Gannon University’s Erie Chamber Orchestra Receives Grant from National Endowment for the Arts

Posted: October 2, 2014

The Erie Chamber Orchestra has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to support "Deep River," a festival of music, outreach and educational events planned for the 2015-16 season.

The grant of $10,000 is the first NEA grant to be awarded to the orchestra or to Gannon University, where the orchestra is in residence.

The program festival explores the life and work of Harry T. Burleigh, the Erie-born classical composer, arranger, and baritone who was born in Erie in 1866.

Burleigh was the first African-American composer to collect, arrange and introduce the music of African-Americans to classically trained artists. He was a vital figure in the development of an authentically American classical music at a time when European styles and models dominated composition in America.

Burleigh was accepted to the prestigious National Conservatory of Music in New York, where he was later to serve on the faculty. It is believed that Burleigh sang spirituals while working at the conservatory, drawing the attention of its director, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.

"Deep River" will feature the music of both Burleigh and Dvořák, including the "Largo" movement of Dvořák's "New World Symphony," with a melody that some believe was inspired by Burleigh.

There will also be a curriculum for school children about Burleigh, which will be written by Gannon University professors. The project also calls for a walking tour of sites associated with Burleigh, and readings from a book about the composer by Edinboro University of Pennsylvania professor Jean Snyder, Ph.D., which is due to be published next year.

"To have be able to do this in a school named for the man, that can't happen anywhere but here," said Steven Weiser, general manager of the Erie Chamber Orchestra. "There's a rigorous application process for NEA grants and it's very competitive. We also received a matching sum from the Gannon University Provost's office, which will help to bring this project to the community. "

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.