Notes from the Music Desk (February 13)


Organ Voluntaries:

  • Adoration - Florence B. Price
  • Pièce d'Orgue, BWV 572     Johann Sebastian Bach


  • Jesus Christ the Apple Tree - Elizabeth Poston
  • Fraction Anthem

  • Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty - traditional Gaelic


  • 427 When morning gilds the skies
  • 296 We know that Christ is raised
  • 656 Blest are the pure in heart
  • 635 If thou but trust in God to guide thee

by Donald Meineke


Each February, the nation marks the remarkable contributions and accomplishments made by our Black-American siblings, many of whom had to overcome slavery, persecution, discrimination, and adversity. This Sunday, the Episcopal Church commemorates Absalom Jones (1746 – Feb. 13, 1818), the first African-American man ordained a priest in the United States. As a recent resident of Mt. Airy who regularly catches the train to Center City from the Allen Ln. stop, I was elated to learn that Richard Allen, for whom the street and station are named, was a close friend of Absalom Jones and was consecrated the first bishop of the then newly formed African Methodist-Episcopal Church in 1816. For more reading on both Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, enjoy this brief article.


But let's talk music. Florence Price is a name that was only recently received into the canon of American classical musicians. Born in 1887 as a Little Rock, Akransas native, daughter of a black dentist and white music teacher, Price graduated with honors from the New England Conservatory (having passed as Hispanic by listing her home town as “Pueblo, Mexico”) with degrees in organ performance and piano teaching, in addition to studying composition.


After returning to Little Rock and marrying a local lawyer, they eventually made their way to Chicago as racial tensions heightened with the impact of the Jim Crow laws, leaving Price unable to secure acceptance into the state Music Teachers Association. A public lynching, of John Carter in 1927, was what finally spurred their move.  

Fortunately, in Chicago, Florence Price’s musical career flourished. Studying composition, orchestration, and organ with some of the leading figures of the time, Price holds the honor of being the first African-American woman to have her works performed by a major orchestra, when in 1933 the Chicago Symphony performed her First Symphony. Among her many awards and recognitions of the time, she won both first and third prizes in the Wanamaker Foundation Awards (here in Philadelphia) for her Symphony in E minor and Piano Sonata in 1932. 

While Price was well celebrated in her lifetime, her compositions fell out of style as newer styles of music dominated public taste in the following years. Price’s name was all but forgotten until 2009, when the new owners of an abandoned and dilapidated house in St. Anne, Illinois, which had been Price’s summer residence, found boxes of her music – including the entirety of her sacred vocal and organ works.