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Today is January 27, 2022

Composer donates scores to Blues Archive

By Lauren Rogers

Composer donates scores to Blues Archive

Baltimore composer Larry Hoffman has donated a dozen of his musical scores to the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi.

While Hoffman has written many more works, the award-winning composer chose his blues- and American folk-infused classical compositions for the acclaimed collection.

“It is with great pride that I donate these scores to the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi,” Hoffman said. “It is at once an honor, a vindication, and a great encouragement.”

Greg Johnson, professor and curator of the Blues Archive at the J.D. Williams Library, has been familiar with Hoffman’s work for several years.

“I first discovered Larry’s music on a compilation album from the late 1980s called ‘Prelude in Blue,’” Johnson said. “The album caught my eye, because it was a classical music LP in one of the Blues Archive collections. I don’t remember the other pieces on the record, but was struck by Larry’s ‘Blues for Harp, Oboe and Violoncello,’ as it featured world-famous harpist Yolanda Kondonassis and oboist John Mack.

“Years later, Living Blues magazine asked me to review Larry’s album ‘Works of Larry Hoffman: Contemporary American Music.’ With each of us having interests in the worlds of blues and classical music, we had a lot to talk about!”

From a young age, Hoffman was immersed in American folk music, listening to — and later playing — the music of the Weavers, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and the Everly Brothers. This grew into a passion for the blues. As a professional folk singer, Hoffman played for Mississippi John Hurt, and with Skip James and other bluesmen.

He also began his first formal study of music with jazz great John Coltrane’s teacher, Dennis Sandole.

A large part of Hoffman’s compositional style melds these seemingly disparate genres.

“My initial mission to become a composer was to infuse the contemporary classical language with the great power and dignity of the blues — if I could find a way,” Hoffman said.

But blues is rarely represented in American concert music, he noted.

“Sadly, there is often prejudice against this integration in both the blues and classical worlds,” Hoffman noted. “And yet, when I have been present at concerts where my blues-inspired pieces were programmed among serious works of the classical masters, audiences have uniformly shown a great appreciation of this blend of ideas.”

Hoffman’s music is helping to bridge that divide, Johnson said.

Hoffman was the principal writer for the liner notes to the 2003 “Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues” box set, which won Grammy Awards for “Best Liner Notes of the Year” and “Best Historical Compilation of the Year.” He was also nominated for a Grammy for his writings in the “Mean Old World: The Blues from 1940-1994” box set.

The scores donated by Hoffman are valuable additions to the archive, Johnson said.

“When I’m introducing new audiences to the blues, I often speak about its influence on other styles of music,” he said. “I think Larry’s compositions provide an interesting point of connection in speaking to some music students who have mostly been immersed in classical training. I think these compositions help demonstrate the reach of the blues outside typical spheres of influence.

 

Lauren Rogers is a library specialist in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Mississippi.

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