Miami University Symphony Orchestra Joins International Effort to Celebrate the Music of a Black American Female Composer



A still from the Adoration video celebrating Florence Price

A Global Effort to Celebrate the Music of a Remarkable Black American Female Composer

The Miami University Symphony Orchestra announces its new video to open the International Education Week on Monday, November 16. The video is a tribute to Florence Price, a pioneering black American female composer. The Miami University Symphony Orchestra partnered with LEAP Boundary Breakers in India to honor Price through a collaborative performance of her song Adoration.

Born in 1887, Florence Beatrice Price graduated with honors from the New England Conservatory in Boston. She wrote symphonies, organ works, piano concertos, compositions for violin, art songs, and chamber music throughout her career. Her career's turning point happened when she won the first and third prizes in the Wanamaker Foundations Awards. Her winning composition, the Symphony in E minor, was performed by the Chicago Symphony. 

Another high point in her career was at the renowned performance by Marion Anderson on Easter Sunday of 1939, which took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The prominent singer chose to end what became known as one of the most important concerts ever performed in America with Florence Price's song My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord.  

To celebrate Price's music universally, the Director of Orchestral Studies at Miami University, Dr. Ricardo Averbach, joined forces with Miami alum, Srinivas Krishnan, Artistic Director of LEAP Boundary Breakers, based in India. The production team enlisted the help of Dr. Derrick Harkins, the National Director of Interfaith Outreach for the Democratic National Committee. Dr. Harkins wrote lyrics to the composition Adoration by Florence Price, selected to be featured on the video. 

Originally written as an instrumental composition, a string orchestra version of Adoration was recorded under the guidance of Ricardo Averbach. Each member of the Miami Unversity Orchestra recorded an individual part using their phones, and the parts were carefully assembled. The vocal parts and most of the footage involved dozens of school children who are part of LEAP Boundary Breakers.  

The LEAP Boundary Breakers drives leadership amongst youth using a matrix form led by multiple students under the age of 14, including Akshara, Kriti, Laya, Nandan, Vaibhav and choreographer, Asmita Nandi. LEAP Boundary Breakers have been invited to major institutions in the USA, including MIT, Columbia University, NYU & the World Bank for musical presentations. Two graduates of AR Rahman's KM Music Conservatory, Ankesh Anand and Nidhi Saraogi, also participated in the video.

The production faced numerous challenges. Due to the pandemic, all the children were indoors, in their respective homes in Chennai, and had to record their parts using cell phones while attempting to avoid the surrounding noises constant in the densely populated neighborhoods. The video editor did not have reliable internet service in his village and had to use his cell phone as a hotspot on numerous occasions. It frequently took the entire evening to upload individual videos.

The culmination of efforts over three months between students at Miami and India is a poetic vision of Florence Price through her music, as the sounds cross continents, breaking boundaries, to become a symbol of inspiration in the memories of children and college students. "Our goal is to promote the music of a remarkable composer, and we are planning to perform Florence Price's Piano Concerto live as soon as the pandemic is under control," says Ricardo Averbach.

Most of the video filming took place in Besant Nagar, a neighborhood in Chennai, India. Coincidentally, the video's site location is the same neighborhood that influenced the upbringing of the recently elected Vice-President of the United States, Kamala Harris. "As I reflect on those moments in my life that have had the most impact on who I am today — I was not conscious of it at the time — but it was those walks on the beach with my grandfather in Besant Nagar that had a profound impact on who I am today," said Harris of her ancestral home. 

The video will be released and housed at the Miami University Symphony Orchestra YouTube channel and LEAP in India Facebook page.

MU Symphony Orchestra