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Aha! With Alastair Episode 8: Quinn Mason, Florence Price, William Dawson

South Bend Symphony Orchestra

For the first time, the South Bend Symphony Orchestra programmed a Masterworks concert consisting solely of African American composers.

Alastair Willis, music director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, shares some insights on the recent Jack M Champaign Masterworks concert, called “American Composers.”

"When we think of American Composers, who immediately comes to mind? For me it would be Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams. In this podcast I’m going to make the case that there might be a few names missing, like William Dawson, Florence Price and Quinn Mason. Until a few years ago, these are names I hadn’t heard of, but after our last concert, I am convinced we need to hear their music more often!

Let me start with some context. The classical music world – long dominated by dead white European composers – was spurred by the murder of George Floyd to once and for all make real progress on inclusion. Orchestras everywhere began to program more and more music by African American and underrepresented composers.

The South Bend Symphony formed an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and committed to diversifying programming, the board, the staff and the orchestra itself. To engage our community with the entire diversity of orchestral music requires a diversity of thought and experience that we’d been lacking. This attention is already bearing fruit and our concert, on April 2, 2022, was just one of many examples – the first time the SBSO programmed a Masterworks concert consisting solely of African American composers."

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