SPRINGFIELD – "African Heritage in Classical Music" is the topic of a new four-part series aired Fridays at 11 a.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. throughout February on public radio WUIS 91.9-WIPA 89.3. The program is made possible with support from the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield and New Mission Church of God.
The series is a collaboration of WUIS Music Director Karl Scroggin and Grammy-nominated conductor/violinist John McLaughlin Williams, and grew out of an e-mail exchange between the two men.
As the host of WUIS staple "Classics with Karl Scroggin," Scroggin routinely gets many e-mails and calls from listeners. A little over a year ago he began corresponding online with someone whose knowledge of the music and the industry surprised him. "At first I didn’t connect the dots," chuckled Scroggin. "I e-mailed him, 'You are a very advanced listener.'"
That "advanced listener" was Williams, who had recently moved to Springfield with his wife, Ann Lampkin, a new faculty member in the Social Work and Human Development Counseling programs at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Williams had begun listening to the local public radio station. "We have many of John's CDs in our music library," noted Scroggin.
Each of the four programs presents music by a featured composer, interwoven with conversation between Scroggin and Williams. UIS professor and poet Marcellus Leonard is also heard throughout the series.
"I think listeners are going to find it very interesting," said Scroggin. "And this is not the last time John and I will visit the topic – I look forward to further collaborations with this nationally renowned musician who I'm so pleased has moved into our neck of the woods."
"I bristle at the thought that this series is only appropriate during February," said Williams. "The heritage of these composers is important to the genre of classical music. Anyone can benefit by learning about their contributions."
The first program, on February 2, focused on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, British composer of "Hiawatha," a trilogy based on poems by Longfellow.
The program for February 9 and 12 features Florence Beatrice Smith Price (1888-1953). Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Price studied at the New England conservatory of Music in Boston. Among her most famous compositions is the Symphony in E Minor, which won the Wanamaker Prize in 1931.
The program for February 16 and 19 highlights the "dean of African-American composers," William Grant Still. Still was born in 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi, and studied at the New England Conservatory with George Chadwick. His more than 150 compositions include operas; ballets; symphonies; chamber works; and arrangements of folk themes, especially Negro spirituals; plus instrumental, choral, and solo vocal works.
The final program in the series, on February 23 and 26, spotlights George Walker, the first black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize -- in 1996 for "Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra." First performed by the Boston Symphony, “Lilacs” is based on Walt Whitman’s poem about the assassination of Lincoln. The program will also feature Ulysses S. Kay Jr., the composer of more than 140 works, including five operas as well as scores for film and television.
Williams began studying the violin at age 10 in the Washington, D.C., public schools. At age 14, he was selected by the wives of cabinet members in the Nixon administration to solo with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. He is a former member of the Houston Symphony and concertmaster of the Virginia Symphony. As a conductor, he has made five world-premiere CDs for Naxos' American Classics series. Williams has performed and recorded with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops, including the soundtrack to the film Schlindler's List. As composer/arranger, he can be heard on Bruce Hornsby's Harbor Lights and on the soundtrack to Mr. Dreyfuss Goes to Washington, a documentary for The History Channel.WUIS-WIPA is a listener-supported service of the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield. WUIS' mission is to satisfy a curious, societally engaged audience through programming and community outreach. WUIS can also be heard online at www.wuis.org.