BY TOM LAVIS
Johnstown Symphony Orchestra is breaking new ground by offering its first-ever concert in celebration of Black History Month.
The concert, titled “American History – Land of the Free,” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center in Richland Township.
The program will feature composers William Grant-Still, Aaron Copland, Joan Tower and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Maestro Istvan Jaray said of all the concerts he has been associated with through the years, this will be his first venture into spotlighting African-American composers.
“It is something I have been meaning to do for a long time,” he said.
“There is a wealth of great African-American composers, both men and women, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries to a contemporary group of living symphonists.”
Compositions will include Copland’s “Fanfare for Common Man” and “Lincoln Portrait,” Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman
No. 1,” Grant-Still’s “Symphony No. 1, Afro-American Symphony,” and Coleridge-Taylor’s “Danse Negre,
Op. 35, No. 4” and “Ballade in A minor, Op. 33.”
“African-American composers are a cherished, integral part of music history,” Jaray said. “I would hope this starts a musical dialogue with the African-American community to demonstrate that classical music is for everyone, no matter what their ethnicity.”
Brooke Welsh, the symphony executive director, said the symphony’s marketing committee has been meeting with educators and community leaders to promote the concert and spread the word to area churches, schools and community groups.
“We are trying to reach new audiences, and we want them to be aware of this concert,” Welsh said. “We don’t want the concert to pass by and get word that people did not know that the Johnstown Symphony held this concert.”
Welsh credits a number of community leaders for their support of generating interest for the concert.
Advocates include the Rev. Sylvia King, pastor of Christ Centered Community Church; Jeffrey Webb, professor at Pitt-Johnstown; and Gerald Zahorchak, superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District.
In paying homage to the African-American culture, Jaray said he selected Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” as an appropriate selection.
“Especially now, with the movie about Lincoln getting a lot of attention on the big screen,” Jaray said.
“The music can connect the whole story of how Lincoln battled slavery and it also pays homage to the African-American community.”
But Jaray wants to go into the schools and expose more children to the historical significance of African-American composers.
He pointed to Grant-Still as a perfect example.
“He was well known in his time, and the selection we are doing for the concert is a little bluesy with an inviting jazz rhythm,” Jaray said.
King views the concert as a way of raising awareness and bridging the gap of cultural differences in the region.
“This concert will expand our awareness of various cultures because music overcomes differences of race, creed, color and socio-economic status,” King said. “As a society, we have many cultures that contributed to the making of America.”
King also views the concert as an educational opportunity.
“We have 40 children from our church who are very excited about attending this concert,” she said. “It is a new aspect in music for them and may broaden their cultural insight into classical music.”
She said the concert is an opportune way to celebrate various cultures in the community.
“Also, with the children attending, this will expand their awareness and stimulate their creativity,” King said.
In addition, the symphony is reaching out to the professors at Pitt-Johnstown, encouraging them to include in their curriculum the option for students to attend the concert.
The symphony continues its efforts to promote its share-the-music program for “American History – Land of the Free.”
The program allows corporations that sponsor concerts but which are unable to use their tickets to donate them back to the symphony.
The symphony then will distribute the tickets to social service agencies.
Any agency that would like tickets, or corporations that wish to donate to the share-the-music program should contact the symphony office at
Ticket prices for the concert are $10 for students and $25, $30 and $35 for adults.
Information: 535-6738 or on the Internet at www.johnstownsymphony.org.
If you go ...
Who: Johnstown Symphony Orchestra.
What: “American History – Land of the Free.”
Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road, Richland Township.
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9.
Tickets: 269-7200 or visit www.JohnstownSymphony.org.
Cost: $25, $30 and $35 for adults; $10 for students.
Information: 535-6738 or 269-7200.
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