There was poured into the astonished and delighted ears of the world an indigenous music, sung by its own creators, a music as fresh as the morning, as intimate as the breath and as vital as the heartbeat.
~ R. Nathaniel Dett
R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)
Celebrated composer Nathaniel Dett was born in Drummondville (Niagara Falls), Ontario on October 11, 1882. He died on October 2, 1943 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Dett studied piano as a child and was church organist in Niagara Falls, Ontario from 1898-1903. During this period he composed numerous works, including the well-known The Cake Walk and After the Cake Walk. Among his other works are Listen to the Lambs (1914), an eight-part anthem that was recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Juba Dance (1913), a piano solo that has appeared in the Royal Conservatory of Music syllabus and was a favourite of Dett’s friend, Percy Grainger; and the oratorio The Ordering of Moses (1937).
Dett earned several degrees at prestigious educational institutions, including Oberlin College (Bachelor of Music, 1908; Honourary Doctor of Music, 1926); Howard University (Honourary Doctor of Music, 1924); and the Eastman School of Music (Master of Music, 1932). Dett studied composition in Paris with the internationally renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger, and performed at Carnegie Hall and Boston Symphony Hall. Dett also performed for two American presidents, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Dett was also in demand as a teacher, and held positions at Lane College, Jackson Mississippi, 1908-1911; Hampton Institute, Virginia, 1913-1932; Samuel Houston College, Austin, TX, 1935-1937; and Bennett College, Greensboro, NC, 1937-1942. Nathaniel Dett was dedicated to the cause of Black music, winning the Bowdoin and Frances Boott prizes in 1920 from Harvard University for his paper The Emancipation of Negro Music, and for his motet, “Don’t Be Weary, Traveller.”
Dett also explored and promoted Black music by editing collections of spirituals and folk songs, and was President of the National Association of Negro Musicians from 1924 to 1926.
Founder Brainerd Blyden-Taylor named the Chorale after internationally renowned African-Canadian composer R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), a talented performer who appeared onstage at prestigious concert venues such as Carnegie Hall and Boston Symphony Hall. Dett was dedicated to the cause of Black music, and won the Bowdoin and Frances Boott prizes in 1920 from Harvard University in honour of his writings and compositions. Brainerd Blyden-Taylor established the Chorale to draw attention not only to Dett’s legacy, but also to the wealth of Afrocentric choral music, and to create a professional choral group where persons of African heritage could see themselves represented in the majority. Since its inception, the Chorale has honoured the memory of its namesake, performing extensively throughout North America and delighting national audiences in critically acclaimed tours to the Maritimes (2000, 2004, 2006), Quebec (2002, 2005, 2006), Manitoba (2003), Western Canada (2001, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010), and the United States (2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.) The Chorale has also garnered international attention, accepting invitations to perform at the Pollyfolia choral festival in France (2004), and the prestigious chamber music series at the U.S. Library of Congress (2007.)
A note from Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, founder/artistic director
“I founded The Nathaniel Dett Chorale in 1998, in response to a musical void in Canada. To the best of my, or anyone else’s knowledge, there had never before been a professional ensemble dedicated to the dissemination of Afrocentric choral music, and the response received in Canada and the United States of America since its inception has certainly given credence to the founding vision. I am indebted to Mary Lou Fallis and the Canada Council for the Arts for prompting and supporting this initiative, respectively.
When determining a name for the ensemble, I wanted to honour Canadian African musical heritage. I was inspired by the life and work of R. Nathaniel Dett in general, and in particular by his essay The Emancipation of Negro Music, for which he won the James Bowdoin literary prize from Harvard University in 1920. I am again indebted to Margaret Leask for first bringing Dr. Dett to my attention, and to the biographical works of Vivian Flagg McBrier, R. Nathaniel Dett: His Life and Works (1882-1943), and Anne Key Simpson, Follow Me: The Life and Music of R. Nathaniel Dett, for expanding my awareness. With the acquisition of this information, it was an easy step to make Nathaniel Dett the ensemble’s namesake.