Mission: to seek and share inspiration

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One City, One Symphony: Let Freedom Ring


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The concept of freedom in America is the theme for this year’s One City, One Symphony concerts, but what connections can be made between American freedom and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, music written by a Czech?

Dvořák composed this work, subtitled “From the New World,” in 1892–93 during a stint in New York City, when he was delighted and inspired by the diversity of America’s sights and sounds. Dvořák was particularly interested in the music of Native Americans and in African-American spirituals, and used elements of these folk styles to varying degrees during the composition of his Ninth Symphony. In fact, his encouragement of American composers to embrace folk music strongly influenced, among others, R. Nathaniel Dett, who went on to become one of the most successful composers of the 20th century and was known for championing the use of spirituals and folk music.

The struggle for freedom during the time period in which Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 was written (in the wake of the post-Civil War Reconstruction) parallels the struggles of the Civil Rights Era during which Dr. Maya Angelou was writing the poems featured on the One City, One Symphony concert program. In her words we hear and feel not only the struggles of the era in which they were written, but also the trials Dvořák witnessed during his stay in New York and those we face today.

Thus, Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony and the poetry of Dr. Angelou informed the series of neighborhood Listening Parties held throughout the Cincinnati region in October and November, awakening dialogue about the theme of freedom in our community.

“At the Freedom Center we share the stories of freedom’s heroes, past and present, to inspire courageous steps for freedom today,” said Dr. Clarence G. Newsome, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC), who co-hosted some of the Listening Parties. “This community-wide initiative connects the music that moves us to the history of freedom. These community Listening Parties will also generate an awareness that the struggle for freedom continues and this theme is just as relevant today as it was 150 years ago.”

“Freedom and music go hand-in-hand,” said Dr. Michael Battle, executive vice president and provost of NURFC. “From the spirituals sung by the enslaved before the end of the Civil War, to the melodic protests of the Civil Rights Movement—music has inspired generations of individuals to share experiences, express hardships and cry for freedom throughout history.”

For more information about One City, One Symphony and a downloadable discussion guide, visit cincinnatisymphony.org/onecity

—Meghan Berneking