6 Fascinating Black Classical Composers you should know!

Posted on June 22nd, 2020 by Milos Sajin

The recent Black Lives Matter protests in the US and all over the world have triggered a positive interest in educating ourselves on understanding racism and acknowledging its prevalence in our societies. Knowledge of our history can empower us all to make the right changes to move forward and build a world that is equal, and that celebrates different cultures.

The history of music is no different, and it is impossible to not recognise the genius of a multitude of black musicians, or ignore their contributions and advancements of the art. Despite this, in the past 200 years, many black composers have almost been forgotten or overlooked, and struggled against the odds to be heard. Even now, their symphonies and operas, concertos and quartets are often ignored, and remain underperformed.

Shine Music School made its start in post apartheid South Africa, and we are well aware of the institutionalised inequalities in our everyday lives. Even so, we still have a long way to go in educating ourselves. Let’s stop being silent, stop standing by and advocate for change! Let’s uplift and support black musicians and composers. In today’s article, we look at 6 fascinating musical composers and highlight some of their works.

Listen to their music, play and perform their pieces, and applaud their contribution!

Our first composer is non other than Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799). If you are a music history buff you will have heard of him. This guy led an extraordinary life. Full of swashbuckling adventure, politics, kings, queens, drama and last but not least music! It’s the stuff of movies! Born in the French Caribbean, the son of a wealthy plantation owner and a 16 year old female slave; Joseph Bologne, or Saint-Georges (as he is better known) was brought to France at a young age by his father, where he continued to spend most of the rest of his life.

St-Georges grew up in French high society but his heritage restricted him in many ways. He was both unique because of his colour and status, but for the same reasons was never able to marry and although his musical expertise was recognised, he was not allowed to take on certain appointments, such as the director of the Académie royale de musique, the Paris Opéra.

He made a name for himself as a champion fencer, even fighting off four men in an attempted assassination for his political involvements. At one point he lived in the same house as Mozart, and indeed may have influenced his younger counterpart.  He was a prolific composer (with a multitude of operas, violin concertos, symphonies and numerous chamber works under his belt) and talented violin player. Saint-Georges even played intimate concerts for Marie Antoinette, and a performance of of his second opera, La Chasse was performed at her request at the royal chateau at Marly. He became a colonel in the French Legion during the Revolution. After the Revolution shattered France, St-Georges was forced out of the army with little to show for his accomplishments, he returned to his music, and continued to compose and perfect his violin playing. He died at the age of 53 from what seems to have be gangrene.  Read more about his music and fascinating escapade here.


Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869 – 1954) was the first African-American to write an opera (Epthalia, 1891) that was successfully produced. He was a composer, musician, conductor and music teacher and founded the Freeman School of Music and the Freeman School of Grand Opera. During his lifetime, he was known as “the black Wagner.”

Around 1908, Freeman moved his family to the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City where the Harlem Renaissance was just getting into swing. Freeman’s work was already well renowned and sometime in 1912, ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who was then living in New York, asked Freeman to assist in revising his three-act opera, “Treemonisha,” production of which had halted the previous year. Freeman opened a music school in New York.

Freeman composed a number of operas and other musical work, most famous, his opera Voodoo.

“The last couple of decades of his life he struggled to get any performances of his work. Almost all of his music was unpublished at the time of his death, and no recordings of his work have ever been released commercially. Twenty-one of his operas, as well as many of his other works, survive in Freeman’s own manuscripts, and are kept in a collection of his papers at Columbia University” (source)

Scott Joplin (1868 – 1917) was an American composer and pianist. Nicknamed the King of Ragtime, he was most renowned for his ragtime pieces, including his most famous composition “Maple Leaf Rag” which today would be considered the Billboard all time number one hit of ragtime. He was a prolific composer, and wrote two operas, although these were less popular, and he struggled to become recognised for his classical compositions. He taught piano, and although his popular hit helped to support him for the duration of his life, he frequently found himself in financial straits and the score to his first opera, A Guest of Honor, was confiscated in 1903 with his belongings for non-payment of bills, and is now considered lost. (source) None of his operas were performed in his lifetime, and ragtime music died with him. He was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize in the 1970s, and Treemonisha was finally performed. His ragtime compositions have influenced jazz and big band swing music.

Florence B Price (1887-1953) was a classical composer, pianist, organist and music teacher. She became the first African American woman to have a work played by a major orchestra. In 1933 the Chicago Symphony performed her Symphony in E minor for the first time. Although she is considered to be successful in her life time, her numerous compositions are rarely played today.  If you consider the era when she was writing and performing music, her accomplishments are enormous.

Florence grew up in the American south. Her family was well to do and she was a whip-smart, valedictorian of her class. She escaped some prejudice by identifying as Mexican during her studies in Boston, but later returned to the south and married only to move again during what is known as the Great Migration to escape Jim Crow conditions in the deep south.  The Price family eventually settled in Chicago. Despite the odds of being black and a woman, she studied composition, orchestration, and the organ with the best teachers in the city, and published four pieces for piano in 1928. Her marriage fell apart and Florence worked hard to support herself and her children. Price made considerable use of characteristic African-American melodies and rhythms in many of her works. (source) She won various musical awards and wrote numerous pieces for Orchestras, and for film and advertising under a pen name. Despite this she was almost forgotten until “in 2009, a substantial collection of her works and papers were found in an abandoned dilapidated house on the outskirts of St. Anne, Illinois.These consisted of dozens of her scores, including her two violin concertos and her fourth symphony. As Alex Ross stated in The New Yorker in February 2018, “not only did Price fail to enter the canon; a large quantity of her music came perilously close to obliteration. That run-down house in St. Anne is a potent symbol of how a country can forget its cultural history.” (source)

Her work has currently received some more airplay and recognition:

Francis “Frank” Johnson (1792 – 1844) was another prolific African-American composer during the Antebellum period. You can read more about that time period in our article on The Banjo. African American composers were scarce in America during this period, but Johnson was among the few who were successful. This guy could do it all! Performing on the (now rare) keyed Kent bugle and the violin, he wrote hundreds of compositions in a multitude of styles— Operatic airs, Ethiopian minstrel songs, patriotic marches and various dances. Johnson was the first African American composer to have his works published as sheet music. His dance music was published and played at balls across the country. Only his manuscripts and piano transcripts survive today. He even performed for Queen Victoria. He also was the first African American to give public concerts and the first to participate in racially integrated concerts in the United States.
Since no actual recordings of his work exist and critic of the day did not go into much details, historians surmise that Johnsons work included many details which are not recorded on the actual publications of his transcripts. According to wikipedia:

“Available accounts show that his composition and playing must have had qualities which cannot be reconstructed from the surviving manuscripts. Historical accounts suggest that his performances infused stylistic rhythmic changes, differing from the written versions, which were either inferred by performers or instructed verbally. This is presumed to be similar to the improvisations made by jazz musicians today, although the current practices and idioms are probably vastly different from the ones used by Johnson. He was able to create interesting music, harmonies, and effects that differed from the diatonic harmonies and triadic melodies that were popular at that time.”

His performances must have been something to see!

And finally  George Walker, (1922 -2018), was the first black American classical composer to be awarded the Pulitzer prize for music (for Lilacs, a piece for voice and orchestra, in 1996) while still alive. Walker balanced a career as a concert pianist, teacher, and composer. He was a man of firsts,  first black instrumentalist to appear with the Philadelphia Orchestra, first black instrumentalist to be signed by a major management, the National Concert Artists. He became first black recipient of a doctoral degree from Eastman School of Music and the list goes on! Walkers’ body of work included over 90 works for orchestra, chamber orchestra, piano, strings, voice, organ, clarinet, guitar, brass, woodwinds, and chorus. However, for all his accomplishments, he still remains a cult figure in the world of contemporary composition. (read more here)


More composers you can learn about:

An interesting discussion on Florence Price:

A list of living black composers:

Protest music and current anthems for Black Lives Matter:

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Can singing help to fight Corona Virus?

Posted on June 20th, 2020 by Milos Sajin

You may not think you are good at singing, but everyone can sing! Even if you sing on your own, in your room with headphones on and no-one around! There are some surprising health benefits to singing out loud! And just the same as anything, with a little help and training you can improve your singing. So if you ever wanted to enjoy singing even more, we can encourage you to take a singing lesson! If the following reasons don’t make you want to give it a go, at least keep on singing in the shower!

Singing strengthens the immune system

Research conducted at the University of Frankfurt, confirmed that singing boosts the immune system. The study included testing a profesional choir during a rehearsal singing Mozart’s “Requiem”. The researchers observed that the amount of  Immunoglobulin A (a protein in the immune system that work as antibodies), were much higher right after the rehearsal. The same increases were not seen in the choir members who passively listened to the music.

Sounds are believed to improve specific aspects of your health and there are at least 5 different sounds you can sing to improve your bodies overall function:

  1. Singing the short “a” sound (as in ahh) for 2-3 minutes will help you to stop feeling sad. It forces oxygen into the blood & brain, which in turn triggers a release of endorphins.
  2. The short “e” sound (as in ‘echo’) makes the thyroid gland produce hormones that help to improve digestion & metabolism.
  3. The long “e” sound (as in ‘see’) stimulates the pineal gland, boosting your alertness & learning. Try this before studying!
  4. The long “o” sound (as in ‘open’) helps the pancreas and can regulate blood sugar after a meal.
  5. The double “o” sound (as in ‘cool’) makes the spleen/immune system to boost infection-fighting white blood cells.

Let’s get singing to help our bodies fight off Corona Virus! We certainly need all the help we can get!

Singing is a workout

Have you ever found yourself tired after a good Karaoke session? Singing can be an excellent form of exercise, especially for those who are unable to like the older generation or those who are physically disabled. If you’re healthy, your lungs will still get a serious workout if you use the correct singing techniques. And you may be working muscles that you don’t generally use in other forms of exercise. Singing stimulates your overall circulation. And we all know that more oxygen benefits your whole body! Singing may even help to increase your aerobic capacity and stamina.

Singing improves your posture

The more you sing, the stronger your lungs become. As you work your chest muscles, your chest cavity expands, your shoulders and back align, and eventually it all works together, lifting and straightening your posture. Standing up straight is part of correct technique for singing. Your singing teacher will agree. And a good posture relieves back and neck strain!

Singing helps with sleep

 Do you snore? Does your partner? Who can sleep with all this snoring going on? Well singing may be the answer to sweet dreams! According to a health article in Daily Mail Online, experts believe singing can help strengthen throat and palate muscles, which helps stop snoring and sleep apnea.

Singing combats Anxiety & Depression

As you sing, your brain triggers a release of endorphins. These help to alleviate depression, anxiety, and stress. Studies have even shown that singing can decrease our cortisol levels, which are responsible for stress. Singers often experienced improved mood and increased relaxation.


Find out more here:



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Famous musicians from Barcelona

Posted on June 20th, 2020 by Milos Sajin
Let’s have a look at some of Barcelona’s famous exports:

One of such talents is Joan Manuel Serrat. Born to an anarchist father in the popular barrio of Poble Sec, Serrat became the voice of a generation, singing in Catalan when it was frowned upon if not openly prohibited, and singing about the daily life in Catalunya after the civil war. Infused with the sensibilities of the “coplas” and traditional music of his early childhood, his sound captures the essence of Mediterranean nostalgia, and built a  cultural bridge between latin american and catalan music in the XX century.

Coming out of the rock scene from the early nineties, Pau Dones and his band Jarabe de Palo, redefined what was to be expected from spanish rockers. Their intensely popular song “la flaca” propelled them to international stardom, breaking records across all the spanish speaking world. Not to be defined by their early success, they have kept pushing the envelope and constantly surprising their audiences with their creativity.

Too punk for rock, to rocker for punk, José María Sanz Beltránbetter known for his stage name, Loquillo, has had a tumultuous career. Alongside his band Los Trogloditas, and recently by himself, he has earned his place in the rock pantheon of Barcelona´s greats. Navigating easily between popular genres, he has eluded being pigeonholed by his style and continues to be one of the cities favorite prodigal sons.

Barcelona has always been characterized for being a melting pot of identities. The city lends itself for cultural cross-pollination. It’s no surprise then, that a group like Ojos de Brujo found its footing in the streets of el Raval. A genre-bending experiment in musical creativity, these talented musicians have fused their influences in a large pallette of sounds that they have come to define as jipjop flamenkillo, a tongue twister of a name but a clear and focused execution of modern fusion styles.

Walk around the streets of the gothic quarter on a Friday evening and you will soon understand why this city is loved by the creative types. Maybe it’s the fact that the city defined itself in a opposition to the XX century dictatorship in the country, or the amount of talented immigrants who like to call Barcelona their home, whatever it is, the musical effervescence felt around every corner has surely inspired many souls, and lures the artist with its energy.

Do you wanna be part of the music revolution? Learn more at the Shine Music School, we offer combo and band lessons! And don’t forget to browse our Teacher pages, where we have featured videos of many of our teachers performing!

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Your Musical Travel Companion

Posted on June 20th, 2020 by Milos Sajin

As summer vacation is fast approaching, and international and national restrictions lift, holidays are looming, and even perhaps a little bit of travel if you can! Perhaps you have already planned your first trip! You can start dreaming again of sand between your toes on a beach in Ibiza, or the Canary Islands. Perhaps even a secret cove in Mallorca. Close your eyes and think of the mountain hike you can go on in the Pyranees.  The birds singing in the trees, the sound of a softly trickling stream. Suddenly you realize something is missing. What could possibly make this moment even more magical? Yes! Music! What if you had an ukulele or guitalele right next to you?

Traveling with an instrument is difficult!

Most guitar players that travel are worried about their precious guitar getting damaged on the plane. Imagine turbulence as you descend over the Pyrenees bumps and scratches your favourite guitar! And you didn’t insure it! Even worse, you are forced to stow it in the luggage bay, or pay for an extra seat to accommodate your instrument. Then the baggage handlers loose your luggage, including your guitar! A nightmare for musicians! This is why finding other options than traveling with your guitar can be a smart idea.

Here are some benefits of choosing an ukelele or guitalele as your travel instrument of choice:

1# Size and weight: The ukulele and guitalele are small enough for taking inside the airplane and are easy to transport, making them the perfect instruments for travel. Extremely lightweight and easy to transport, they fit perfectly in the overhead luggage compartment in an airplane. Small and easy to carry, but offering a similar sound to the original guitar.

2# To socialize: Because of their small size and weight, both instruments become a great way to make friends and meet people. The great thing about them is you can take them everywhere! You can easily play the ukulele or guitalele on Barceloneta beach, perform on Barcelona streets or jam in the most popular pubs and bars around town. The joyful sound of both instruments easily attracts peoples attention and you will often find yourself surrounded by smiley faces. People love singing along to today’s favourites played on a cheerful little instrument.

3# Price: You can get any of these two instruments at a very reasonable price and not worry if they get damaged. While traveling it’s easy for your instrument to get damaged by the sun, bumps or too much use. So better not take your expensive guitar on the road! You can easily rent or buy an ukelele or guitalele and not worry so much if something happens to your little buddy.

So why not give it a try?

Our teacher Sebastian Pan regularly plays his electric guitalele, you can get a lesson with him if you like!

If you in Barcelona and want to try an ukelele or guitalele, please contact shinemusicrental.com for more details.

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So you wanna play Bass?

Posted on June 20th, 2020 by Milos Sajin

“When I heard BB King’s ‘Sweet Sixteen, I knew I wanted to play bass because that was the thing that made that record: the bass player.” Donal Dunn

I remember speaking with David, one of Shine’s best teachers about the bass guitar. He said proudly that the bass guitar is for real music lovers, for those who don’t want leadership or to stand out from the rest of the group, but become the body of the group, bringing all of the other instruments together. “This is why bass guitar players have to be really passionate about it, because they become both body and soul of any band”, he said.

Very often people ask themselves what’s the real difference between a guitar and a bass. If you are an absolute newbie to music you may not even understand the basic differences between guitar and bass. The two instruments are more similar than you probably realise. The electric guitar is a six-stringed instrument, and standard tuning is: EADGBE. That means the lowest string is tuned to the note E, the next to the note A, the next to D and so on. But knowing the notes isn’t really important right now, as much as understanding how the guitar and bass are related.

The standard bass guitar has only four strings, and is a slightly larger instrument. The tuning of a bass guitar is the same as the lowest four strings of a regular guitar, except one whole octave down in pitch. Therefore, the strings of bass guitar are tuned EADG, just like the lowest four strings on a regular guitar. In many ways, the bass is exactly the same as the guitar, except with two fewer strings and lower tuning. The same scales, chords and music theory you might learn on one carries over to the other. The two instruments are directly related. This is important, because many players think they have to choose one or the other when first starting out. Understanding that there is a direct correlation between the two might make your choice seem a bit less stressful. What you learn on guitar will apply to bass and vice versa. You can make the switch at any time. It might be fun to try!

Keep in mind, there are all kinds of different tunings used on both instruments, and all kinds of variations of each instrument. There are 7- and 8-string guitars, and 5- and 6-string basses. Don’t let any of that worry you. Once you understand the basics of one instrument, the rest is easy to figure out.

One thing many young musicians wonder is why a rock band even needs a bassist. They’re just in the background, and many bands are so drum and guitar-heavy on their albums that you can’t even hear the bass. This is especially true now that so many guitarists are detuning down to the frequencies once occupied only by the bassist. In truth, while average bass players may be content with taking a backseat, a good bassist knows that his or her job is to carry the band. They provide the backbone that holds up the other instruments. In genres like jazz and blues, this means settling into a groove and working with the drummer. In metal and hard rock, it means supplying the meat of the guitar riff, that part of the sound that puts the audience through the back wall.

Good bassists are indeed very valuable, so if bass is the path you decide on, then wear your choice proudly!

Ok, let’s be honest. It’s actually pretty easy to play bass. You only have to play one note at a time, you can just stand in the back and chill, and if you make a mistake, you just call it a “passing tone.” But the insider trick to know is that if you play in-time and play the right notes most of the time, you are keeping the song moving melodically and rhythmically. You, my friend, are the most important part of the song. The bass player is the perfect mediator in the band. He (or she) keeps the other players in line and holds everything in place. Without the bass player, everything would fall apart and be a big mess.

I’ve heard many musicians say that one of the hardest things to do is to find a good bass player. So if you’re a good bass player, you’ll get work. You don’t even need to be great. You just need to play the right notes in time.

Electric bass guitar, when played acoustically, is probably the quietest instrument that exists. A bass player can plug in headphones and mixer and sound like he’s playing in a stadium in his ears, but to the people around him, pretty much nothing is happening.

Can you think of a quieter instrument? Right. Bass is it. Great for practicing at home and not bothering the neighbours

Also, a bass player will always be a great friend. A bass player is patient. A bass player loves what he does, and knows that the most important job is to ensure that people feel something. That they dance. That they lose themselves in the groove.

If you decide to give it a try, you can contact Shine Music School for face to face lessons or online lessons.

You can also come down to The Music Room in Barcelona and rent a bass for a couple of months to see how it goes or visit our instrument rental page.

You might want to listen to some of the best bass players of all times and see what they sound like : Flea, John Entwistle, Cliff Burton and Victor Wooten.

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