Serenade by William Grant Still, performed by the Northwest Orchestra Consortium (January 2021)

  • Issue: Volume 61, No.2
  • DOI:
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[0:04] Dr. Christopher T. F. Hanson (CTFH): Greetings from Seattle Pacific University…

[0:07] Dr. Lance Ionuye (LI): Greetings from Lewis and Clark College in Portland Oregon…

[0:11] Dr. Paul Luongo (PL): Greetings from Whitman College…

[0:13] DR. Anna Wittstruck (AW): Greetings from the University of Puget Sound…

[0:16] CTFH: We are so thrilled to share this video with you, that features a virtual performance of William Grant Still’s “Serenade” arranged by the composer for strings and solo piano. To our knowledge this is the only recording of this remarkable piece with this particular orchestration. The performance features students from all four of our institutions which we refer to as the Northwest Orchestra Consortium. We founded this consortium in response to the global covet 19 pandemic which has required so many to limit and restrict their physical interactions and collaborations particularly in the arts and education. We recognize, however as we appropriately distance ourselves physically, it is important that we do not distance ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. With the extraordinary technology that is available to us through our institutions, we were able to connect with each other to discuss, learn, study, grow, and ultimately produce a performance of Still’s incredible work. 

[1:23] AW: Here's a little on Still's biography…known as the dean of African American classical composers William Grant Still was born on May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to middle class parents of mixed race, who were teachers and musicians. He grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Raised by his mother and grandmother after his father died, Still studied medicine at Wilberforce University, an historically black college in Ohio, but spent most of his time there conducting the band, playing, arranging, and composing music. He began his formal music composition training at Oberlin Conservatory, after which he also studied with George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory and privately with ultra-modernist composer Edgar Verez. Early on he also entered the world of commercial i.e popular music, working in Harlem for blues musician W. C. Handy and creating musical arrangements for theater orchestras and radio. 

[2:13] PL: In the 20s, Still made his first appearances as a composer in New York and began a valued friendship with Dr. Howard Hanson of Rochester. During this period Still won Guggenheim and Rosenwald fellowships, as well as important commissions from the Columbia Broadcasting System, the 1939 New York World's Fair, Paul Whiteman, the League of Composers, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Southern Conference Educational Fund, and the American Accordionists Association. After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1930s, Still earned further citations from numerous organizations local and elsewhere in the United States. In 1939, Still married journalist and concert pianist Verna Arvey, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Still died of heart failure on December 3, 1978. ASCAP took care of all of Dr. Still's hospitalization until his death. 

[3:19] LI: William Grant Still's career was groundbreaking, marked by many firsts as an African-American. He was the first African-American composer in the U.S to have a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra. He's also the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in 1936, conducting the Los Angeles philharmonic. He was the first African American to conduct a symphony orchestra in the deep south in 1955 leading the New Orleans Philharmonic at Southern University. He was also the first African American to lead a white radio orchestra in New York City. In the world of opera in the U.S. he was the first to have an opera produced and nationally televised by a major company in 1949. His opera “Troubled Island” was done at the city center of music and drama in New York City. With all these firsts, Still was a pioneer. He pioneered because he was able to create music with a distinct American voice and style that gained the interest admiration and attention from conductors, orchestras and audiences.

[4:14] CTFH: This biographical information as well as several other valuable resources and materials is taken from We strongly encourage you to visit this site to learn more about William Grant Still and to patronize the organization by programming and performing his music. The score that you will see in our video is a transcription we have produced and edited from a handwritten copy available for purchase from William Grant Still Music. Unlike other virtual performances you may have seen this video is designed to render visible the work of the composer over the performers as a part of a broader curricular aim to center contributions by Black American musicians. That being said, we are extremely proud and humbled by the herculean efforts of our students and colleagues that made this performance possible. Thank you for watching and please enjoy this performance of William Grant Stills “Serenade” arranged for string orchestra and solo piano and performed virtually by the Northwest Orchestra Consortium. 

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Last modified on Monday, 18/04/2022

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