Published: Jan. 18, 2022 By

Preserving Legacy

The CU College of Music’s annual Persevering Legacy concerts exist for many reasons, none bigger than this one: “For many of our students, this is the first time they have ever played a piece by a woman composer, or by a woman of color,” says Professor of Piano Pedagogy Alejandro Cremaschi. “Imagine that.”

Cremaschi is overseeing two different Persevering Legacy concerts featuring music by women composers on Feb. 9 and 16. Each will be performed by CU Boulder students of all instruments, voices and majors. The purpose is to elevate historically marginalized, diverse female composers—and to expand the minds of the students playing their works.

“We want to encourage young women who are just starting to diversify their repertoires by showing them that music does not just belong to European white males,” Cremaschi says. “Many of these composers did not have the same opportunities that maybe a white male had in the 1950s. So we’re just tilting the balance a little bit. It’s an important thing to do.”

When the Persevering Legacy project was imagined several years ago, students applied to perform pieces from the American Music Research Center’s Walker-Hill Collection. That’s a repository of compositions by Black women collected by the late CU author and musicologist Helen Walker-Hill. Students are now encouraged to propose pieces written by women of all ethnicities, living or dead.

The lineup includes the late Florence Price, the country’s best-known Black female composer; Zenobia Powell Perry, a professor and civil rights activist; and Grażyna Bacewicz, a Lithuanian and Polish emigre composer and violinist; alongside living composers such as Angelica Negrón and Jessie Montgomery, both born in 1981.

Discovering and playing the music of composers who have been historically marginalized is a wonderful educational experience for all students, regardless of gender or ethnicity, Cremaschi says.

He adds, “The canon in classical music is very rigid and very white-male oriented. These are very fine composers on our program, and their music is just as worthy as Beethoven or Brahms. We do have a number of female students in the composition department, and that number is growing, but it’s always been smaller than the population of male composers. There has been so much interest these past two years about diversifying the curriculum and playing music by diverse composers.” That experience should especially resonate with students of diverse backgrounds, identities and experiences. 

“I absolutely think they feel more represented,” Cremaschi concludes. “They feel heard.”

Related events 

  • At 2 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 7 in Grusin Hall, CU Denver Professor Gregory Walker, son of Helen Walker-Hill, will lead a presentation and master class on Black women composers from the AMRC’s Walker-Hill Collection. 
  • At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9 in the Imig Music Building (N1B59), CU grad Megan Moriarty will lead a workshop called “Inclusipedia” on how to write and add Wikipedia pages for women and people of color. (At present, she says, only 18 percent of all Wikipedia biographical pages are for women.)