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Inside the Music

Meet the Annotator: Anthony R. Green

Anthony R. Green sitting with pen in hand.
Anthony R. Green | Photo by Colin Conces

Each month, the Minnesota Orchestra’s Showcase magazine features program notes written by a variety of annotators from coast to coast—and among them is composer, performer and social justice artist Anthony R. Green. Here he sheds light on his writing process and other activities.

How did you get into program note writing? 

Being a composer, I’m constantly writing program notes for my own pieces. But looking further back, I vaguely remember the first time I thought about writing program notes for other compositions besides my own. It was while attending a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert, reading some exorbitantly long-winded notes written by my music history teacher at the time, Dr. Joel Sheveloff. He was an amazing teacher, a brilliant mind and also an incredible program-note writer, but in my youth I thought to myself, “My goodness, why are these notes so long and so full of information that I can google?” After co-founding the arts institution Castle of our Skins with my dear friend Ashleigh Gordon, there were some instances where we needed program notes for other works. Additionally, as a piano performer myself, I program concerts and write all the notes. I would program concerts where I wrote program notes for all of the pieces (including those that were not composed by me). That is how I naturally became a program note writer, and I enjoy every second of it! 

What’s your typical program note writing process?

Referring a bit to the age of Google, one of my early approaches to writing a program note is to read internet-accessible program notes that already exist and try to identify elements of the piece about which I am writing that are not found among the many notes that already exist. In this way, my note will add something new, something that can’t be googled! Quite often, however, it is difficult to find this new bit of information. Therefore, at times my addition comes in the form of comparing the piece to other pieces by other composers who may not be as widely known (quite often because of their culture or geography), and at other times I will do a theoretical analysis and try to explain my findings in terms that are accessible to readers who many not be musicians. Notes that add a fresh perspective or a new, diverse perspective, are the notes I find the most enlightening! 

Tell us about some highlights of your work as a composer.

My career has had so many peaks and valleys, so to speak! While I composed works for friends as a child and youth and did much arranging in high school, I did not officially become a composer until sophomore year of undergrad at Boston University. I have always been curious, however, about incorporating composition with performance and other aspects of creating artistic experiences. My creative practice also includes performance art, and some of my favorite experiences have been my durational performances in Kumasi (Ghana) at the perfocraZe International Artist Residency and at Union Square in New York, sponsored by Art in Odd Places. I recently had my debut at Lincoln Center, where I composed a piece that accompanied dance. I’m looking forward to all of my future projects, and I do not want to pick one for fear of alienating everyone else! 

What are some connections you have with Minnesota?

My first professional connection was in 2018, when I was a McKnight Visiting Composer in collaboration with the [St. Paul-based] American Composers Forum. During my time, I composed eight pieces, taught at two schools, introduced many students to music by Black composers, gave a solo piano recital at a local church and headed a workshop session about incorporating music by Black composers in the classroom. It was an amazing experience, and one of the most important results of my time was meeting Tiffany Skidmore and being properly introduced to the 113 Composers Collective. Since then, my forays into the Twin Cities have been because of this incredible group of musicians and true artists. Not only have they produced a portrait concert of my works, but they perform such adventurous music at such a high level. I was also part of Tiffany's incredible opera, where I was a “cellist.”

Which composers do you find most inspiring?

When I was young, I used to listen to CDs at my local library in Providence, Rhode Island (on the east side, for any Providence-friends reading!). Here is where I first heard Althea Waites’ watershed album Black Diamonds, with works by Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, William Grant Still and Ed Bland. I remember hearing the Ed Bland piece Sketches Set #7, and being completely taken aback! At the time, I didn’t even think to ask my piano teacher for the music, probably because I thought it was too difficult to play or I thought that in order to get into college I need to play a Beethoven sonata and a Bach fugue, and this funky piano piece wouldn’t be taken seriously. However, now that I am older, I am finally programming this piece on most of my performances that include piano! I played two movements of it at Bucknell University in April, and I will play the entire piece in São Paulo in August. The more I read and learn about Ed Bland, the more he becomes incredibly inspiring to me, and—as my partner in crime Ashleigh Gordon knowns—I try to find excuses to put works by Ed Bland on as many programs as possible!

If you were in charge of Minnesota Orchestra programming, which piece of music would you most like to program? 

No surprise here, I’d suggest all of Ed Bland’s orchestral music (even though I do not know it because it has not been recorded!). Other than that, I would program my absolute FAVORITE orchestral piece, which—in my humble opinion—is the best piece of orchestral music ever to have been composed in the history of orchestral music, and I cry every time I hear it. This is Choros XII by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Composed in 1929, this piece has STUNNING colors, some of the catchiest-yet-not-cheesy musical themes ever, and a counterpoint that is simply celestial, which all comes together in this magical moment towards the end. I introduce this work to many of my friends, and the reaction is pretty much the same. After about 2 minutes in, they say “I cannot believe how amazing this is,” and I always say “just wait, it just keeps getting better and better,” and they always say “you’re correct!”

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Spare time? What is that! HA! If I had spare time, I would read all the books (every single one of them) and watch all the horror movies (every single one of them)! I also really love to cook, do home fitness routines, study languages (I’m currently teaching myself Swahili and will soon start my Toki Pona adventure for a future commission with Ekmeles) and the history and quirks of languages, and watch cat videos. 

Learn more about Anthony at anthonyrgreen.com.