Undine Smith Moore

Today’s composer is Undine Smith Moore. (1904-1989)  You can read the details of her life by googling her, but here is an excerpt of a speech she made at the First National Congress of Women in Music in 1981: 

“I was asked to comment on the role and the position of the Black artist. I would speak firstly of position, and this is not related just to Blacks, it’s everybody: 

The artist is not highly valued in American society. And from what I read in the newspapers from day to day, now, I don’t think it’s being advanced. Of this group, Blacks are at the bottom. The Black will have less time to write, to create. The Black will find greater difficulty getting his work printed, recorded, performed. The Black will be omitted from so-called serious texts of books and lists of music, will get comparatively little money, which means that while the position may be very slowly improving, in general, the lot is not very different from that of others of his kind in any comparative scale. 

I may say that though I have stressed [the Black artist], because I was asked…to talk about Blacks, I think that for certain reasons for a while it will continue to be true of women. With regard to the role of the artist, I had written: 

The primary function of any artist in any period is to convey as honestly and as sincerely as he can his personal vision of life. Since the artist belongs to the most sensitive segment of any society, a Black composer in contemporary America, aware of his own plight and that of his people, can scarcely avoid some expression reflecting these conditions. Without positing a social purpose as a requirement of art, he cannot really escape expressing his heritage somewhere in the body of his work. This expression in the hands of the gifted artist can be powerful. 

I think of the powerful social change in a work like Picasso’s Guernica. I think of the refusal of Pablo Casals to play, though courted by dictators. And I think of Marian Anderson not marching and joining ordinary protest movements, but, nevertheless, opening up the doors of Constitution Hall. I think of a woman like Natalie Hinderas who by the very perfection of her playing is an agent of social change. And I think that a meeting such as this, and such as the activities which have gone before, these are tremendous forces for social change, and they should be kept in the minds of musicians.” 



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