Music in the Margins: Blog

Resources for diversity, equity, and inclusion in music.

Will Liverman

by Tim Sestrick on 2022-03-04T14:58:37-05:00 | Comments


By Josh Joy, Presser Music Library Intern


In the wake of Terence Blanchard's recent legend of an opera, Fire Shot Up in My Bones, baritone Will Liverman has gone on to release several instant-classic recordings featuring art songs by late African American composers. These recordings are significant not simply for their representative quality, but for enlightened curation featuring an easily accessible survey of new music in the best available recording quality, not having been available in this way before. The 2021 release Dreams of a New Day features gorgeous interpretations of better-known repertoire such as Harry Burleigh's "5 Songs of Laurence Hope," Margaret Bonds' "3 Dream Portraits," and H. Leslie Adams' "Amazing Grace," in addition to compositions by more recent composers. These include Shawn E. Okpebholo's "Two Black Churches," a pair of extended songs that may be the finest and most astonishing samples to emerge from the world of 21st century "Lieder".

Liverman, with pianist Paul Sanchez, has previously released a very well-received recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel, and just within the past month has released a series of African American traditional songs and spirituals arranged by Okpebholo, along with an updated recording of his "Two Black Churches". The collection, entitled Lord, How Come Me Here? is an excellent display of Liverman's rich and flexible baritone and Okpebholo's thoughtful and intimate voicings combined with exciting and soulful thematic gestures. This recent recording also features the mezzo-soprano work of J'Nai Bridges, who with Liverman garnered great attention and reception through roles in Philip Glass' Akhnaten. Attention and praise must always be focused to those performers who desire to educate their audiences, and Liverman's recent collections do exactly this. It is exciting and comforting to ponder what Liverman’s virtuosity will captivate and champion next.

These recordings are easily accessible through the Naxos Music Library streaming service available through Presser Library. For those interested in classical or world music and rightfully deterred by Spotify's terribly unbalanced "market share" company model (where artists are paid based on numbers of streams, and a necessary four million of them per month if a single artist is to make minimum wage) Naxos also presents a more ethical streaming option. They of course also present themselves as budget option for musical exposure and maintain this ability through recording with less well-known ensembles and conductors, often from a spectrum of ethnicities. The platform's avoidance of repetoire duplication also allows for very obscure composers and world genres to share an equal number of search results, unadulterated by perceptions of strict canon, Eurocentric or otherwise, and marketing. In addition to the vast number of discs produced by the Naxos label themselves, they are connected to many other labels whose recordings are accessible through Presser Library. I fear distraction through mentioning of relatively irrelevant current events, but in light of Neil Young's withdrawal from Spotify and his frequent criticism of the streaming service’s “lossy” compressed audio and  diminished sound quality for the sake of saving disk space, the Naxos streaming service also maintains their recordings in much better audio quality.

Scholarship on recent African American song composition and arrangement is still very limited, but information on Liverman's performance of Blachard's opera is available on the Metropolitan Opera on Demand resource also available through the Presser Library streaming page. In addition, sources surrounding the role of African American culture and philosophy in Western classical music, outside of simply the influence of jazz in America, are available under the Black History Month resource guide on the Presser Library home page. 

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