The upper school received a visit today from the Langston Hughes Project, a fusion of music, literature and history led by Ron McCurdy, a professor of music at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
McCurdy first gave a morning lecture on Langston Hughes and the many artists of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Later, the accomplished trumpeter was joined by drummer Mike Mitchell, bassist Giulio Cetto and pianist (and 2001 Harker middle school graduate) Yuma Sung at a special assembly at the Athletic Center, where McCurdy gave a powerful performance of Hughes’ poetic suite “Ask Your Mama,” reciting and singing Hughes’ lines as images and film reels of figures and events of African-American history were displayed behind the group.
Members of the upper school’s Jazz Band later attended a special master class given by McCurdy, where they performed Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song” and received his feedback. McCurdy advised students to use their sheet music as a roadmap and avoid scanning it too much as they played. He also told them to learn the history behind the pieces they learn: “If you understand the history of why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’ll make a whole lot more sense to you.”
McCurdy also worked with the Downbeat show choir, which had been learning Nina Simone’s version of the 1960s show tune “Feeling Good.” After hearing their rendition, McCurdy coached the singers supporting the soloists to do more than simply sing the notes in their part. “Sing like you mean it,” he said, referring to the optimism in Simone’s performance. “I’ve got to hear that joy, that optimism.”