Jeffrey Mumford: Remembering MLK in Music

The modernist composer Jeffery Mumford was commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra to write a concert in honor of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Mumford shares his inspiration for that work.

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(Soundbite of "The Comfort of His Voice")

Mr. JEFFREY MUMFORD (Composer): I'm Jeffrey Mumford and I'm an African-American classical composer. What I've just been playing is the quartile outline of a new work that I've written for the Cleveland Orchestra, which commissioned it for the Martin Luther King Celebratory Concert. The piece is called "The Comfort of His Voice." It's for full orchestra.

His voice was so powerful. As a child, I remember watching television footage of him come into our house and, as a young child, not knowing exactly the implications of what he was saying but knowing that he was a very powerful and persuasive speaker; and later on of course the significance of what he did became much more apparent to me.

My wife and I, when living in Washington, D.C., started a tradition in which on Martin Luther King's birthday would always play his speeches in spurts of music. And we make occasions of this, and we'd celebrate in our own way by having theme - considering his words and listening to these speeches all day long.

And now that I have a daughter, who's 11 years old named Blythe(ph), who's also very musical, we wanted to continue this tradition so we bought a five-CD compilation of his speeches and would play them during the day on Martin Luther King's birthday just again to hear the power of his voice and the power of his words.

(Soundbite of "The Comfort of His Voice")

Mr. MUMFORD: When I got this commission to write this piece, the title suggested itself very immediately because the idea of his voice being a conveyor of inspiration for all of us was central to my conception of the piece.

(Soundbite of "The Comfort of His Voice")

Mr. MUMFORD: Certainly, his voice and deeds gave comfort to many of us during very complex times. And among the most inspiring aspects, the comfort of his voice gave me, was the presumption of our collective intelligence, civilization and compassion. And I think that's very important to remember that he implored us to be our best selves, and I wanted to write a piece that inspired that and that was my humble mission.

(Soundbite of "The Comfort of His Voice")

Mr. MUMFORD: This may be certainly challenging to some who are not familiar with this kind of music but I do think my music is very romantic in scope, and I would hope the listener would come to the piece, at least meet it halfway, and let the piece affect them in whatever or take them whatever journey it takes them.

(Soundbite of "The Comfort of His Voice")

Mr. MUMFORD: Happy Martin Luther King's birthday to all of us, and may we embody his dream and his deeds and his vision.

(Soundbite of "The Comfort of His Voice")

CHIDEYA: Maestro Jeffrey Mumford. His piece, "The Comfort of His Voice," was written in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was performed for the first time yesterday in all its timbers and textures by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra.

(Soundbite of "The Comfort of His Voice")

CHIDEYA: Just ahead, the House votes to raise the minimum wage. And 41 years later, a rare speech by Dr. King is discovered.

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