CBMR Forum, a program of the Center for Black Music Research, is comprised of thirteen Chicago-area scholars and the professional staff of the Center for Black Music Research—a coterie of thinkers who address concerns and issues exclusive to black music scholarship, performance, and teaching. The Forum meets seven times a year. Each session is devoted to two nationally important issues or concerns that have been presented conceptually by members of the Forum prior to public examination and discussion. Other questions appropriate for address by the Forum are those related to quality in the educational enterprise, the status and direction of music in higher education, and other such topics, since all such questions bear in some way on the matter of the Forum's central concern. With national organizations giving heavy attention to concerns about the impact of our country's growing minority populations on education and culture, the Forum is another means of addressing some of these concerns in a systematic and consistent manner. It is a way of bringing to bear the knowledge, expertise, and thinking of conveniently available scholars on problems of growing national concern and of making available to the profession the results of this thinking.



The members of CBMR Forum are leading musicologists, ethnomusicologists, performers, jazz and blues specialists, and composers who are members of college and university faculties in the Chicago area:

Harold Best, Dean of the Conservatory, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.
Philip Bohlman, Assistant Professor of Music, University of Chicago
Howard M. Brown, Professor of Music, University of Chicago
Lee Cloud, Associate Professor of Music, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Ill.
Dena J. Epstein, Music Librarian Emeritus, University of Chicago
Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., Director, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College
Philip Gossett, Professor of Music, University of Chicago
Charles Hicks, Professor of Music, Governor's State University, Chicago
Aaron Horne, Professor of Music, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago
Sandra Lieb, Independent Scholar, Chicago
Steve Ovitsky, Artistic Director, Grant Park Concerts, Chicago
Marsha J. Reisser, Assistant Director, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College
Don Roberts, Head Music Librarian, Northwestern University
William Russo, Director, Contemporary American Music Program, Columbia College
Richard Wang, Associate Professor of Music, University of Illinois at Chicago




CBMR Forum was launched, in its inaugural session, by the presentation of a paper by Samuel A. Floyd. Floyd's paper addressed the general topic of "Black Music in Higher Education," discussing concerns related to the following issues: (1) the explosion of knowledge in the field of black music scholarship, (2) the exclusion of information about black music and significant black musical figures from the higher education curriculum, (3) the nature and importance of the black aesthetic to the study and teaching of black music, and (4) the relationship between black music research and the teaching of black music. Musical figures such as William Grant Still, the Chevalier de St. Georges, and Frank Johnson were presented as excluded exemplars, knowledge of whose music and musical accomplishments are important to the proper and full understanding of the black contribution to world music and culture.

Floyd posited the necessity of implementing an approach to the study of music history that would result in a picture that includes "William Grant Still as well as Aaron Copland, Frank Johnson as well as Patrick S. Gilmore, Olly Wilson as well as Roger Sessions, New Orleans as well as Vienna, and 'Sophisticated Lady' as well as 'L'homme armé.'" In the process of his presentation, Floyd mentioned the cultural contributions of the principles under discussion, giving accounts of their musical output and focusing on interpretations of this music by a number of scholars. Still, Johnson, and St. Georges were compared to mainstream composers of similar accomplishment who are part of the mainstream historical record.

Floyd also spoke of the importance of attracting young black students to the field of black music scholarship. The central point in Floyd's presentation was that the present approach to teaching music history restricts the musical, cultural, and intellectual growth of our students in higher education "by our blind and limiting preoccupation with and devotion to the established canon" at the expense of other important, substantive, and enriching subject matter.



Reaction to Floyd's presentation was, naturally, varied; and additional related issues were also raised, as summarized and paraphrased below.

  1. There is a canon of masterworks in the European musical tradition which probably should always form a central repertory to be studied.
  2. The value of the music of the Chevalier de St. Georges must be proved if it is to become part of the standard canon.
  3. Black students should be encouraged to study all musical subjects and not just black-oriented topics, lest they be isolated in the academic world.
  4. Scholars who specialize in black music do well enough coming out of the established specialties, and a specialty in black music should not be necessary to establish a black scholar at a university. Black students should be encouraged to see that they should have a full and equal place in the academic world and not a special and segregated one.
  5. The short forms of Duke Ellington are equal in quality to those of European and Europe-oriented composers.
  6. Qualified jazz scholars are either nonexistent or extremely difficult to identify.



The April 3, 1989, session of CBMR Forum reviewed and discussed ideas and issues raised by three scholars in statements published in Black Music Research Bulletin and CBMR Register. Statements by Richard Crawford (University of Michigan), Martin Williams (Smithsonian Institution Press), and Robert Glidden (Florida State University) were read by Marsha J. Reisser. Each statement was followed immediately by reactions from the Forum membership.



Crawford's basic position is summarized in the closing paragraph of his statement. After quoting and commenting on a statement by Ralph Ellison to the effect that not much is understood by Americans about the nature of American experience and that we will continue being victims of "various inadequate conceptions of ourselves" unless we continually explore "the network of complex relationships that bind us together" (Going to the Territory [New York, 1986], 42), Crawford writes:

I believe that in the remaining years of the twentieth century, black American music will make its way into the mainstream academic curriculum—that courses on "the history of music" in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will routinely take up Afro-American composers and traditions, that the performance of Afro-American music in academic settings will increase greatly, and that a growing number of academically trained musicologists will begin to study this music—not to be trendy but because they perceive the importance and high adventure of doing so. The ingredients are in place: a music of undisputed artistic excellence, relatively little studied so far by mainstream scholars, but offering the tough intellectual challenge of cultural and artistic complexity, and distilling the diversity that lies at the heart of American experience. That diversity is not mere co-existence—"Everything only connected by 'and' and 'and,'"as Elizabeth Bishop put it (The Complete Poems 1927-1979, [New York, 1983], 58)—but interconnectedness. And, as Ellison shows, it would be hard to find a more challenging, intriguing, socially beneficial focus than that for one's scholarly work.



Reaction to Crawford's statement was varied, with one member positing that Ellison's and Crawford's positions suggest a cultural relationism as opposed to the cultural relativism that has been fashionable in some circles and asking, "What amount of our ignorance of ourselves has been on purpose?" He maintained that, "As educators, we can force ignorance by controlling what we teach." These comments led to a discussion of the viability of the existing canon in American musicology, during which it was maintained by the same member that "the data-transfer method of teaching music is obsolete and should be discarded" in favor of an approach that would center on the learning and teaching of music and musical processes.

Another member suggested that one of the reasons for the continuing exclusion of black music from the musicological mainstream is the fact that "we are familiarists. We don't like strange and new things." The question was asked: "What's being withheld from the body of knowledge?" And it was maintained that "Nobody's studied the [black] music. It must be made available so that it can be studied and taught." Then differences and similarities in approaching Afro-American and European-based musics were discussed, with Louis Armstrong being widely cited and discussed as a musical artist whose value can only be appreciated in terms of this comparison. In this regard, the consensus seemed to be that musicology should use every available methodology to understand and teach jazz and other oral-tradition musics.



Martin Williams's position can be summed up, largely, in the following paragraphs from his statement:

Our symphonies, our opera companies, and our chamber ensembles are there not so much because any of the previously named men [Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Debussy] were great musical artists as because everyone knows that they were great musical artists. . . . Scholarship helps three hundred years of European concert music thrive as a body of living art for present and future generations. And the urgent if obvious job of American music scholarship, surely, is to bring its disciplines to bear on the survival and performance of American music.

Williams also maintains that "we do not yet have a really major biography of a single major jazz artist" and points out that there is no authentic body of scores available for performance in the field of jazz, particularly of major figures like Duke Ellington.



While one member took the position that Williams's analogy is a false one, maintaining that "Duke Ellington will never be the same as Beethoven," and another cited Charlie Parker as an example of why Williams's analogy does not work, a third member pointed out that "comparing Ellington to Beethoven is legitimate. To compare Parker is not." This latter member proceeded to illustrate why this is so, citing all of the features and characteristics shared by the works of Beethoven and the extended works of Ellington.

Other points made included the following:

  1. Ellington's music has to be studied in relation to the music of the unwritten tradition, and an enormous amount of work would need to be done first to establish a text.
  2. The truth is that at the moment Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven are perceived as forming a central canon of Western art music, and composers like Ellington need to be evaluated along with "the others".
  3. Any composer who is perceived to have been neglected needs to be fully assessed, and neither over-valued nor undervalued. There is a special problem with Ellington in that we must either make a critical edition of his music, or explain why a critical edition cannot be made. The central problem of relating jazz to the Western European tradition is the different relationship of jazz to the Western tradition.



Robert Glidden's statement points out that "we should all be concerned about the paucity of black participation in music in higher education" and goes on to say why. He discusses the dire prospects for increased participation and concludes as follows:

I believe that in many colleges and universities we are doing some of the right things—affirmative action hiring procedures, new faculty positions established specifically for minorities, special incentives for graduate education, programs for admission and scholarship for undergraduates, etc.—but for the most part, those programs simply intensify the competition for a pool of individuals that is too small. We must work together to encourage young black children to study music and to participate in their school music programs if we are to increase the size of the pool enough to make a real difference.



The function and availability of scholarly and musical role models for black youngsters was discussed, with recognition that the most visible role models are financially successful ones, with whom academics cannot compete. It was maintained that this factor is reducing the number of black youngsters pursuing scholarly careers or careers in the performance of classical music.

Some took issue with this position, citing the destruction of black communities and black musical accomplishments resulting from the desegregation of the 1960s as the primary contributing factor.

It was maintained that this state of affairs can only be corrected through long-term solutions rather than by current efforts of academic institutions and symphony orchestras to attract candidates from a pool that is almost nonexistent. It was concluded that positive steps should be taken by the professional music societies to put in motion long-term procedures for solving this vexing problem and that opening up the curriculum to previously excluded musics would also help attract youngsters who continue to feel alienated from the higher education music curriculum.



The third session of CBMR Forum, with a presentation by Samuel A. Floyd, was devoted to the introduction, playing, and discussion of three musical compositions: (1) Symphony No.1 (1778) by the Chevalier de St. Georges, (2) The Chariot Jubilee (1919), for tenor, eight-part chorus, and orchestra, by R. Nathaniel Dett, and (3) "Swing Along" (1912), one of the Three Negro Songs by Will Marion Cook. The purpose of the session was to discuss the position of these works in relation to the canon of works that make up the current music history and performance repertory, to identity reasons for their exclusion, and to discuss how and to what extent they might, as representatives of black music literature, be included.

The Chevalier de St. Georges and his First Symphony were discussed within their historical, musical, cultural, and social contexts, with special emphasis on the following considerations: (1) the work in its relation to other particular works in the canon, (2) the work as a product of the period, (3) the work as a product of a black composer, (4) the form and structure of the work, and (5) the composer as a musical product of his period. The consensus was the following: (1) that St. Georges's Symphony is an acceptable composition of quality, (2) that its particular and unique provenance recommends it as a work that would enrich the curriculum and provide a particular point of departure for the treatment of music history as a humanities subject, and (3) that the inclusion of works of this sort would add to the curriculum compositions representative of the corpus of late eighteenth-century French music that are not normally taught in music history courses.

The Chariot Jubilee was discussed by Floyd as a product of the Harlem Renaissance, with Dett being presented as one who played a role in introducing the movement (with Chariot Jubilee, 1919) and closing it out (with his oratorio The Ordering of Moses, 1934). The work was acknowledged as an exemplar of Afro-American musical nationalism, in particular, and American musical nationalism, in general. The consensus was that the work should be published, recorded, and widely distributed.

"Swing Along" was recognized by all as a work of considerable merit, as a part of the rich variety of the unsung works of American culture. This song was discussed within the context of its relationship to the Harlem Renaissance as a precursor to that movement, as part of the tradition of the American show musical, as a product of a segregated and oppressive society, and as a product and example of both European and Afro-American cultural influences and performance practices.



The primary points made in the responses were that (1) students in American higher education as well as Americans in general are being shortchanged and mis-educated by the exclusion of these works and others like them, and (2) since performance practice considerations are important in the effective performance and understanding of music such as The Chariot Jubilee and "Swing Along," attention should be given to Afro-American performance practices in the classroom.



With the third and last session of the Forum's first year, it was decided that next year's seven meetings will result in a position paper. The document, to be called CBMR Report on the Black Presence in American Music Schools and Musical Institutions, will treat a wide range of concerns about the black presence in higher education and in other American cultural institutions and will make recommendations for improving current conditions. The report will be distributed to schools of music, symphony orchestras, opera companies, and jazz service organizations across the country. A list of anticipated dates, topics, and presenters follows:

1989-1990 SESSIONS

October 2, 1989 "On Black Music as Part of the Standard Teaching Repertory." Richard Wang, Presenter.
November 6, 1989 "On Recruitment and Retention of Black Faculty and Graduate Students in American Music Schools." Willis Patterson, Presenter.
December 4, 1989 "The Black Presence in Major American Cultural Institutions." Nancy Malitz, Presenter.
February 5, 1990 "Effects of the Study of Black Music on Academic Policy." Richard Crawford, Presenter.
March 5, 1990 "Black Presence in Music Histories and Textbooks: Issues, Prospects, and Avenues for Improvement." Claire Brook, Presenter.
April 2, 1990 "The Black Presence in Collegiate Music Schools and its Relationship to Pre-College Musical and Academic Preparation." Eileen Cline, Presenter.
May 7, 1990 "Performance Practice and Black Music in Mainstream Performance Programs." (Presenter TBA.)
2666 Last modified on October 23, 2018