A virtual performance of Mother and Child (1943) for String Orchestra by William Grant Still features students, alumni, and faculty from UNC Charlotte, along with musicians from across the community. It was recorded this summer by Charlotte area string players in a show of support for Charlotte's Black community.
"We were inspired to perform this work because Black Lives Matter," the musicians wrote in a joint statement.
Still (1895-1978), who wrote more than 150 compositions, is often called the "Dean of African American Composers." He studied music at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory and led a successful career, becoming the first African American in the United States to have a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra and the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States.
Among the 18 musicians, who come from Winthrop University, the Charlotte Symphony, private string studios, Northwest School of the Arts, and other local schools, are UNC Charlotte faculty Brian Arreola, Mira Frisch, and Kirsten Swanson; alumni Amber Daniel-Robinson, Malik Johnson, Michaela Meadows, Matthew Primm, and Alice Silva; and current music majors Christen Crumpler and Renzo Cáceres. The musicians began learning the music in July, and recording took place in August using a recording app called “Acapella.”
“For me, this was the first time doing a virtual collaboration, but despite the technological challenges, it was an incredible and beautiful experience,” said Renzo, a cellist. “I think the greatest challenge was to participate in a collective project being distanced, but it also helped me to see and understand that even being distanced we can share as a community the same heart and mind, same feeling and thoughts, and the same intention of showing love and support for the Black community.”
Mother and Child “evokes complex emotions,” said Christen, who is a violinist. “Something that I believe was very well put within the program notes listed on Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra's website was that the struggles that Still had to experience throughout his life due to racism were ‘apparent in his compositions as an expression of his humanity.’ That is something that can definitely still be seen within the piece Mother and Child today.”
The ensemble hopes that the virtual performance of Still’s piece will form the foundation for a full-length live concert that will further highlight and bring together the greater Charlotte communities.
“What I find meaningful about participating in this performance is that, with the abundance of current events people around the world have been receiving this year (racial tensions/unrest within America, the global pandemic due to Covid-19, and many more events), this performance can give hope for better things that music can usually do and be unique to each individual, while uniting us together,” said Christen. “It is also very meaningful to me that this project was able to bring musicians of different backgrounds together to play, uniting under one cohesive message: Black Lives Matter.”