Guest blog: Dancing between cultures

Helen Julia Minors (who plays trumpet) offers her appreciation of our concert’s diverse programme and celebrates the importance of dancing.

Dancing to music is a part of all cultures and eras. Celebrating through music and dance is a shared human attribute. Dance, like music, is used in many cultural rituals. And likewise, music for dance has been part of classical musical cultures for centuries. Though also, dance music has often been written to perform in concerts without necessarily being written to dance to. The feel of dance, the metaphorical dance movements, can be created in music and played alone. To that we will be performing three pieces which are dances, performed musically on Saturday 21st October 2023, at 7.30pm n the Great Hall, at The University of Reading. They form the first half of a programme that also includes many dance-like passages in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Tickets are available here.

The first piece is by Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953), Colonial Dance. She is a significant musical figure, not only as an African-American women composer working through the period of segregation, but also as a composer creating vibrant textures and timbres. As she said herself in 1947, in a letter she penned to Koussevitsky, the then conductor of the Boston Symphony: “To begin with I have two handicaps, that of sex and race”. She is well known for fusing orchestral vocabulary with aural traditions, citing spirituals for example in her musical style. For me as a trumpeter, seeing her name is a treat, as her trumpet lines feel natural, and allow me as a player to give my best tone. Dance speaks across cultures, and here Price celebrates dance and African-American culture through this piece, assertively entitled, reminding the listener of the colonial past. The music is energised, in three time, with a vibrant Scottish-snap in the melody. It is not her only dance work, she also created Suite of Dances. Interestingly both have uncertain compositional dates.

Our second piece is by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), The Bamboula, Rhapsodic Dance for Orchestra. The piece shares its name with a drum which was made from rum barrels and skinned and used to accompany dance. First published in 1911, his last dance work, it has been performed widely and had positive reception, including its London premiere during the Proms, on 18 September 1912, at the Queen’s Hall, only 17 days after he died. It was in fact repeated for the following year’s Proms, on 28 August 1913, again at the Queen’s Hall. Similarly, to Price, he was a composer of mixed heritage, British-Sierra Leonean. He drew on African music heritages and integrated a variety of styles, and traditions, within his unique classical vocabulary. He was performed widely during his lifetime and he was particularly successful in American, with three tours, and was even received by the 26th American President, Theodore Roosevelt. I find his melodies to be vibrant and so well written for trumpet, you would think he were a trumpeter (he was in fact a violinist). Also, like Price, he wrote quite a few dances, including Hemo Dance, scherzo (1902), Moorish Dances (1904), and Four African Dances (1904).

The two pieces above have been programmed partly in celebration of Black History Month. The connection of our final dance work of the concert is Tom and Caroline (you can read on Tom’s blog post explaining why, here) in the form of Malcolm Arnold’s (1921-2006), Cornish Dances (1966). He wrote many dance works and drew on folk dances from England (English Dances, Set 1, 1950; English Dances, Set 2, 1951), Ireland (Four Irish Dances, 1986), Scotland (Four Scottish Dances, 1957), and Wales (Four Welsh Dances, 1988), as well as the regional Cornish dances we are playing in our concert. Arnold was a trumpeter, and you can tell. The instrument is allowed to sing freely.

This concert is a joy for a trumpeter – all three composers, here writing dance works, know how to write for the character of the trumpet and enable it to sing softly, to declare in fanfare style and to work as chorally with the rest of the section. This performance is a real treat for me. I’ve been playing trumpet for over 30 years and rarely is a programme so spectacularly sprinkled with such glorious trumpet lines.

If you’d like to hear more about these composers and to hear music, I have dedicated radio shows to each, for Radio Wey (part of the NHS Trust for Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals). You can access them free via my Mixcloud Page below.

Helen’s Classical Journey, Episode 26

This dedicated show, explores the music and creativity of Florence Beatrice Price, originally broadcast on 30 August 2020.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Helen’s Classical Journey, Episode 28

This shows is a specialist feature show exploring the wonderful music of Samuel Colridge-Taylor, originally broadcast on 13 September 2020.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Helen’s classical journey, Episode 52

This show explores the film music of Malcolm Arnold, originally broadcast on 28 February 2021.

Part 1:

Part 2: