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Moore, Undine Smith

Undine Smith Moore

Composer

For the Record

Selected compositions

Sources

As an African American musical pioneer in the university setting, Undine Smith Moore inspired and influenced black musicians across the United States. Her compositions are widely performed and loved; many of her choral pieces are staples of the performing repertory among choirs great and small, and she also composed music in other genres, employing a broad range of expressive styles. A professor of music at Virginia State University for more than 40 years, she numbered among her students the jazz pianist Billy Taylor and a host of others who became famous in their own ways.

Moore was born on August 25, 1904, in Jarratt, Virginia, in the states predominantly rural southern tier known among African Americans as southside. Her father was a railroad brakeman; her grandparents were slaves. Moores early musical life combined formal education with African American musical roots. Her mother was a voracious reader who stressed the importance of books and music lessons. Moore learned to read music and even to attempt small composition exercises by the time she was eight or nine. But she also heard the work songs and the spirituals that she would remember for the rest of her life. The family moved to the city of Petersburg, Virginia, when Moore was four, but they often spent time in Jarratt in the summers.

Winning a scholarship to Nashville, Tennessees Fisk University seemed to seal Moores choice of a music as her lifes work, as the musical traditions at that historically black institution ran deep. Its chorus had been well known since the 1870s for its performances of spirituals. After she finished her first year at Fisk, Moores father gave her a Steinway grand piano as a gift, and for a time she considered trying to become a concert pianist. Her music teacher back in Virginia had been a Fisk graduate, and so Moore immersed herself in the European classics that were the focus of the schools music curriculum at the time.

In 1926 Moore graduated at the top of her class with a dual degree that included studies in piano and music theory, and then decided to pursue a career in music education. She went on to Columbia University Teachers College in New York, where she completed her M.A. in 1931, and also studied at the prestigious Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, and the Eastman School of Music. In 1927, she landed a job at Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) in Petersburg; she would teach there until her retirement in 1972. She married fellow Virginia State faculty member James Arthur Moore; the couple had a daughter, Mary, who became a dancer and educator.

Even as an undergraduate at Fisk, Moore had already begun to compose; her first known work was an ambitious choral piece, Sir Olafand the EH Kings Daughter, with a text based on Norwegian folklore. Her studies in New York further developed this European Romantic strain in her work, but she also was touched by the artistic ferment of the Harlem Renaissance, the awakening of African American artistic and intellectual sensibility that flowered in the 1920s. Moore began to think about ways of incorporating her African American heritage into her compositions, and when she moved back to Virginia she began to set down in musical notation some of the unique songs she had heard her mother sing in southside Virginia.

At Virginia State her creative energy was channeled mostly into small pieces for the schools choral groups and for her own keyboard students. She rarely had the chance to think on a larger scale musically, but she did explore her African American heritage with a series of choral pieces based on spirituals in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early 1950s, having reached an age when many educators are looking forward to retirement, Moore instead resumed her compositional career at full force. She reestablished contact with one of her teachers at Columbia, Howard Murphy, and embarked on further study with him in order to familiarize herself with the latest developments in classical music coming out of Europe.

Many of Moores compositions, then, might be described as attempts to infuse a distinct African American sensibility into European forms. Many of her most popular compositions are for chorus, and draw in one way or another upon the settings of spirituals that she had absorbed during her years at Fisk. One of them, 1952s Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord, was based

For the Record

Born Undine Smith on August 25, 1904, in Jarratt, VA; died on February 6, 1989; daughter of James William Smith (a railroad man) and Hattie (Turnbull) Smith; married James Arthur Moore (an educator); children: Mary. Education: Fisk University, B.A. and B. Mus., 1926; Columbia University, M.A., 1931; further studies at Manhattan College of Music, Juilliard School, Eastman College of Music.

Composer and educator; Goldsboro Public Schools, Supervisor of Music, 1926-27; Virginia State University, Associate Professor of Music, 1927-72, Professor Emerita, 1972-89; numerous visiting faculty appointments, 1972-89; prolific compositional activity in later life; composed choral work Lord, We Give Thanks to Thee for centennial of Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1971; completed cantata Scenes from the Life of a Martyr on life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1980; composed trio Soweto, 1987.

Awards: Certificate of Appreciation from John Lindsay, Mayor, New York City, 1972; Honorary Doctorate, Virginia State University, 1972; Honorary Doctorate, Indiana University, 1976; National Black Caucus Award, 1980.

on one of the songs she had transcribed from her mothers singing. Unusually successful for a contemporary composition, the work was published by Warner Bros, the following year and has remained in print ever since as a perennial favorite among college and community choirs.

Disturbed by what she saw as a deteriorating knowledge of the history of black music among her students, Moore worked during her last years at Virginia State to establish the Black Music Center, a combination archive, research center, and performance-promotion organization. I think that black people need to remind themselves of the importance of remembering, she was quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. As with her music, Moore worked toward a broad-based approach that would touch both upon the efforts of African Americans in the classical field and upon, as she told Creative Black Artists, the true creative genius of the black people in the ditches and the sawmills. She retired from Virginia State in 1972 and was feted by her former students in a ceremony held at New Yorks Town Hall.

Retirement only increased Moores compositional productivity, and she composed prolifically until just before her death. The works she composed in late life are generally regarded as some of her best. Some of them, especially her works for instruments alone, followed European methods, including the extremely intellectually rigorous 12-tone technique to while others turned to African American history in various ways. Her 16-section choral cantata Scenes from the Life of a Martyr (1980), for narrator, chorus, orchestra, and soloists, combined all these influences and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize after its premiere in 1982. The works text, depicting scenes from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was written by Moore herself, with interpolations from the Bible and from the works of poets of various different backgrounds.

Moore traveled to Africa in 1971 and 1972 and was deeply moved by her experiences there. One of her last compositions was a trio for violin, cello, and piano called Soweto (1987); that highly complex work used the12-tone technique to explore the implications of an opening motif based on the rhythm of the name Soweto. The work had its roots in Moores responses to the South African apartheid system of racial segregation. I did not choose the word. The word chose me, she was quoted as saying in the International Dictionary of Black Composers. Undine Smith Moore died on February 6, 1989.

Selected compositions

Sir Olaf and the Erl Kings Daughter (choral cantata), 1925.

Valse Caprice (piano), 1930.

Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord (chorus), 1952.

Before Id Be a Slave (piano), 1953.

Introduction, March, and Allegro (clarinet), 1958.

Afro-American Suite (flute, cello, piano), 1969.

Scenes from the Life of a Martyr (narrator, chorus, soloists, orchestra), 1980.

Soweto (violin, cello, piano), 1987.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 28, Gale Group, 2001.

Floyd, Samuel, editor, International Dictionary of Black Composers, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan, 1986.

Sadie, Stanley, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, Macmillan, 2001.

Smith, Jessie Carney, editor, Notable Black American Women, Book I, Gale Research, 1992.

Online

Undine Smith Moore, Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com/blackhistory/MGBXKD41CIC.html (November 6, 2002).

Additional information was obtained from Creative Black Artists, video interview, produced by Indiana University Instructional Television and the Afro-American Institute, 1980.

James M. Manheim

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"Moore, Undine Smith." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Moore, Undine Smith." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/moore-undine-smith

Moore, Undine Smith 1904–1989

Undine Smith Moore 19041989

Classical composer, educator

At a Glance

Selected compositions

Sources

As an African American musical pioneer in the university setting, Undine Smith Moore inspired and influenced black musicians across the United States. Her compositions are widely performed and loved; many of her choral pieces are staples of the performing repertory among choirs great and small, and she also composed music in other genres, employing a broad range of expressive styles. A professor of music at Virginia State University for over 40 years, she numbered among her students the jazz pianist Billy Taylor and a host of others who became famous in their own ways.

Moore was born August 25, 1904, in Jarratt, Virginia, in the states predominantly rural southern tier known among African Americans as southside. Her father was a railroad brakeman; her grandparents were slaves. Moores early musical life combined formal education with African American musical roots. Her mother was a voracious reader who stressed the importance of books and music lessons. Moore learned to read music and even to attempt small composition exercises by the time she was eight or nine. But she also heard the work songs and the spirituals that she would remember for the rest of her life. The family moved to the city of Petersburg, Virginia, when Moore was four, but they often spent time in Jarratt in the summers.

Winning a scholarship to Fisk University seemed to seal Moores choice of a music as her lifes work, for the musical traditions at that historically black institution ran deep. Its chorus had been well known since the 1870s for its performances of spirituals. After she finished her first year at Fisk, Moores father gave her a Steinway grand piano as a gift, and for a time she considered trying to become a concert pianist. Her music teacher back in Virginia had been a Fisk graduate, and so Moore immersed herself in the European classics that were the focus of the schools music curriculum at the time.

In 1926 Moore graduated at the top of her class with a dual degree that included studies in piano and music theory, and then decided to pursue a career in music education. She went on to Columbia University Teachers College in New York, where she completed her masters in 1931, and also studied at the prestigious Julliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, and the Eastman School of Music. In 1927, she landed a job at Virginia State College (now University) in Petersburg; she would teach there until her retirement in 1972. She married fellow Virginia State faculty member James Arthur Moore; the couple had a daughter, Mary, who became a dancer and educator.

Even as an undergraduate at Fisk, Moore had already begun to compose; her first known work was an ambitious choral piece, Sir Olaf and the Erl Kings Daughter, with a text based on Norwegian folklore. Her studies in New York further developed this European Romantic strain in her work, but she also was touched by the artistic ferment of the Harlem Renaissance, the awakening of African American artistic and intellectual sensibility that flowered in the 1920s. Moore began to think about ways of incorporating her

At a Glance

Born Undine Smith on August 25, 1904, in Jarratt, Virginia; died on February 6, 1989; daughter of James William Smith, a railroad man, and Hattie (Turnbull) Smith; married James Arthur Moore, an educator; children: Mary, Education: Fisk University, BA and B.Mus., 1926; Columbia University, MA, 1931; further studies at Manhattan College of Music, Julliard School, Eastman College of Music.

Career: Composer and educator. Goldsboro Public Schools, supervisor of music, 1926-27; Virginia State University, associate professor of Music, 1927-72, professor Emerita, 1972-89; numerous visiting faculty appointments, 1972-89; prolific compositional activity in later life; composed choral work Lord, We Give Thanks to Thee for centennial of Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1971; completed cantata Scenes from the Life of a Martyr on life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1980; composed trio Soweto, 1987.

Selected Awards: Certificate of Appreciation from John Lindsay, Mayor, New York City, 1972; Honorary Doctorate, Virginia State University, 1972; Honorary Doctorate, Indiana University, 1976; National Black Caucus Award, 1980; nominated, Pulitzer Prize, for Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, 1982.

African American heritage into her compositions, and when she moved back to Virginia she began to set down in musical notation some of the unique songs she had heard her mother sing in southside Virginia.

At Virginia State her creative energy was channeled mostly into small pieces for the schools choral groups and for her own keyboard students. She rarely had the chance to think on a larger scale musically, but she did explore her African American heritage with a series of choral pieces based on spirituals in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early 1950s, having reached an age when many educators are looking forward to retirement, Moore instead resumed her compositional career at full force. She reestablished contact with one of her teachers at Columbia, Howard Murphy, and embarked on further study with him in order to familiarize herself with the latest developments in classical music coming out of Europe.

Many of Moores compositions, then, might be described as attempts to infuse a distinct African American sensibility into European forms. Many of her most popular compositions are for chorus, and draw in one way or another upon the settings of spirituals that she had absorbed during her years at Fisk. One of them, 1952s Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord, was based on one of the songs she had transcribed from her mothers singing. Unusually successful for a contemporary composition, the work was published by Warner Brothers the following year and has remained in print ever since as a perennial favorite among college and community choirs.

Disturbed by what she saw as a deteriorating knowledge of the history of black music among her students, Moore worked during her last years at Virginia State to establish the Black Music Center, a combination archive, research center, and performance-promotion organization. I think that black people need to remind themselves of the importance of remembering, she was quoted as saying on the Black History: Virginia Profiles website. As with her music, Moore worked toward a broad-based approach that would touch both upon the efforts of African Americans in the classical field and upon, as she told Creative Black Artists, the true creative genius of the black people in the ditches and the sawmills. She retired from Virginia State in 1972 and was feted by her former students in a ceremony held at New Yorks Town Hall.

Retirement only increased Moores compositional productivity, and she composed prolifically until just before her death. The works she composed in late life are generally regarded as some of her best. Some of them, especially her works for instruments alone, followed European methods, including the extremely intellectually rigorous twelve-tone technique, while others turned to African American history in various ways. Her sixteen-section choral cantata Scenes from the Life of a Martyr (1980), for narrator, chorus, orchestra, and soloists, combined all these influences and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize after its premiere in 1982. The works text, depicting scenes from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was written by Moore herself, with interpolations from the Bible and from the works of poets of various different backgrounds.

Moore traveled to Africa in 1971 and 1972 and was deeply moved by her experiences there. One of her last compositions was a trio for violin, cello, and piano called Soweto (1987); that highly complex work used the twelve-tone technique to explore the implications of an opening motif based on the rhythm of the name Soweto. The work had its roots in Moores responses to the South African apartheid system of racial segregation. I did not choose the word. The word chose me, she was quoted as saying in the International Dictionary of Black Composers.Undine Smith Moore died on February 6, 1989.

Selected compositions

Sir Olaf and the Eri Kings Daughter, choral cantata, 1925.

Valse Caprice, for piano, 1930.

Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord, for chorus, 1952.

Before Id Be a Slave, for piano, 1953.

Introduction, March, and Allegro, for clarinet, 1958.

Afro-American Suite, for flute, cello, and piano, 1969.

Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, for narrator, chorus, soloists, and orchestra, 1980.

Soweto, for violin, cello, and piano, 1987.

Sources

Books

Floyd, Samuel, ed., International Dictionary of Black Composers, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan, 1986.

Sadie, Stanley, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., Macmillan, 2001.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed., Notable Black American Women, Book I, Gale, 1992.

Other

Additional information was obtained from Creative Black Artists, video interview, produced by Indiana University Instructional Television and the Afro-American Institute, 1980 and online at http://www.accessva.com/pages/bhistory/moore.htm

James M. Manheim

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Moore, Undine Smith 1904–1989." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Moore, Undine Smith 1904–1989." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/moore-undine-smith-1904-1989

"Moore, Undine Smith 1904–1989." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/moore-undine-smith-1904-1989