Marques L.A. Garrett, Glenn Korff School of Music assistant professor of music in Choral Activities compiled and edited “The Oxford Book of Choral Music by Black Composers,” published in February by Oxford University Press.
The book aims to address a historical lack of representation of Black musicians and composers in the choral canon.
The landmark collection includes music by historical composers such as Vicente Lusitano, Florence Price and Nathaniel Dett, as well as living composers such as Zanaida Robles, B.E. Boykin and Robert A. Harris. The anthology seeks to both improve representation in the historical canon and to showcase the music of some of the best names in choral music today.
Music from the anthology has been recorded by London Voices, conducted by Shivani Rattan and produced by Ken Burton, and is available across all major streaming platforms, including Spotify and YouTube Music.
One of the focal points of Garrett’s research is the non-idiomatic choral music of Black composers. Non-idiomatic, as it relates to Black composers, refers to the original concert music that is not part of the traditional idiomatic canon associated with Black music that includes spirituals, gospel, jazz, hip-hop and rap, among others. It led to him creating an online database, “Non-Idiomatic Choral Music of Black Composers”.
“This anthology simply seemed like a natural extension of my research,” Garrett said. “Instead of searching all over, people can have one resource that represents a wide spectrum.”
The anthology includes a collection of 35 full songs, along with background information on each composer and additional information about each song.
“I chose songs that represented as many music history time periods as possible,” Garrett said. “Due to copyright restrictions, some popular songs were excluded. However, we were able to represent those composers with other works. Some songs were already published by Oxford University Press or other publishers, while the rest were made available specifically for this collection.
The oldest song represented in the anthology is a motet by Lusitano, the first published Black composer. The newest is a choral art song sung by Reginal Wright, which was commissioned for the Glenn Korff School of Music’s George Walker Festival in 2022.
“Other songs are from widely popular composers like Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, R. Nathaniel Dett and Undine Smith Moore, and those with less of an international footprint like Charles Coleman and Nathan Carter,” Garrett said. “And it’s wonderful to have easy, moderate and difficult songs from living composers like B.E. Boykin, Robert Harris and Damien Geter.
Garrett hopes the anthology reaches full choirs, conductors, teachers and college students.
“For the conductors and teachers, this can be a resource for choral literature and conducting classes,” Garrett said. “I hope that people see, feel and perform the full breadth of representation. Thankfully, fewer people are stereotyping Black composers as ones who can only write idiomatic music such as spirituals and Gospel. This body of repertoire is a small piece of the compositional pie.”
Garrett is grateful for the efforts of Oxford University Press in creating this anthology.
“They worked with me closely from proposal to final product. It was an honor that the Oxford Delegates approved the use of the Oxford name, which does not always happen,” Garrett said. The anthology also coincided with the celebration of OUP’s 100th anniversary of the music department, which is why it has the Centenary Publication seal on the cover.”