NEW YORK - This Sunday, the Red Bank Chamber Music Society is marking the Juneteenth holiday by hosting the Harlem Chamber Players in concert, bringing the unsung history of Black composers to light.
The string quartet's rehearsals leading up to the event readied a carefully curated playlist.
"To be able to play the music of Black people within this tradition is very, very special," said Harlem Chamber Players violinist Ashley Horne.
Horne's classical music influence came from his mother and the church.
"I'd sit at the organ during the church service just looking at all these buttons," Horne said. "I'd watch my mother sit there in the choir and sing Handel's Messiah, and it was part and parcel of what I've always done."
Horne and his cohorts will bring their classics back to the sanctuary, at the United Methodist Church of Red Bank, New Jersey. The Red Bank Chamber Music Society enlisted the Harlem Chamber Players to perform songs from the time of turn of the 20th century economist, thought leader and neighbor T. Thomas Fortune, including works by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Florence Price and Harry T Burleigh, who had influence on another famous composer, Antonin Dvorak.
"While he's credited with coming up with the American sound, we know that he was influenced by Black spirituals," said Harlem Chamber Players founder Liz Player. "And he also spent some time on a reservation listening to music of Native Americans as well."
The T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center in Red Bank pays tribute to the figures who broke barriers in their time. Player founded the Harlem Chamber Players to give today's musicians the same chance.
"Since the tragedy with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, finally getting global attention," Player said, "even people in the classical music industry are realizing this and trying to program much more music by Black composers than ever before."
Still, though, Player said fewer than 4% of musicians in major symphony orchestras are Black or Latino.
"Our mission is to bring accessible and affordable classical music up into Harlem, while also promoting diversity in classical music," Player said.
Hear the Harlem Chamber Players string quartet uplift the ancestors Sunday, Juneteenth, 4:30 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Red Bank, New Jersey.
You can also hear the full Harlem Chamber Players orchestra perform Nathaniel Dett's "The Ordering of Moses" at Riverside Church Friday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m.
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