Youth Concerts

Our Youth Concerts inspire 4,000 4th-6th graders each spring and serve schools from an 8-county radius. These free concerts feature the full orchestra in creative and interactive programs.

The 2023 Youth Concerts will take place in person at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on March 28. This year's concerts feature jazz maestro Bruce Henry as he caps off a season-long community residency entitled The Evolution of African American Music. This concert features an array of wonderful repertoire for full orchestra organized around Bruce's panoramic history of Black music.

wcfsymphony Youth Concerts are made possible by generous grants from the R.J. McElroy Trust, Guernsey Charitable Foundation and Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa as well as the wcfsymphony Education Committee and Martha Kroese.

The Evolution of African American Music

The 2023 Youth Concerts are the culmination of The Evolution of African American Music, a full year residency with award-winning vocalist and speaker Bruce Henry. Bruce’s residency in the Cedar Valley incorporates several school-based programs, these Youth Concerts, and our April 29th performance at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.

When we listen to rock, gospel, R&B, soul, jazz, and hip-hop we are hearing the survival and flowering of African culture in America. Bruce's Evolution of African American Music project is an interactive and multimedia curriculum for all ages that traces the path from traditional African music all the way to hip-hop. This entertaining and interactive series of workshops, informances, talks, and concerts has been aimed at helping participants connect to the many styles of African American music. It also demonstrates how field hollers, spirituals, jazz, R&B and hip-hop are intimately connected to one another and to our national history.

To kick off the residency Bruce spent two separate weeks last fall working with students at Central Middle School on a series of music and art projects. This March he returns to perform and narrate our Youth Concerts and he will be back in April for our season finale orchestra concert. Together with wcfsymphony Artistic Director Jason Weinberger, Bruce has created a condensed version of the timeline specifically for these Youth Concerts featuring primarily orchestral music. Below is information about the pieces featured on the Youth Concerts, highlighting their place in the history of African American music and including classroom-ready information on the styles and composers who make up the timeline.

Download our 2023 Youth Concert Educator Packet for use in the classroom.

Florence Price - Ethiopia’s Shadow in America - III Adaptation

Florence Price (1887-1953) was the first female Black composer to be performed by a major American symphony orchestra and in the course of her career she composed over 300 works. Her music languished in obscurity for decades until 2009, when a substantial collection of her music was found in her abandoned summer home. Her music is now being performed regularly around the world, a recognition of her singular achievement and the start of a much-needed corrective to the lack of diverse perspective in traditional orchestral programming.

Ethiopia’s Shadow in America is an orchestral tone poem composed in 1933 and devoted to the historical experiences of African slaves who were brought to America. Price divided the piece into three sections: The Arrival of the Negro in America when first brought here as a slave; His Resignation and Faith; His Adaptation, A fusion of his native and acquired impulses. Our performance features the final section for its relevance to the project of the Evolution of African American Music.

More information about this work is at the Boston Symphony

Traditional - I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray

Spirituals are a key form of early African American folk music and were one of the important artistic methods used by slaves and ex-slaves to express their situations. Spirituals encompass sing songs, work songs, and plantation songs and ultimately evolved into both the secular blues tradition and church gospel music.

I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray is a traditional spiritual adapted for Bruce Henry and full orchestra. It draws on a number of scriptural references which indicate the degree to which African American music was often a blend of native folk styles as well as other musical forms acquired in the course of the slave trade to and within America. Setting this piece for orchestra further demonstrates the mutability and durability of the spiritual as an art form.

Scott Joplin - Treemonisha Oveture

Scott Joplin (1868-1917) is among America’s earliest and most notable Black composers and is known primarily for his achievements in composing piano rags. Ragtime developed around the turn of the 20th century and drew upon a wide variety of influences including folk and minstrel styles, popular dances, marches, and European classical music. The style had a major influence on the development of jazz music in the first decades of the 20th century.

Joplin’s opera Treemonisha incorporates ragtime heavily, but like the form itself (and most of Joplin’s work) has elements of a wide range of musical styles. The opera was never fully staged during Jopin’s lifetime and did not receive its full premiere until 1972, after which it was postumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music. We will perform the opera’s overture in a full orchestra arrangement made from Joplin's original piano version.

More information about this work is at the Library of Congress

William Grant Still - Lenox Avenue - Blues

William Grant Still (1895-1978) is often considered to be the greatest Black orchestral composer our country has heard, and the breadth and quality of his work certainly qualifies him for that honor. Still racked up many firsts among African American classical musicians and was also widely connected to other artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance.

Lenox Avenue is a narrated orchestral piece written for radio; Still later adapted it for ballet performance (no wonder, given its rhythmic vitality). The subject matter of Lenox Ave is drawn directly from Still’s own firsthand experience of the Harlem Renaissance. This performance features a blues section which demonstrates the durability of earlier forms of African American music to persist in the culture and transform other genres.

More about this work is at Swing & Beyond

Miguel Atwood-Ferguson - Suite for Ma Dukes - Music of J Dilla

James Yancey (1974-2006) performed and produced under a variety of names including Jay Dee and J Dilla, alongside the who’s who of conscious hip hop including A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Common, Slum Village, Jaylib and many others. His two decades of work, particularly his beat-making, is now widely viewed as among the most important in the history of hip hop and by extension African American music.

After J Dilla’s early death from lupus in 2006 composer and instrumentalist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson created a unique orchestral collage of Dilla’s music entitled Suite for Ma Dukes. wcfsymphony was the first symphonic orchestra to perform selections from the piece in 2012. We return with a new section of Suite for Ma Dukes as a meditation on the thread that runs through The Evolution of African American Music - the survival, growth, and continuity of Black American music from 1619 all the way to the present.

More information about the music of J Dilla is in the wonderful new book Dilla Time


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