Baiocchi, Regina Harris 1956–
Regina Harris Baiocchi 1956–
Composer, poet, musician, writer
Few women composers and writers could create in a lifetime what Regina Harris Baiocchi has composed in the first 45 years of her life. Her abilities are so multi-faceted that whether she is composing for piano, drums, or clarinet, or for voice, or for any of the other instruments, with which she can work, or whether writing novels, her newest effort, Baiocchi’s works easily find an appreciative audience. For the many individuals and groups who have commissioned her works, Baiocchi’s creativity has appeared to be in endless supply.
Regina Harris Baiocchi was born on July 16, 1956, in Chicago, Illinois, to Elgie Harris Jr. and Lanzie Mozelle Belmont Harris. Baiocchi grew up in a large household in the housing projects of Chicago’s south side. As the third of eight surviving children born to the Harris family, she was raised in a home where, as a child, she was exposed to music, art, and books. At one time, her father had attended college, where he studied creative writing, although he never completed a degree. He was a truck driver, writer, visual artist, and an ordained church deacon. In addition to these activities, he played the harmonica and the fiddle. Baiocchi’s mother was a teacher before she left teaching to raise her family. As a small child, Baiocchi attended Burnside and Hardigan elementary schools. With the family’s conversion to Catholicism, Baiocchi transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Elementary School. She began singing in her church choir at age four and with her mother’s encouragement, Baiocchi began writing songs, even before she began her formal study of music at age nine, with guitar lessons. Age nine is also when she began to sing in the school choir and the Girl’s Choir, a community ensemble.
In 1970 Baiocchi attended St. Mary Springs Academy in Fond de Lac, Wisconsin. Then, in 1971, Baiocchi transferred to Richards Vocational High School in Chicago, where she began studying the recorder. Neither high school was a good fit, and so in 1971, she transferred to Paul Lawrence Dunbar Vocational High School and continued her music education by studying counterpoint, theory, arranging, and composition. She also sang in the chorus and played trumpet, French horn, and coronet in several of the school bands. The environment at Paul Lawrence was a nurturing one for
At a Glance …
Born on July 16, 1956, in Chicago, IL; married Gregory Baiocchi, July 12, 1975. Education: Roosevelt University, BM, 1978; coursework at Illinois Institute of Technology, 1984–86; coursework at Northwest University. 1990–92; New York University, certificate in public relations, 1991; De Paul University, MM, 1995.
Career: Composer, numerous pieces for instrument and voice, 1978–; Dunbar Vocational High School, teacher, 1979; St Bride’s Junior High School, teacher, 1979–81; St Thomas the Apostle Junior High School, teacher, 1982–1986; poet, 1980s–; Telaction Corporation, audio quality control analyst and writer, 1986–89; Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, public relations director, 1989–94; Steppenwolf Theater, composer and director, 1997; Ravinia Music Festival Music Illumination Program, artistic director, 1997–99; East-West University, lecturer, 2000–; novelist, 2003–.
Selected awards: Poets and Patrons Award for Poetry for “Teeter Totter,” and “Ghetto Child,” 1980s; McDonald’s Literary Achievement Award, for “Mama’s Will,” 1988; Illinois Arts Council grant, 1995; Chicago Music Association award, 1995; Art Institute of Chicago grant for Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child, 1997; National Endowment for the Arts Regional Artists Program grant African Hands, 1997.
Addresses: Home —40 East 9th Street, 1816, Chicago, IL, 60605. Office— English and Communications Department, East-West University, 816 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, 60605.
a fledgling composer like Baiocchi. In an on-line interview for the Web Institute for Teachers, Baoicchi told interviewer Julieanna Richardson that she “would write something on Monday and [on] Wednesday I would hear it. And the teachers made sure that the students played it the way they played Beethoven or Bach or some of the other marching band stuff we did.”
Baiocchi was only 14 years old when she met Gregory Baiocchi, a 15-year-old Italian-American boy from Chicago’s north side. In spite of the differences in their family background, the couple forged a close relationship. In a 2002 biographical entry about Baiocchi’s life for her book, From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and their Music, Helen Walker-Hill recounted an episode that demonstrated how vast those differences really were. On one visit to see the teen-age Baiocchi, Gregory entered the projects and was accosted and robbed. At one point he was held by his feet and dangled over the edge of a high rise building. Walker-Hill related that it was “only when the girlfriend of one of the gang members recognized him” that the teen-ager was released. Soon after, the Harris family moved out of the projects and into a home in a safer area of town. Baiocchi graduated from high school in 1974 and the following year, she married Gregory Baiocchi on July 12, 1975.
In the fall of 1975, Baiocchi enrolled at Roosevelt University’s Chicago Music College. At Roosevelt she continued her studies in composition and theory and began studying the piano, but as she explained in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), Baiocchi did not find college to be as nurturing an environment as high school had been. Not only was she the only African-American student in the composition and theory department, she was also the only female. Baiocchi had a talent and an interest in writing pop music, jazz, blues, and gospel, but the emphasis in her classes was exclusively on classical music. When she tried to compose other styles of music, “a lot of times it was rejected as ‘pop shit.’” She explained to CBB that “I was rudely reminded that they were teaching me to write classical music.” In spite of these difficulties, Baiocchi completed a bachelor of music degree in 1978, with a major in composition and theory. Her senior recital included several new works, including Chasé For Wind Sextet and a string quartet Realizations. Baiocchi stayed at Roosevelt and spent a year of continued studies in the graduate program, where she composed her first published work, Two Piano Etudes.
After college, Baiocchi began working in the first of several teaching jobs. Her father’s connections at church led to a summer job at Dunbar High School teaching theory. This job was followed by two years at St. Bride’s Junior High School, where she taught mathematics. Her next teaching job was at St. Thomas the Apostle Junior High School, where she taught mathematics and social studies. During her tenure as a teacher, she also wrote poetry. Two of her poems, “Teeter Totter,” which was published in the Chicago Tribune Magazine and “Ghetto Child,” received a Poets & Patrons Award for Poetry. Baiocchi was herself a student during her last two years at St. Thomas. In 1984 she enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Design, where she studied visual and project design. At the same time, she studied calligraphy privately with an artist friend, a practice most obviously seen in her own handwritten music scores.
After she left St. Thomas in 1986, Baiocchi moved her career into another direction with a new job, first as an audio quality control analyst, then as a writer for three years at Telaction Corporation. Even while working, she was busy as a choir director and composing music, including Father, We Thank You. Baiocchi also turned her talents toward creative writing, with a short story, “Mama’s Will,” which won a McDonald’s Literary Achievement Award in 1988 and was read aloud at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater in New York City. The following year, she composed Two Zora Neale Hurston Songs, which were based on one of Hurston’s essays. At about that same time, Baiocchi was preparing to make another career change. In 1989 she began a new career with a job in public relations. In a personal reflection essay written for William C. Banfield’s, Musical Landscapes in Color: Conversations with Black Composers, Baiocchi explained that she initially chose public relations “just because there are no jobs in music.” With the move away from teaching, she was also able to find more time for composing music. As an added benefit of her new job, she gained the experience and means to promote her own music.
As the public relations director for the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Baiocchi was busy with the organization’s newsletters and media releases, as well as setting up public events. In addition to her demanding job, Baiocchi took on new responsibilities when she enrolled at Northwestern University in 1990 and began studying public relations. During this period of time she composed Miles per Hour, which premiered at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on May 19, 1990, and We Real Cool Baiocchi next completed a certificate in public relations at New York University in 1991. To add to her already full life, Baiocchi agreed to become composer-in-residence for Mostly Music, an organization that sponsored children’s music programs and concerts.
Although she was clearly busy with work, school, and her music, Baiocchi found that the combination of these activities worked well with her own talents. In an interview with Walker-Hill, Baiocchi discussed this blending of public relations and music: “I don’t know why [music schools] don’t have a promotional curriculum in conjunction with any sort of arts degree musicians can’t just sit and practice and expect to have an audience.” With her experience in public relations and her schooling in that field, Baiocchi was able to design and promote her own concerts. She scheduled the first of these concerts during the fall of 1991 and used it as a forum to introduce her newest compositions. She also composed three new works during that time, Autumn Night, Foster Pet, and Crystal Stair.
Within a short time, Baiocchi was holding concerts in both fall and spring, as she continued to compose and present new works. She also discovered that her efforts to combine music and public relations were becoming very successful. She began receiving invitations to become a guest lecturer and composer at several universities, and most importantly, she received commissions to create and present her music for several different venues. In 1991 she composed her first work for orchestra, Orchestra Suite, which premiered at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in February of 1992. As composer-in-residence for Mostly Music, Baiocchi wrote Shadows and Legacy, both of which were vocal and instrumental compositions, and A Few Black Voices, a rap. Also in 1992, she composed a piece for a four-act ballet, Bwana’s Libation, and an additional composition Sketches For Piano Trio, which was commissioned by St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. In addition to composing these works, Baiocchi conducted music composition workshops and guest lectured at several colleges, including Northwestern University, Wayne State University, and Columbia College during 1993.
Beginning in 1993 and continuing for the next several years, Baiocchi received grants to help support her work from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. She composed three new works during 1993: Mason Room, Much In Common, and Ain’t Nobody’s Child. Soon afterward, during 1994, Baiocchi decided to leave the Catholic Theological Union and begin work on a master’s degree in music composition at De Paul University. In February of that year, she was the featured composer in a concert sponsored by the American Women Composers/Midwest at the Harold Washington Library. Some of her newest compositions were featured at performances during 1994, including Teddy Bear Suite, which was performed by the Pennsylvania Youth Orchestra. Another new piece, QFX, was performed by the Milwaukee Brass Quintet at the University of Wisconsin campus in Milwaukee.
Without the demands of her job at the Catholic Theological Union, Baiocchi’s creative output soared, and she composed several new pieces, including Liszten, My Husband Is Not a Hat, for which Baiocchi received a grant from AT&T, and Three Pieces For Greg, a short composition for orchestra. Before 1994 ended, Baiocchi had completed several additional works, including Deborah, Best Friends, Ancestor’s Medley, Much In Common, After The Rain, and Say No To Guns. By this time in her career, Baiocchi had proven to have a great versatility of talent. She was composing for a wide selection of instruments and performance formats, including voice and dance. In the space of 15 years, she had composed works for clarinet sextet, string quartet, trumpet solo, cello, jazz ensemble, and piano. She had also written songs, a ballet, and orchestra compositions.
Baiocchi completed her master of music degree at De Paul University in 1995. Of course, as was the case in the past, her studies did not end with the granting of another degree. She next began studying jazz piano with Alan Swain, a jazz musician and music professor at De Paul. Most importantly for Baiocchi, she also began to study composition with Hale Smith, a classical and jazz composer. Her study with Smith was especially important to Baiocchi’s growth as a holistic composer. In her interview with CBB, Baiocchi credited much of her success to her mentor Hale Smith, with whom she began studying in 1995.
1995 was also a year in which Baiocchi received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council to develop children’s programs; as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Artists Program. That same year she received a Chicago Music Association award. Even though she was once again invited to Columbia College and Northwestern University as a guest lecturer and composer, Baiocchi still found time to compose lyrics for an orchestra work that featured soprano, Good News Falls Gently, at the Musicali di Musica Sacra in Rome. She also composed two additional new pieces, Darry’s Rose and Friday Night.
During 1996 Baiocchi appeared as a guest lecturer and composer at Northwestern University and Indiana University. During 1996 and into 1997, Baiocchi completed two dramatic works. The first was a one-act play with incidental music, Dreamhoppers. Her first opera, Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child, about Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, was a composition that spawned from the 1993 Hurston songs and the composer’s original libretto. Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child received funding from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund. This opera reflected the compilation of all that Baiocchi had learned about music during the previous 20 years. In her 2000 interview with Richardson, Baiocchi said that when she looked at this opera, she was able to see “where just about everything I’ve ever done in my life appeared in that opera in more ways than any other musical piece that I’ve written.” Although her opera has not yet been mounted with a full orchestra, it has been performed with piano, cello, and some percussion.
Baiocchi continued composing throughout 1997. She received another National Endowment for the Arts Regional Arts Program grant for the composition of a hand drum concerto, African Hands, which was performed by the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. As composer and music director of the play Nikki Giovanni at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, she both wrote and conducted the music. What followed this play was a huge burst of creativity that included several compositions: Skins, Muse, Message To My Muse, and Dream Weaver. From 1997 to 1999, she served as the artistic director of the Ravinia Music Illumination Program for children, and in 1999 served as a panelist for the American Composers Forum in St. Paul, Minnesota. Baiocchi’s next composition, Communion, a marimba concerto, was written in 1999. In 2000 Baiocchi once again created several new pieces, which she presented in a concert at St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Naperville, Illinois in April. Among the new compositions performed that day were, Azuretta, Ask Him, Cycles, HB4A, Lovers & Friends, Psalm Cat, and Litany for Hale Smith, a tribute to Baiocchi’s mentor.
Since January of 2000, Baiocchi has been teaching Music Appreciation, African-American Literature, and English composition at East-West University in Chicago. She also published a book and several articles in 2003. The creative nonfiction articles on jazz, gospel, spirituals, hip-hop, poetry will appear, in Oxford University’s forthcoming encyclopedia, Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Baiocchi described her first published novel, Indigo Sound, as a novel “about the human spirit.” In her interview with CBB, Baiocchi stated that her debut novel has already received endorsements from writers Nikki Giovanni and Studs Terkel. She has also been working on two new books, Next of Kin and Haiku and three compositions: a piano/vocal spiritual, using Baiocchi’s original lyrics; music for organ; and music for harp.
In the years since she first began composing, Baiocchi has created an impressive collection of work. She has written more than 200 unpublished poems, short stories, and other works under the penname “Ginann.” In her interview with CBB, Baiocchi mentioned that she had begun to write poetry as a child when she found that she “could express via poetic images what I cannot not express otherwise.” Whether composing, performing, or promoting her works, Baiocchi has clearly found a way to give voice to her many creative talents.
Two Piano Etudes, 1978.
Chasé For Wind Sextet, 1979.
Father, We Thank You, 1986.
Two Zora Neale Hurston Songs, 1989.
Miles per Hour, 1990.
We Real Cool, 1990.
Autumn Night, 1991.
Foster Pet, 1991.
Crystal Stair, 1991.
Orchestra Suite, 1991.
A Few Black Voices, 1992.
Bwana’s Libation, 1992.
Sketches for Piano Trio, 1992.
Mason Room, 1993.
Much in Common, 1993.
Ain’t Nobody’s Child, 1993.
Teddy Bear Suite, 1994.
Liszten, My Husband Is Not a Hat, 1994.
Three Pieces For Greg, 1994.
Best Friends, 1994.
Ancestor’s Medley, 1994.
Much In Common, 1994.
After The Rain, 1994.
Say No To Guns, 1994.
Good News Falls Gently, 1995.
Darrly’s Rose, 1995.
Friday Night, 1995.
Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child, 1997.
African Hands, 1997.
Nikki Glouanni, 1997.
Message To My Muse, 1997.
Dream Weaver 1997’.
Ask Him, 2000.
Lovers & Friends, 2000.
Psalm Cat, 2000.
Litany for Hale Smith, 2000.
(poem) “Teeter Totter,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, 1980s.
(poem) “Ghetto Child,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, 1980s.
(short story) “Mama’s Will,” 1988.
(novel) Indigo Sound, Susaami, 2003.
Wrote selected articles on jazz, gospel, spirituals, hip-hop, poetry in Black Women in America, Oxford, 2003.
Banfield, William C, Musical Landscapes in Color: Conversations With Black American Composers, Scarecrow Press, 2003, pp. 302–310.
Walker-Hill, Helen, From Spirituals to Symphonies: African American Women Composers and Their Music, Greenwood Press, 2002, pp. 319–351.
“Interview With Regina Harris Baiocchi,” Web Institute for Teachers, http://webinstituteforteachers.org/2002/resources/thehistorymakers/ReginaBaiocchi.htm (July 9, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an email interview with Regina Harris Baiocchi on July 16, 2003, a curriculum vitae provided by Regina Harris Baiocchi on July 16, 2003, and a press release provided by Regina Harris Baiocchi on July 16, 2003.
—Dr. Sheri Elaine Metzger
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