by Jarrett Hoffman
IN THIS EDITION:
•Announcements: YSU Youth Orchestra auditions, the Suburban Symphony looks for violinists, and next season from the Canton Symphony
•Almanac: the many talents and the early modernism of pianist and composer Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (pictured)
The Dana School of Music has announced auditions for the YSU Youth Orchestra program. You can send a video by September 9, or audition in person on September 10 between 12 and 5 pm at Bliss Hall. More information here.
The Suburban Symphony is looking for violinists to join the orchestra for its June concert and for next season. Find out more here.
And the Canton Symphony has announced its 2023-24 season. Click here to peruse the MasterWorks and Pops series as well as the “Gospel Joins Symphony” concert, and here for Divergent Sounds. Season subscriptions go on sale on July 5, while single tickets come on the market on August 15.
Among a handful of deserving musicians, including soprano Beverly Sills (born on this date in 1929) and composer Gustav Holst (died on this date in 1934), today we’ll focus on American pianist and composer Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, who came into this world on May 25, 1849.
Born blind and born into slavery, Thomas Wiggins displayed remarkable musical and sonic abilities from an early age. Not only did he begin to learn the piano by ear at age four, but he was also able to imitate the sounds of birds and repeat 10-minute-long conversations — vocal cadences included.
At age eight, Wiggins was hired out to a promoter, and he began to give extensive tours around the U.S., playing his own compositions, improvising, repeating works of music note for note, and even playing different pieces in each hand — while singing yet another. Over a career spanning several decades, he reportedly earned his enslaver and the promoter around $100,00 per year — a vast sum at that time — though very little of that went to the musician himself.
The perfect place to begin exploring Thomas Wiggins’ music is the 1999 album John Davis Plays Blind Tom (available on multiple streaming services), which includes fourteen works for piano, including Battle Of Manassas.
His most famous piece, written when he was 14, it paints a picture of the Confederate victory in that Civil War battle with music that is full of jagged dissonances and one surprising juxtaposition after another. As pianist Jeremy Denk said in a conversation with composer George Lewis, it’s an example of “modernism way before its time.” Watch Denk perform the piece here at Caramoor in October 2020, and read more about Wiggins’ life and music in a 2021 article by Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times.