Composer Antonín Dvořák

Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive feature on Salastina Music Society and Tonality’s upcoming performances.

As Election Day comes and goes, Arts Alive is asking the question: what does it mean to be an American composer? In the 1890s, when composers in the United States were searching for a unique “American Sound” in their music, they turned to Antonin Dvořák…from Bohemia. Dvořák came to the U.S., met up with composer Harry T. Burleigh—the grandson of former slaves, who was writing art songs and spirituals. Together, Burleigh and Dvořák came to the conclusion that American composers didn’t need Dvořák to find an American sound in classical music—the American sound was already there.

Dvořák said, “I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”

Still, Dvořák provided a couple of examples of what he meant: the New World Symphony and the American String Quartet are among them. This weekend, the Salastina Music Society explores in greater detail just what Dvořák was talking about, in a performance that Salastina co-artistic director Maia Jasper White says will highlight music by composers who exemplify Dvořák’s aesthetic wish for American music. Maia says it’s part of concert format called Sounds Unknown, which focuses on lesser-heard composers and investigates some the reasons why their music may not be familiar.

Salastina Music Society performing alongside host Brian Lauritzen | Photo by Shaun Frederickson

“Any classical concert is, hopefully, going to inspire people to feel swept away by the beauty, craft, and inspiration of all these artists. It’s one thing to feel that way when you’re going to hear Brahms and you know this is a titan whose bust is in a million places. But when you are confronted with dozens and dozens of people who you never even knew existed, that just adds a whole other dimension to your appreciation for the scope of creativity—zooming out and seeing with fresh eyes just how much good stuff there is out there.”

This weekend’s Salastina Music Society concerts mark a first for the nine-year-old chamber music organization: they will collaborate with the LA-based choral ensemble Tonality for a performance of Caroline Shaw’s powerful and poignant piece about displacement, home, turmoil, and comfort called To the Hands. Tonality music director Alex Blake says it’s an incredibly moving work and, in this election season, it’s a call to action for individuals to be involved in making the world a better place for everyone in it.

“Not waiting for the people at the top to be the moral compass for how we act in our lives with the people around us. You can be refuge, you can be home, you can be comfort, you can be safety.”

The choir Tonality is collaborating with the Salastina Music Society for a program, presented by Salastina, entitled The Sound of America. Saturday night at 8:00 at the Pasadena Conservatory and Sunday afternoon at 3:00 at The East Wing at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. It’s part of Salastina’s Sounds Unknown series and was curated and will be hosted by KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen. Find out more at

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