May 22, 2024

Understanding music within its cultural and historical context is crucial for both performers and audiences to fully appreciate its richness and significance.

In a soon-to-be published article in the Journal of Band Research, Eric Hinton, director of bands and department head and associate professor of music at Susquehanna University, presents a model for the ethical scholarship and performance of African American music in predominantly white institutions. It was derived from Hinton’s own direction of Susquehanna’s Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble and its 2019 concert showcasing African American music.

“To give as authentic and expressive a performance as possible, we made a concerted effort to present the music to the ensemble in a way that would give them insight far beyond the reading of a set of program notes,” Hinton said. “The goal was to provide the kind of context that would lead to real understanding of the works and the composers who created them.”

The premise, Hinton said, presented the opportunity for interdisciplinary work between Hinton and Michael Thomas, former assistant professor of philosophy and director of Africana studies at Susquehanna University. Leading up to Susquehanna ensemble’s 2019 performance, Hinton and Thomas placed the work of seven African American composers into a sociohistorical context for student performers. In doing so, they identified three tactics that are crucial to helping performers at predominantly white institutions give informed performances of African American music — interdisciplinary collaboration, contextualizing of Black experience and training in Black performance traditions and practices.

“We sought to develop a framework for interpreting and presenting these works to the ensemble that highlights the role of music by African American composers as a vehicle for educating the performers and the audience with regard to African American history and Black experience,” Hinton said. “Employing these tactics can help ensembles paint a picture of the rich contributions of African American classical music to Western musical tradition and brings attention to often-ignored composers as a means of fostering cross-cultural communication, understanding and appreciation through aesthetic experience.”