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Michael Morgan, Music Director and Conductor, Dies at 63

He served three decades with the Oakland Symphony and was a passionate advocate for change

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Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony in a concert curated by W. Kamau Bell; Photo Courtesy of KQED

Michael Morgan was the music director and conductor with the Oakland Symphony. He died August 20, 2021, at an Oakland hospital. He was 63.

During a career that spanned 40 years, Maestro Morgan was one of the rare Black conductors to rise to prominence. He had guest appearances with leading the top orchestras of St. Louis, Los Angeles, Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco. He served as assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony.

Maestro Morgan became music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1991. He also served as artistic director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra and was the music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra.

He was artistic director of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek for more than 10 seasons. He taught a graduate conducting course at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was music director at the Bear Valley Music Festival in California. He conducted the San Francisco Ballet for several performances. He also conducted the San Francisco Symphony.

Maestro Morgan did much more than bring classical and new music to Paramount theater audiences. He brought music to thousands of underserved children in the Oakland public schools.

 “Michael Morgan was an advocate for change, both within the classical music community and also outside, in his community and beyond”, said Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post Newspaper Group.

Morgan’s “’Let Us Break Bread Together’ concert presented music from the Black Panther era that reflected back on the protest music from the 60’s and 70’s”, Cobb continued.

Morgan was always interested in providing an early education in classical music. “Talk to people of whatever color in any professional orchestra, and ask them where they started, and you’ll find that most of them started, as I did, in a public school somewhere,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1998.

“And if there’s not that possibility, then of course there’s not going to be people at the other end,” he said. “It’s impossible to maintain the respect of an orchestra if they think that the only reason you’re there is that they needed a Black conductor,” Morgan said.

Maestro Morgan started the Symphony’s MUSE program as a multi-component music education and enrichment initiative to serve young people at public schools and community sites throughout Oakland.

These programs were free to participants, ensuring that each year thousands of young people have access to a variety of music education and enrichment activities, regardless of their economic situation.

“The MUSE program is a lifeline in difficult times. It’s not just a token – it’s keeping the music program afloat in Oakland. It’s the tipping point between success and failure”, said Ted Allen, former Instrumental Director, Skyline and Oakland Technical High School.

At the onset of distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, all engagement visits and teaching artists adapted their work with students to an on-line format in partnership with OUSD into 2020-21.

MUSE has continued to be there for the community as programs, captivating and exciting students about music, encouraging a lifelong passion for the art of sound.

Over 2,500 students are served through the symphony’s school programs hosted by MUSE. The students work with professional musician mentors from the Symphony as part of the In-School Mentor and After School programs.

Michael created the “NOTES FROM” series, designed to welcome different elements of our community into the symphony family.

The diversity of the Bay Area is well known and was reflected in the concert hall in the NOTES FROM programming.

These programs included NOTES FROM Persia, China, the Philippines, Mexico, NOTES FROM LGBT America, and the African Diaspora.

Michael DeVard Morgan was born in Washington, DC, Sept. 17, 1957.His father, Willie DeVard Morgan, was a biologist. His mother, Mabel Morgan, was a health researcher.

When Michael was 6 years old, his father bought the family a piano. Michael began to play two years later. By the age of 12, he was leading two orchestras, one founded by Michael at MacFarland Junior High School and the other at the People’s Congregational Church.

In his teens, while a student at McKinley High School, he was named conductor of the Washington D.C. Youth Orchestra. He attended the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, originally as a composition major.

While at Oberlin, Michael worked with conductors Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts. He accepted the position of apprentice conductor at the Buffalo Philharmonic in 1979.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Art

Marin Fair Competitive Exhibits Open for Entry

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

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Marin County Fair “So Happy Together!” returns June 30-July 4

Courtesy of Marin County

2022 Marin County Fair Poster depicting a variety of farm animals with the Marin County Civic Center and Marin Fairgrounds property in the background. San Rafael, California — With Marin County Fair’s June 30 opening day just around the corner, the Competitive Exhibits categories for the 2022 Fair are now available on the Fair’s website MarinFair.org.

The competitive exhibit program, which usually takes place indoors, will remain online for one more year and will include competitions such as fine art and photography, decorated cakes and cookies, wine and beer label design, clothing and textiles, cartoon art, exceptional art, poetry and creative writing, hobbies and crafts, and more. The Plein Air painting competition on the first day of the Fair will take place outdoors. The agriculture competitions will remain outdoors and will include poultry, rabbits, sheep dog trials, pocket pets, dog care and training, and small animal round robin showmanship, to name a few.

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

The full list of categories and entry guidelines is available online at MarinFair.org. Submissions will be accepted from May 6 to May 31 and winners will be announced online during Fair time.

The 2022 fair will also focus on outdoor entertainment including the headline concerts, performers roaming the grounds such as jugglers, unicyclists, and stilt walkers, and interactive art experiences for fans of all ages. Returning fair favorites will include traditional carnival rides, the Global Marketplace, the Barnyard, food and drinks, and fireworks every night over the Civic Center’s Lagoon Park.

Early bird tickets sold out within one day of release. Discounted Fair tickets are still available for adults and teens through June 29. The Fair is a one-price gate featuring 28 carnival rides, exciting exhibits, spectacular firework displays, first-rate concerts and exciting attractions are FREE with gate admission. Tickets are available online only at MarinFair.org.

Headline concerts will soon be announced, and reserved gold circle tickets will go on sale May 16. Reserved concert seating in a special section is $60 per person and includes Fair admission.

Special Admission Days:
Kids Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Children 12 and under are FREE on Thursday, June 30.
Senior Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Seniors 65+ are admitted FREE

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Activism

Installation Invoking Black Struggle for Justice in Opens May 14 at Oakland City Hall

Society’s Cage is an open air, accessible pavilion featuring 500 hanging steel bars that form a cavernous cube with a habitable void allowing visitors to experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism. This immersive experience offers the opportunity to consider the severity of racial biases within our institutional structures of justice and allows for moments of reflection and healing. 

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Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
View of ‘Society’s Cage,’ an immersive exhibit at Oakland City Hall. Photo courtesy of the organizers.

By Randolph Belle

A traveling exhibit that invokes the history of repression of Blacks in the United States arrived in Oakland for installation this week at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Support Oakland Artists, an Oakland based 501(C)3, partnered with Society’s Cage to bring the acclaimed social justice art installation as a feature in front of Oakland City Hall from May 9-30, 2022.

Society’s Cage is an open air, accessible pavilion featuring 500 hanging steel bars that form a cavernous cube with a habitable void allowing visitors to experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism.

This immersive experience offers the opportunity to consider the severity of racial biases within our institutional structures of justice and allows for moments of reflection and healing.

The designers, Dayton Schroeter, Julian Arrington, Monteil Crawley and Ivan O’Garro, created the installation to contextualize the contemporary phenomenon of police killings of Black Americans within the 400+ year continuum of racialized state violence in the United States.

It is a data-driven installation shaped in response to the question “What is the value of Black life in America?”

The Oakland installation will be the first on the West Coast as it travels nationally to sites of symbolic power related to justice, freedom & democracy. Originating in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall in response to the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Society’s Cage has continued its journey as an interpretive lens highlighting the historic forces of racialized state violence in the United States.

Other sites have included War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore, Maryland, and the site of the Vernon AME Chapel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race massacre and destruction of the Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street.

Oakland is an ideal host site for the installation as the home of the Black Panther Party, which was founded to combat the legacy of police oppression, inequitable incarceration practices, and remnants of slavery in the form of state-sponsored terrorism against Black people.

In 2009, the killing of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old, unarmed Black transit rider by the BART police in Oakland set off local and regional organized protests that catalyzed a national movement.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

“We were inspired to create the installation as a response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” explains Dayton Schroeter, lead designer of Society’s Cage and design director at SmithGroup, which has offices in San Francisco. “The pavilion is a real and raw reflection of the conversations about racism happening now. It’s a physical manifestation of the institutional structures that have undermined the progress of Black Americans over the history of this country.

“The name Society’s Cage refers to the societal constraints that limit the prosperity of the Black community,” says Julian Arrington, who led the design with Schroeter, and is an associate at SmithGroup. “The pavilion creates an experience to help visitors understand and acknowledge these impacts of racism and be moved to create change.”

 

 

 

“It only took an instant for me to commit to this project,” said Randolph Belle, executive director of Support Oakland Artists. “In my over 30 years in Oakland as an artist and community developer, I’ve strived to utilize the arts to engage the public in thoughtful ways around important and timely topics. This project, this site, and these times are an unprecedented example of that.”

Visitors are encouraged to participate in a shared experience upon entering the pavilion. After holding their breath for as long as they can, evoking the common plea among victims of police killings, “I can’t breathe,” visitors then post a video reflection of their experience on social media using the hashtag #SocietysCage. This exercise is meant not only to build empathy but expand the installation’s impact online to allow anyone to participate in this shared exercise.

The pavilion was fabricated by Gronning Design + Manufacturing LLC in Washington, D.C., and Mejia Ironworks in Hyattsville, Maryland. A soundscape was commissioned from a pair of composers, Raney Antoine Jr. and Lovell “U-P” Cooper.

Comprised of four pieces, each eight minutes and 46 seconds in length in recognition of the time George Floyd suffered under the knee of police, they are themed to reflect each of the four institutional forces that sculpted the pavilion’s interior — mass incarceration, police terrorism, capital punishment and racist lynchings.

Early sponsors who have made the hosting of the Society’s Cage Oakland installation possible include the Akonadi Foundation, Tarbell Family Foundation, individual sponsors including principals from SmithGroup’s San Francisco office, corporate sponsorship including SmithGroup and many community partners including BIG Oakland.

Jeremy Crandall and Emax Exhibits were the Oakland Installation team.

A public unveiling is scheduled for Saturday, May 14, 2022, at 11 a.m., and a programmed event featuring local cultural artists is scheduled for Sunday, May 29, 2022, at 7 p.m. Participating individuals and organizations include original members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Cultural Zone, HipHopTV, and a host of local artists.

For more information, visit www.societyscage.com to find a link to the donation site. Additional donations will assist with programming and documentation related to the Oakland activation.

Randolph Belle is the executive director of Support Oakland Artists and RBA Creative studio in Oakland.

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Arts and Culture

Four Seasons Arts Honors Founder Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams with Annual Concert

Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams was one of the first African American presenters of a major classical music concert series in the United States. Dr. Williams presented artists of all races and organized racially diverse audiences, and for over 40-plus years in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, he introduced to the world some of the finest musicians of our time.

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Pianist Dr. Rochelle Sennet is a well-known performer, teacher and scholar. She has performed throughout the world as a soloist and orchestra collaborator and is a sought-after guest lecturer and adjudicator.
Pianist Dr. Rochelle Sennet is a well-known performer, teacher and scholar. She has performed throughout the world as a soloist and orchestra collaborator and is a sought-after guest lecturer and adjudicator.

On Saturday, May 7 at 3 p.m., Four Seasons Arts will honor Founder Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams with a piano recital by Dr. Rochelle Sennet. The concert takes place at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. in Berkeley.

Sennet’s May 7 program, entitled “Bach to Black,” features two Partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach, “Four Dances for Boris” by African-American composer Jeffrey Mumford (b. 1955) and “In the Bottoms” Suite by African-American composer R. Nathaniel Dett.

Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams led the concert organization from its beginning in 1958 until his death in 1999, and it is because of his vision that the concert series continues.

Dr. Williams was one of the first African American presenters of a major classical music concert series in the United States. Dr. Williams presented artists of all races and organized racially diverse audiences, and for over 40-plus years in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, he introduced to the world some of the finest musicians of our time.

Pianist Dr. Rochelle Sennet is a well-known performer, teacher and scholar. She has performed throughout the world as a soloist and orchestra collaborator and is a sought-after guest lecturer and adjudicator.

Free tickets to this event are available by emailing fsa.info@fsarts.org, calling 510-845-4444 or clicking the “Get Free Tickets” button at www.fsarts.org/2022-founders-concert/.

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