Arna Bontemps Symposium and Celebration

The Arna Bontemps African American Museum and Cultural Arts Center presented the 6th Arna Bontemps Symposium and Celebration, October 13-18, 2004. The event featured the World Premiere of a new symphony by composer William Banfield, built around the text of a Bontemps poem first published 80 years ago.

Other Symposium and Celebration activities included panel discussions by scholars about the life and legacy of Arna Bontemps and the Harlem Renaissance with which he is most closely associated; recollections of Bontemps the man by family members, former students and colleauges; jazz performances; and the screening of an Oscar-nominated short film based on a Bontemps story. These events, too, were held at other venues in downtown Alexandria that were in close proximity to the Arna Bontemps Museum.

The event also included the unveiling of the commemorative symposium poster by renowned Louisiana artist, Morris Taft Thomas, and performances by the Bontempians, a local high-school all-star big jazz band under the direction of composer/trumpeter Cottrell Wrenn.

On Thursday, October 14, and Friday, October 15, scheduled panelists included several scholars who have participated in previous Bontemps symposia, including Professor Charles James, a Bontemps biographer and chair of the Department of English Literature at Swathmore College; Dr. Betty Taylor-Thompson, Professor of English at Texas Southern University, a Bontemps biographer and former Bontemps student at Fisk University; Dr. Phyllis Klotman, head of the Black Films Department at Indiana University; and Dr. Phillip Tapley, Professor of English at Louisiana College. They were joined by composers Dr. T.J. Anderson, the Austin Fletcher Professor Emeritus of Music at Tufts University, and Dr. William Banfield, composer of Hope: Symphony 9 (Arna Bontemps), which premiered that weekend. They discussed the use of African-American heritage as the basis for classical music compositions and operas.

In addition to the panel discussions and presentations held over the two-day period, there were also other arts performances. On Friday, there was a screening of the Academy-Award nominated film, "A Tuesday Morning Ride", based on Bontemps's best-loved short story, A Summer Tragedy, with mention of filmmaker Diane Houston.

On Saturday night, the gala premiere of the Hope Symphony took place in the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center and marked the culmination of the sixth Arna Bontemps Symposium sponsored by the Arna Bontemps Museum with a commission underwritten in part by the American Composers Forum Continental Harmony Project.

The Arna Bontemps African American Museum, the Arts Council of Central Louisiana and Rapides Symphony were collaborating partners in this commissioning project.

"In the beginning was the beat, and the beat was the rhythm of God, and the rhythm of God became the harmony of humanity, and where there is harmony there is peace". (Clarence Grover, Spirituality: An African View, in Essence Magazine, December 1987).

" So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning". (Aaron Copland, London Times, November 27, 1980).

By Arna Bontemps

Lone an dismal; hushed and dark,
Upon the waves float an empty bark.
The stars go out; the raindrops fall,
And through the night comes a ghostly call-
My lone and dismal life's afloat
Upon the seas like an empty boat.
Above the heights where the sea-gulls soar,
The thunder lifts its resonant roar.
Like a jagged arrow a flash is sent,
That splits the clouds with a double rent.
And just beyond my bark that drifts,
Moonbeams steal through the kindly rifts.


Arna Bontemps African American Museum
1327 3rd Street
Alexandria, Louisiana 71301

Admission is FREE (Donations Welcome)