Alumni Ties in Tribute to Slain Civil Rights Leader

Wednesday, Sep 26, 2018
Cecelia Hobbs Gardner
Juilliard Journal
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An alumni-filled ensemble records 'The Passion of Octavius Catto.' (Photo: Walter Karling)

Recording The Passion of Octavius Catto

As a freelance musician for many years, I've found that some of the most interesting and fun jobs can come from a chance encounter. For instance, in July, I was working with a former Juilliard classmate on a recording session. After a great time playing together, we said our goodbyes. The next day, she texted me asking if I was available in a month for another recording project. I accepted and then received an email containing the music we were to play as well as a compelling video describing the project, a recording to celebrate the life of Octavius Catto.

Catto was a 19th-century African-American educator, scholar, early Civil Rights activist, and player with and co-founder of a forerunner of one of the Negro league baseball teams in Philadelphia. He was 37 years old when he was assassinated, in 1871, on his way to vote on a racially polarized Election Day, and his murderer, while known, was never convicted. In 2017, Philadelphia erected a statue of Catto—its first public monument to an African-American individual.

The piece we were recording, The Passion of Octavius Catto, was conceived by pianist and composer Uri Caine, who was inspired by a book about Catto, Tasting Freedom. Recording this masterwork, for jazz trio, chamber orchestra, and gospel choir, was an extraordinary experience. It was also a reunion of sorts, since many of the musicians were fellow Juilliard alums. They were conductor André Raphel (Advanced Certificate ’90, orchestral conducting); violinists Joyce Hammann (BM ’81, MM ’84), Mary Rowell (Pre-College ’74; BM ’80, MM ’81), Belinda Whitney (Diploma ’81), Liz Lim-Dutton (Pre-College ’79; BM ’83), and Yuri Namkung (Pre-College ’01; BCJ exchange ’04; MM ’06); violist Lois Martin (MM ’76); cellist Mark Shuman (BS ’73, MM ’74; Professional Studies ’75); oboist Diane Lesser (BM ’77); trumpeter Wayne du Maine (BM ’89, MM ’91); tenor trombonist Michael Boschen (MM ’97); bass trombonist David Taylor (BS ’67, MS ’68); percussionist Erik Charlston (MM ’85); timpanist Barry Centanni (MM ’84); and tenor Ronell Mark (Certificate ’99, voice). This powerful musical collaboration was made possible by a successful Kickstarter campaign and the dedication of all participants, including many Juilliard alumni active in New York’s freelance music scene. The album is due to be released in 2019.

Cecelia Hobbs Gardner (Pre-College ’75; BM ’80, MM ’81, violin) is a violinist, attorney, and president of Guiding Arts LLC, an arts consulting practice