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Violin Concertos by Black Composers. (Cedille)

The American Symphonic Legacy: Not Just For White Guys

by NPR Staff
Aug 10, 2013 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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Orchestral works by George Walker. Music by Olly Wilson. George Walker is considered the elder statesman of today's African-American composers.

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This summer, NPR Classical has been looking for the great American symphony — or at least some idea of what it might sound like.

Up until recently, the likely composers of the great American symphony looked remarkably similar: all white, overwhelmingly male. But the relative ease of access to sheet music today — as well as a substantial decrease in the cost of recording — has opened up the doors to composers who were once lost to history. And that means the great American symphony may have already been written by someone most Americans have never heard of.

Jeffrey Mumford is one of the American composers striving to create that symphony. He's also a teacher, and he studied with some composers in the pantheon of greats, including Elliott Carter and Lawrence Moss. He spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Celeste Headlee about how African-American composers have contributed to the elusive "American sound." Hear their conversation at the audio link, and check out Mumford's picks below.

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