Harlem goes classical at Apollo

With African-American artists representing the music world of today mostly with Hip Hop and R&B it is easy to forget that there is much more out there. Afterall, arguable the greatest guitar player of all times and a huge part of the classic rock movement in the 70’s was Jimmy Hendrix. Michael Jackson is and always will be the king of pop music straight from the 80s. Go back a bit further and you get the notable figures in Jazz, like Duke Ellington; in blues, like BB King; in gospel, like Aretha Franklin and so on.

One genre of music that gets even less attention from African-American artists today than hand drumming is classical music. With almost all notable classical music composers and performers over many centuries being white, it seems to have far less cultural appeal for black artists. From Johann Sebastian Bach to Ludwig van Beethoven, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Gustav Mahler, all most remarkable composers came from Germany and Austria 2-3 centuries ago. Besides the length of time, that region of Europe is better known for racism and extreme segregation, than peaceful assimilation of racial groups. That alone would be enough to turn most black people from the culture. The significance of classical music is absolutely impossible to describe thou. It spans for over a millennium and gave life to most known genres of music, from rock to country music and its influence is seen widely in R&B and Hip Hop. Ironically, most classical music instruments derived from Africa, India, South America and other parts of the world.

Despite it being predominantly ‘white music’, classical music genre also presents many notable African and African-American artists, composers, plays and so on. Charged with strong themes of racism William Shakespeare’s Othello spun off 2 operas and numerous films, from the Laurence Fishburne-starring version to Mekhi Phifer’s role in O. Scott Joplin created and popularized the now infamous ragtime music.

So, it only makes sense that Apollo Theater has invited The Harlem Symphony Orchestra to perform on its stage for the second year. Led by the renowned violinist and conductor Amadi Hummings, it kicked off The Apollo Family Series in ’08. Performing pieces by Scott Joplin and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the entire orchestra, theater and program for the show were filled with African-American classical music lovers. The music of the ‘old days’ did not divide that day, but only represented, as if standing against preconceived notions.

Mr. Hummings sat down with WORDSnTUNES before the performance to talk a bit about the day’s recital, his life and views on music itself.

Interview with Amadi Hummings

Harlem Symphony Orchestra performs at Apollo Theater (photos)

Dmitriy Goldin

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