LYC Blog #6: Sounds Like London
LYC Artistic Director Rachel Staunton and Head of Engagement Ishani O’Connor share their love of London’s musical diversity – and the importance of representing it at LYC.
Published October 2022
All year round at LYC we like to celebrate and sing a diverse mix of compositional voices.
With 18 languages fluently spoken across LYC choirs and 63 different ethnicities identified within our recent membership survey, we’re reminded of how important it is that our members see and hear from relatable role models. Or simply put: singing songs by a diverse range of people is a no-brainer!
So music by Black and Global Majority composers is part of the normal everyday LYC musical diet – but Black History Month is a reminder that we can always do more to showcase the work of those who have had to face more obstacles than others for their music to be shared and performed. Below is a playlist of some brilliant songs by some of our favourite composers. Some of them are currently being learned, or have recently been learned, across our choirs. All of the composers and performers listed have large and exciting catalogues of music to explore – we hope you’ll enjoy these little highlights and will be inspired to discover some new favourites!
Abel Selaocoe – Ibuyile l’Africa
With Yo-Yo Ma
Ayanna Witter-Johnson – Rise Up
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor – Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast: ‘YOU SHALL HEAR HOW PAU-PUK KEEWIS’
Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Choral Society, Richard Lewis, Sir Malcolm Sargent
This three-part Oratorio was hugely popular and was performed numerous times at the Royal Albert Hall with costume and elaborate staging. Coleridge-Taylor was only 22 years old when the first section, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, was premiered. The piece rivalled Handel’s Messiah in its popularity and sold thousands of copies. Coleridge-Taylor lived in Croydon, South London and his daughter Avril Coleridge-Taylor was also a composer.
Errolyn Wallen – The lighthouse keeper
Errollyn Wallen is a contemporary British composer who has a rich and exciting catalogue: LYC have learned her song ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’.
Florence Price – Hold Fast to Dreams
Price’s music has increased in notoriety in recent years and she wrote many ‘penny songs’ to pay the rent. She composed over 300 works including four symphonies and she was the first African-American woman to debut a symphonic work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was an American classical composer, pianist, organist and music teacher who never gave up her musical career despite the racism and exclusion she experienced in her lifetime.
Vincente Lusitano – Inviolata
The Marian Consort
A mixed-heritage, late Renaissance composer and music theorist from Portugal who was the first Black composer to be published.
James B. Wilson – Lullaby for Choir
James B. Wilson is an award-winning contemporary classical composer whose music focuses on the rich textural, timbral and harmonic possibilities of acoustic instruments and the voice.
Scott Joplin – Treemonisha
‘Treemonisha’ is the only opera by Scott Joplin, who sadly never saw a staging or performance in his lifetime. An American composer and pianist, Joplin is more well-known for being the ‘King of Ragtime’ with ‘The Entertainer’ and ‘The Maple Leaf Rag’ being international hits.
Chiquinha Gonzaga – Lua Branca
Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga (known as Chiquinha Gonzaga), was a Brazilian composer, pianist and the first woman conductor of Brazil.
Eva Jessye (arr.) – Bles’ My Soul An’ Gone
Jessye was an American conductor who was the first Black woman to receive international distinction as a professional choral conductor. She created her own choral group during the Harlem Renaissance.
Margaret Bonds – Three Dream Portraits
Dashon Burton, Stefano Flavoni
Bonds was friends with Florence Price and also an American composer, pianist, arranger, and teacher. One of the first Black composers and performers to gain recognition in the United States, she is remembered for her popular arrangements of African-American spirituals and frequent collaborations with poet Langston Hughes of the Harlem Renaissance.
Duke Ellington – It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing
Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and his orchestra
Duke Ellington performing with the incredible Ella Fitzgerald! Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was an American jazz pianist, composer and leader of his famous jazz orchestra from 1923 through the rest of his life. He gained a national profile through his orchestra’s appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem.
Charles Ignatius Sancho – Sweetest Bard
Reginald L. Mobley, Henry Lebedinsky
Sancho was a British abolitionist, writer and composer; a South Londoner who grew up in Greenwich. He started life as an enslaved child trafficked from the Caribbean and became a business-owner, author and the first Black man to vote in an election in England.