John Bird Music Research Seminar - Dr Samantha Ege
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In June 1987, Virginia native, composer, and educator Undine Smith Moore (1904–1989) began to sketch Soweto for piano trio—a response to the plight of Black South Africans under apartheid. She recalled hearing ‘Soweto’ resound in her mind as a rhythmic motif amid overtones of conflict, which would form the basis of the second movement. “I felt I did not choose the word. The word chose me,” she remarked.
As a Black woman born in the Jim Crow South, Moore’s was not a compositional voice steeped in indigenous South African idioms. Rather, her reaction was more visceral than narrational, more emotive than appropriative. Hers was a language of anger, empathy, and solidarity. Tammy L. Kernodle cites Moore’s Before I’d Be a Slave (1953) as, possibly, the first sonic representation of Black female anger in the concert hall, putting into practice “The Uses of Anger” decades before Audre Lorde’s reflections.
Building on Kernodle’s observations, this paper explores Moore’s mapping of racial terror and rage in Soweto. (In one passage, for example, the pianist hammers the black keys with their fist, darting the white note clusters in the other hand.) Soweto premiered as a two-movement suite on July 17, 1987. However, Moore’s papers at Emory University reveal an unperformed “Lamentoso” third movement, which, as this paper argues, powerfully shifts the tone from anger to grief to remembrance.
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