged each other. Their bond was tight, and their intentions of reaching out to composers my age and younger are genuine. It was an honor to be invited to be part of this celebration, and I hope to attend more of these CCC events in years to come.
To see more pictures of this celebration, please check out the Castle of our Skins facebook page! Photo credit of the second photo: William Banfield
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