Born on June 4, 1940, in New Castle, Delaware; married to Kermit Moore (the cellist) Education: Howard University, BMus, 1963; attended American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, 1963; private study with Chou Wen Chung, 1965; private voice lessons with Lola Hayes, 1972. Memberships: American Composers Alliance; BMI; New York Singing Teachers Association; New York Women Composers. Career Composer; Harlem School of the Arts, teacher, 1965-66; New York University, teacher 1969; Bronx Community College, teacher, 1971; private piano, voice, sight-singing, and ear-training teacher, 1968-. Life's Work Dorothy Rudd Moore, considered one of her generation's leading woman composers of color, has received commissions from such orchestras as the National Symphony, Opera Ebony, and the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Her work, which includes chamber pieces, song cycles, orchestral music, and an opera, is admired for its high level of artistry and its seriousness of purpose. Dorothy Rudd was born on June 4, 1940, in New Castle, Delaware. From a very early age, she loved music--an interest that her mother, a singer, actively supported. "I never knew a time when I wasn't interested in music," she observed to William C. Banfield in Musical Landscapes in Color. As a young girl, Moore listened to performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Eugene Ormandy conducting, an experience that she cherished. She also made up songs and music for herself, as part of her play. "I didn't even know that the word 'composer' existed," she commented in Musical Landscapes in Color. "I just used to do the music." Her parents, who sent her to public schools in nearby Wilmington, encouraged her to explore all of her interests, and provided her with piano lessons. By her teens, Moore knew that she wanted to become a composer. Yet there were few role models in this field for a young black woman.
As she noted in remarks quoted in International Dictionary of Black Composers, it seemed that all composers must be "male, white, and dead." Moore's parents fully supported her ambitions. She continued her study of piano at Wilmington School of Music, and became a student of Howard High School teacher (and later, Music Superintendent of Wilmington Public Schools) Harry Andrews. Moore learned to play clarinet so that she could join the all-male band at Howard High. In addition, she was a member of the school orchestra, studied music theory, and sang in the school choir and in her church choir. Though Moore considered attending Harvard University, she decided instead to enroll at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she began as a music education major. Excelled in Music as a University Student At Howard, Moore studied with Dean Warner Lawson, Thomas Kerr, and Mark Fax, who supported her decision to change her major to composition.
The mathematical aspects of music especially appealed to her; she has noted that the logical structure of Bach and the inventiveness of Duke Ellington were both major influences. In fact, Ellington inspired the young composer's first work, "Flight," a solo piano piece that Moore wrote at age sixteen. Howard University's music school had a symphonic wind ensemble contest, which Moore and six male students entered, using pseudonyms as required to eliminate any bias in judging. Her piece, "Reflections of Life," won the competition and was performed in concert. Her Symphony Number One, also written for a student competition at Howard, received the prize and was performed by the National Symphony. After finishing her studies at Howard, Moore went to France to study with renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger at Fountainebleau. She then returned to the United States, settling in New York City and studying composition with Chou Wen Chung.
In New York, she met cellist Kermit Moore; they married in 1964. Their partnership has been described as one of mutual support and inspiration; indeed, Kermit Moore has commissioned and debuted several works by Dorothy Rudd Moore. In 1968 the Moores became founding members of the Society of Black Composers. "We felt that black composers didn't have any recognition," Dorothy Rudd Moore observed in Musical Landscapes in Color. "People now know about many of the [black] composers, and one of the reasons why people know is because of our organization." Though Moore received a traditional musical education and admired the works of the great classical composers, she also grew up hearing rhythm and blues, jazz, and spirituals, and these have also influenced her work. Several of her song cycles are based on poems by black writers. Weary Blues, a piece for baritone cello and piano, is set to a poem by Langston Hughes.
From the Dark Tower, a cycle of eight songs for mezzo-soprano, cello, and piano that was commissioned by Kermit Moore, sets to music poems by James Weldon Johnson, Arna Bontemps, Herbert Clark Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen. Moore has called the piece her "black power statement," in reference to the pain and anger she felt at pervasive racism and class privilege. "You want to put out positive energies," she commented. "With all the turmoil that was going on then, I knew that I wouldn't go out, pick up a gun, and kill somebody or anything like that, even though I was very sympathetic to a group like the [Black] Panthers...I made my statement in this way...I do not write music in a vacuum, but I was thinking that communicating my ideas and emotions about the world would make a difference."
Inspired by African American Creativity The poems in From the Dark Tower, according to Helen Walker-Hill in International Dictionary of Black Composers, "are unified by the themes of affirmation of black creativity and anger at its frustration." The critic particularly admired Moore's references to spirituals in the cycle's first song, "O Black and Unknown Bard," by James Weldon Johnson: "the phrase 'Steal Away to Jesus' breaks the prevailing dissonance momentarily with the indescribably sweet consonance of traditional harmonies; 'Swing Low' echoes the rising and falling thirds of its tune; 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I See' is sung mournfully on repeated notes, while the piano softly plays the familiar melody as if from a great distance." The cycle ends with Cullen's "From the Dark Tower," which states "We shall not always plant while others sow.... We were not made eternally to weep!"
Among Moore's other vocal compositions set to texts by African American poets are Flowers of Darkness, a cycle of six songs; Sonnets on Love, Rosebuds, and Death, for soprano voice, violin, and piano; and In Celebration, a collage of poems by Langston Hughes. When the latter piece was performed in 1988 as part of the Smithsonian's series "Music of the Black American Composer," Washington Post critic Norman Middleton praised is as a "richly scored work" that was "just one of many jewels" in the program. Moore herself has also written numerous poems, but has chosen not to set her own work to music. Moore's biggest project to date is her opera Frederick Douglass, commissioned by Opera Ebony. The composer worked for eight years on this piece, which is in three acts; she wrote the libretto as well as the music. The opera's premiere, in New York City, was conducted by Warren Wilson. Moore has taught at the Harlem School of the Arts, Bronx Community College, and New York University.
Her works have been performed throughout the United States as well as in Europe and Asia. Awards Lucy Moten Fellowship, 1963; American Music Center Grant, 1972; New York State Council on the Arts Grant, 1985; several Meet the Composer grants. Works Selected works * Reflections (symphonic wind ensemble), 1962. * Twelve Quatrains from the Rubaiyat (song cycle for soprano and oboe), 1962. * Symphony No. 1, 1963. * Baroque Suite for Cello (chamber piece), 1965. * Three Pieces for Violin and Piano, 1967. * Modes (string quartet), 1968. * Lament for Nine Instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, percussion,, violin, viola, and cello), 1969. * From the Dark Tower (mezzo-soprano voice, cello, and piano), 1970. * Dirge and Deliverance (cello) 1971. * Sonnets on Love, Rosebuds, and Death (soprano voice, violin, and piano), 1975. * Dream and Variations (piano), 1974. * In Celebration (chorus, soprano and baritone solos, and piano), 1977. * Weary Blues (baritone voice, cello, and piano), 1979. * Frederick Douglass (opera), 1981-85. Libretto also by the composer. * A Little Whimsy (piano), 1982. * Transcension (chamber orchestra), 1985-86. * Flowers of Darkness (song cycle, tenor voice and piano), 1988-89. Further Reading Books * Banfield, William C., Musical Landscapes in Color: Conversations with Black American Composer, Scarecrow Press, 2003. * Floyd, Samuel A., ed., International Dictionary of Black Composers, Vol. 2. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999. Periodicals * American Music, Spring, 1988. * Washington Post, February 19, 1987; May 18, 1988. — E. Shostak
PHOTO BY BERT ANDREWS, from ACA Archives, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland.