On January 14th, 2023, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with its “Audacity of Hope” concert.  

The orchestra will be led by guest conductor Kevin Scott and will also feature a special spoken word presentation by Springfield’s Poet Laureate, Magdalena Gómez. 

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Scott and Gómez to learn more about their artistic collaboration and the importance of inclusivity in the creative arts.  

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: On January 14th, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With its “Audacity of Hope” concert.

The orchestra will be led by guest conductor Kevin Scott and will also feature a special spoken word presentation by Springfield’s Poet Laureate Magdalena Gómez.

I spoke with Scott and Gómez to learn more about their artistic collaboration and the importance of inclusivity in the creative arts.

Kevin Scott, Composer-Conductor: The audiences in Springfield will hear for the first time two pieces that are considered repertoire — or somewhat repertoire — by African American composers, namely Florence Price’s “Piano Concerto,” which was rediscovered over a decade ago. And finally — and it was reconstructed. But it’s been a while before they were able to find the original score.

We’ll be doing the original version of Florence’s “Concerto.”

I’m also conducting William Grant Still’s “Fourth Symphony,” the fourth of his five symphonies, which basically has the same meaning as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s subtitled “Autochthonous” which means, well, it’s sort of like — it’s a very strange subtitle, but it basically was Still’s way of reflecting after World War Two, a world of unity and harmony and peace and all the races becoming one homogeneous unit, the human race.

They’re also going to hear three new pieces and my own “Fanny’s Homecoming.”

And on top of it, we’re going to have Magdalena, who is my great friend and is, you know, one person that I’ve known for many, many, many, many, many, many years.

Zydalis Bauer: And Magdalena, this is a first for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, they have commissioned you to do a spoken word presentation. Talk to me about how that feels and how the art forms of poetry and music really come together and complement one another.

Magdalena Gómez, Springfield Poet Laureate: I’ve always felt that poetry is perform — is to be performed, either as theater or as a companion with music.

Because poetry is rhythm, and rhythm is something that comes naturally from the circadian rhythms of the body, from the heart. When we speak, when we make any kind of intonation, any kind of sound.

We are born to music. And words are also meant to be — have their own musicality in everyday life, not just in poetry.

But there’s a musicality and tonality that we use when we speak, and it changes depending on who we’re speaking to. Like when I speak with someone like you and with Kevin, I’m really happy. So, those, you know, rhythms change.

Zydalis Bauer: And this is a pretty monumental concert. Kevin, you focus on the works of all Black composers, and you are known for advocating for new, unknown, neglected composers. And while you have a focus on all areas of music, you really like to pay attention to the African American composers.

What misconceptions or challenges have you faced being a Black composer and conductor yourself?

Kevin Scott: A lot. The problem has been that society has pigeonholed classical music as as a domain of white European males who have dominated the repertoire for centuries. And this is true, but there have been Black composers who have been there at the same time.

The problem is very few people know of this legacy.

For example, Vicente Lusitano, the first Black composer who emanated from Portugal, and then the next known major composer would be Joseph Bologne, known as the Chevalier de Saint George, a friend of Haydn and Mozart.

And then you have other composers like Justin Holland, a Black man from America who emigrated to Europe. He was a guitar virtuoso.

Francis Johnson was a great bandmaster who played before Queen Victoria.

But then we have American composers of the 20th century, starting with William Grant Still.

And from Still, you have others that are out there, such as Ulysses Kay, who taught at Lehman College for many years in the Bronx and considered one of the great composers of the 20th century. He was played by the likes of Stokowski, Metropolis, and other great conductors. But today he’s all but forgotten.

And from that point on, you have so many other composers you can’t even begin to name the composers by Black — you have George Walker, who was the first Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in music; Julia Perry, Adolphus Hailstork.

In the present day you have people like Jessie Montgomery, Michael Abels, best known for his scores for the Jordan Peele movies, Kris Bowers, who’s done “Bridgerton” and he’s also wrote a very wonderful violin concerto and many, many, many other composers I can’t even begin to name.

I mean, it’s — but the legacy is there, and yet people still don’t know it.

Zydalis Bauer: And Magdalena, part of your artistic vision is to build unity and create intimacy through empathy. How are the creative arts a means to expand cultural conversations?

Magdalena Gómez: What the arts do, I think my goal for them is that they let go of — help us let go of ego, and stop thinking about success in life as material — as material capital. But start seeing success in life in how unified we can be as people because that is our greatest social capital, is being unified.

And when people go to the arts, whether it be the theater, or visual art — in a museum, you look at something, you’re looking at the person next to you, “what do they think?” you know? There’s always some kind of interaction that’s happening, whether spoken or unspoken.

Things happen in audiences. I always want audiences to feel “I know what that feels like,” and that’s why I try to write, you know, in the in the vernacular of the everyday, in the in the words of the everyday, because it’s important that we meet each other in the art.

And that’s what art is for me.

You know, it’s a meeting place where we can unabashedly, lovingly, and freely express the most intimate parts of ourselves with each other, even with strangers. And in truth, there really aren’t any strangers.

Zydalis Bauer: So, reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King and his notion that one should be judged on the content of your character and not the color of your skin, where do you see the classical musical genre heading in the next generations?

Or I guess, more importantly, where does it need to head to achieve more inclusivity?

Kevin Scott: I think it needs to — I think people need to hear the music first, and then realize who wrote the music.

Meet the composer, understand who they are first.

Now, we’re going to have a pre-concert lecture before the concert, and they’re going to meet myself, Ozie, and Quinn Mason, and we’re going to talk about our music, our experiences, and hopefully the audience will understand where we’re coming from.

One of the things about Black composers is that the first thing people will think is, “Oh, we’re going to be just bringing in a whole gang of arrangements like Barry White.” Nothing wrong with Barry White, he was a great, great composer and arranger himself.

But that’s the thing is, again, the stereotype.

They think that the music is going to sound like the Barry White Orchestra. And then they hear, “Oh no, this is something totally different.”

I mean, we can bring rap, we can bring gospel, we can bring folk, we can bring soul, we can bring jazz, we can bring all of that.

But at the same time, we still honor and respect the great tradition that started in the symphony with Haydn and Mozart and worked its way up into the present day.

Zydalis Bauer: And Magdalena, do you want to share some of your closing thoughts about just everything we’ve been talking about today and the event in general?

Magdalena Gómez: Yes, I do.

For me, this event is an opportunity for Springfield and our region to come together and experience an historic moment, which really shouldn’t be an historic moment, it is the 21st century, after all. But it is happening and we need to celebrate and honor it.

And it’s going to be an intergenerational gathering.

It’s going to be something that says, you know, we will not look at classical music only through a white supremacist, eurocentric lens. Which is what had always turned me off about classical music in the United States, because I didn’t know as the library of — of Kevin. And he’s opening my heart and eyes.

And I loved classical music, European classical music, even when I was in high school, in college. But, I also knew that all of the continents of this planet have classical music.

I consider the music of the Aboriginal people of Australia a form of classical music, and it’s a music that really informed, and touched my soul, my writing, and opened my mind to be a better writer.

So, I see this as the opportunity to move across racial, ethnic, age, identity, you know, just break down all those barriers.

Come be with this music, come be with these people that just want to love you and be with you and and let’s make it happen together because the audience is as important as every performer.