Category Archives: New Posts

Ethnic Influences on Musical Style

As some of you know I have long been interested in American Neo-Romantic orchestral music. So much so that I started a study over ten years ago and have been working on the book, off and on, ever since that time. (There was a lot of down time!) I finally decided to finish the project! If you ever wondered what Neo-Romantic music is, or just want to know more about it, my new book, Ethnic Influences on Musical Style, Three American Neo-Romantics, is now available on Amazon Books. The cover art is by my wife, R. S. Perry.

The three American Neo-Romantic composers that I discuss are Ernest Bloch, William Grant Still, and Samuel Barber. It is a small and affordable book. (122 pages, $7.95) I plan on making it available as an e-book soon. Stay tuned, or just check back on Amazon from time to time.

When I compose music, I sign it as J. S. Graves. When I write a book or an article I sign it as John Samuel Graves III. It’s kind of complicated. Perhaps I will explain it some day in this blog.

Testimony of the Infant Children, the Untold Story

On April 4, 1951 at 3:30 P. M., my brothers and I experienced a trauma that marked us for life: our father took us by force on our way home from school in Philadelphia and brought us back 700 miles to his and our home: Bluffton, SC. My twin brother and I were nine and one-half years old, and my younger brother was only six. None of us, including our father and mother, ever fully recovered from that event and the subsequent custody battles that followed.

John Samuel Graves, Jr., my father, and Florence Rubert, my mother, married on June 25, 1939. After 11 years of marriage my mother decided she wanted to think things over. She and my father agreed to a trial 3 month separation, and on June 3, 1950, Mother took us north to stay with her sister, her mother, and her grandmother. After about 10 months had passed without our father being allowed to see us he became convinced that he had to take matters into his own hands: he would return us to our ancestral South Carolina home. The details of that story are presented in my new book, Testimony of the Infant Children, the Untold Story, a non-fictional account of those and previous times in the Lowcounty town of Bluffton, South Carolina. The second edition will soon be available. Stay tuned.

For more information about the people described in my book please visit The Real People in my New Book tab on

My book is now available in its Second Edition on Amazon Books. Amazon’s Look Inside feature allows a viewer to read substantial portions of the book’s text. Please take a look! The Second Edition in not primarily different from the first edition. It has been re-edited for spelling, grammatical and formatting issues. The Second Edition also contains photographs that were not in the earliest versions of the book. Some of these additions and corrections have been posted for quite some time on . See page Testimony Back Story & Photos.

The Resilience of Nature

The Resilience of Nature
October 2020

Nature often seems to ignore
whatever is going on
in our lives.

It just keeps “pushing things up.”
Nature is “by nature” hopeful!

These photos are of things that have just “appeared” in our yard in the last month – without invitation or prodding. Somehow – like music – they just seem to “always be there for us, if we will just look and listen.”

If anyone knows what exactly these plants are please let me know. When using my contact form please include “plant names” in your first line. I get a lot of junk mail in my contact form and I may inadvertently delete your email. Thanks.

Florence B. Price, American composer

The Heart of a Woman, The Life and music of Florence B. Price

New book by Rae Linda Brown, recently published by University of Illinois Press, 2020, now at the Central Arkansas Library.

Florence B. Price (April 9, 1887-June 3, 1953) and William Grant Still (May 11, 1895-December 3, 1978) were raised in the same Little Rock neighborhood and were lifelong friends. Both can be viewed as Neo-Romantic composers.

According to Brown:

“Florence Price was the most widely known African American woman composer from the 1930s to her death in 1953. She achieved national recognition when her Symphony in E Minor was premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1913…The concert marked the first performance of a large-scale work by a black woman to be performed by a major American orchestra.”

“I have told Florence Price’s story in the fullest context of her life as an African American woman in the vibrant cities in which she lived – in Little Rock, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago. Only through an understanding of the social, political and economic milieu can the reader more fully appreciate Price’s music and the context in which it was written. Particular attention is given to the black classical music tradition in these cities, which is often overshadowed by the proliferation of jazz, blues and gospel music.”

Remarkably, Price completed over 300 works in diverse genres: 4 symphonies, orchestral suites, art songs, vocal and choral music, including arrangements of spirituals, a piano sonata, a piano concerto, violin concertos, a piano quintet, multiple works for the organ and more. Brown gives a great deal of attention to the analysis of some of Price’s major works. Much of Price’s music can now be seen and heard on

Price’s story is a cautionary tale about what can happen to one’s artistic output if steps are not taken to preserve it while one is alive! If it hadn’t been for a chance find in 2009 by a new owner of an abandoned vacation cottage once used by Price much of her music would have been lost. They found many previously unknown pieces, including  two violin concertos and her Fourth Symphony. Much of Price’s work is now archived at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Our own Linda Holzer, Professor of Piano and Music at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has often championed American composers, especially women composers. She has featured works by Florence Price on many of her recitals. Her Doctoral Dissertation Treatise was entitled Selected Solo Piano Music of Florence B. Price. Watch for future recitals of Price’s music and please visit Professor Holzer’s website:

Tonality, Neo-Romantic Post #9

In an attempt to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the word tonal, Walter Simmons describes two basic kinds of tonality:1

    1. the strict constructionist position which dates from 18th century Germany and Austria, where “a primary tonal center serves as an overall organizing principle, unifying all other aspects of a composition,” and

    2. the loose constructionist position which refers to “all music in which tension/resolution expectations rooted in tonal harmony play a role in the expressive impact of a composition.” This kind of tonality permits the use of atonality “as an expressive device within a tonal composition, in passages where the subjective experience of a tonal center is largely absent, even though a theoretical tonic may be adduced through elaborate objective analysis.”2

      The loose constructionist position on tonality most accurately describes the music of the American neo-romantic, and highlights, for me, the most ‘neo’ part of their appellation. They are Late Romantics who, rather than being satisfied with producing music like 19th century romantics, continued to develop and evolve their, and our, sense of how tonality, harmony, rhythm, and form could be used most creatively in the 20th and now, the 21st century.

Distinguishing characteristics of American Neo-Romantics

Post #8 in my series on Neo-Romanticism

Once again, I am exceedingly indebted to Walter Simmons and his book Voices in the Wilderness, Six American Neo-Romantic Composers. I quote him liberally and highly recommend his book to anyone desiring to fully comprehend American Neo-Romanticism and the works of these six wonderful composers. Also, please visit his website for more articles and information about his mission: The discovery and promotion of 20th- and 21st-century classical music that embodies traditional aesthetic values of emotional and spiritual expression, along with clarity of formal structure and coherence.

Despite the neo prefix “the early Neo-Romantics were not reviving a style from the past—they were evolving along a continuum still very much alive.”1 They embraced many stylistic features of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and indeed knew, or knew of, many of the ‘greats’ of that period: Richard Strauss, Mahler, Stravinsky, Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, Debussy and Ravel, among others. Bloch and Sibelius were life long friends, and he was also personally acquainted with Debussy and very much admired the French impressionists.

Simmons “posits a Neo-Romantic ideal, in which the expression of emotion, depiction of drama, and evocation of mood are joined with, rather than opposed to, formal coherence, developmental rigor, and structural economy.”2 The American neo-romantic “tended to emphasize intense, passionate emotional expression, lavishly colored instrumental sonorities, and a rich, chromatic harmonic language derived from expanded triadic harmony.”3 Simmons further offers the following four points as the ultimate distinguishing characteristics of American neo-romantics:

  1. Most “displayed a greater use—and a more economical and disciplined application—of classical forms and more modest durational proportions in general than their European models.”
  2. They “display certain characteristics often identified as ‘American,’ chiefly a heightened importance of rhythmic drive—frequently irregular, asymmetrical, and syncopated—and associated with this—a greater and more varied use of percussion instruments.”
  3. Especially by mid-century, they “expanded the harmonic language of their predecessors by raising the dissonance quotient…(often adding harshness, richness, or both), thereby expanding the expressive potential of the harmonic language.”
  4. Finally, “the American Neo-Romantics approached the matter of tonality somewhat differently from most of their European predecessors. In the earlier music of the neo-romantics, a tonal center is usually apparent at any given moment, although such centers may shift frequently within a work or section of a work, without a primary tonic exerting a unifying or hierarchical function relative to subordinate tonal regions. In other words, rather than an overall organizing principle as in much European music, tonality functions in neo-romantic music as a local expressive device, its relative strength or weakness contributing to a sense of emotional stability or lack thereof in the work at hand. Furthermore, in later neo-romantic compositions, a subjective perception of tonality may be absent altogether for greater or lesser periods of time, allowing for the expression of more extreme emotional contrasts. But even during passages when a tonal center is largely imperceptible, subjectively experienced tensions rooted in tonal expectations serve as important expressive elements.”4
1 Simmons, Walter. Voices in the Wilderness, Six American Neo-Romantic Composers. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Oxford, 2006, p. 10
2 Simmons. p. 11
3 Simmons. p. 12
4 Simmons. p. 12

Trouble in our Fur Family!

Is that right?

We recently had an unexpected, and unwanted, event with our Fur Children. Our little white female, Bella, suddenly attacked our yellow Lab, Sandy. Sandy is almost twice the size of Bella, but much more laid back. She was completely surprised by the attack, but tried to fight back. Unfortunately, both dogs were on leashes and I was holding both dogs. Somehow Sandy lost her footing and fell over. Bella went in for the kill. Before we could break up the fight Sandy had received multiple puncture wounds and was in a terrible state of shock. She had to be taken to the vet’s office. My wife also received a bad puncture on her hand.

We have been keeping the two dogs apart now for probably 4 weeks. But every time Bella sees, smells, or hears Sandy she shows that she is ready for a repeat encounter.  Bella is probably some kind of Terrier mix and there is a lot of negative literature  about how difficult it is, if not impossible, to get these two kinds of dogs back together.  Any experienced dog owners out there that have any suggestions as to how to successfully reunite these two dogs that used to be best of friends?

Challenging the Modernist interpretation of musical history (Post #7)

The painting above is by R. S. Perry, Little Rock artist and song writer. Please visit her website

Note: Please read Neo-Romantic Post #6 before reading Post #7. The term modernist is more fully defined there.  Modernists are primarily atonalists and serialists.

Walter Simmons, in his book Voices in the Wilderness,  “challenges the modernist interpretation of musical history, along with many of the assumptions on which it is predicated. For example, we reject the view that the fundamental significance of tonality is its function as a macrostructural organizing principle.”1 Mr. Simmons  also rejects “the assumption that the evolution of the tonal system proceeded according to a linear progression that led inevitably to the dissolution of tonality altogether.”2 More broadly, he rejects “the view that music is fruitfully studied as any sort of linear progression, with some hypothetical goal toward which all contenders are racing, the prize going to the one who gets there first.”3 He further asserts “that the most interesting composers are those whose music reveals the most rewarding perspectives, and does so through the means that convey them most effectively and convincingly…that the compositional languages adopted by the traditionalists of the 20th century allowed for a richer, subtler, more varied range of musical expression than ever before in history. That is, the renunciation of tonality as a fundamental structural principle—without it being replaced by an arbitrary system like serialism—freed tonality to function within itself as an expressive parameter of the greatest nuance, in conjunction with other parameters like melody, rhythm, tone color, and so on.”4

A careful study of 20th century American traditionalists reveals “that the most distinguished traditionalist composers created substantial bodies of work notable for their richness, variety, accessibility, and expressive power; that their music revealed distinctive individual features, recognizable stylistic traits, consistent themes and attitudes, as did the acknowledged masterpieces of the past.”5 These comments help immensely in clarifying our understanding of Neo-Romanticism as a subset of Traditionalism, but Simmons goes into even more detail when he delineates American Neo-Romanticism itself. That summary will follow in our Neo-Romantic Blog #8.

1 Simmons, Walter. Voices in the Wilderness, Six American Neo-Romantic Composers. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Oxford, 2006, p. 6
2 Ibid. p. 7
3 Ibid. p. 7
4 Ibid. p. 8
5 Ibid. p. 8

In some ways “the good ol’ days” were truly better!

Celeste Guilford Cobb is my second cousin. Her grandfather and my grandmother were siblings. The comments below are taken from the preface to her new book of family remembrances, Tell it again, Desie.

Celeste was born in 1925 and lives in Columbia, South Carolina. She is the great granddaughter and oldest living descendant of George Sewell Guilford, the builder of the historic Graves House in Bluffton, SC. (See


In my younger days people cared about and cared for each other.  Business was often transacted with a handshake, and we dealt with human beings rather than electronic devices. If we needed information, we talked to a knowledgeable person who took pride in helping us. We did not punch countless numbers and get a recorded message. And we called friends on the telephone and looked forward to hearing their voices; we did not communicate with our fingers.

We had dedicated teachers who conducted classes without the use of the Internet. They forfeited their Saturdays “off” to attend meetings and conferences. There were no “work days” during the week.

When we started school we were taught to write in cursive and took pride in neat, legible handwriting. We had to learn grammar and spelling and did not have “spell-check” to find our errors. We memorized multiplication tables and were taught the principles of math for business and everyday use (interest, percentage, etc.). Businesses had hand-operated adding machines, but calculators were never used in school. Girls had Home Ec(onomics) classes in junior high school and were taught a few homemaking skills. Boys had Shop and learned how to use some basic tools.

Young children had simple toys and relied on creativity and imagination for playtime. Older children had school, homework and organized activities but found time for outdoor sports—no sitting for hours in front of a computer or television screen.

We ate fresh, home cooked food with all the family sitting together at mealtimes.

Growing up we respected and obeyed not only our parents but all adults, and adults were expected to set a good example. Parents accepted the rearing of children as their personal responsibility and taught us moral values and the rewards of education and work. They worked to be good providers. Public assistance and “entitlements” were unheard of.

We took great pride in our appearance and would never be seen at school or anywhere in public unkempt. Our clothes were the best we could afford—stylish but modest. When I was a teenager, short shorts, one piece bathing suits and strapless evening gowns were the most revealing things in our wardrobes. In my early 20’s I bought a two-piece bathing suit, but certainly not a bikini. The lack of good grooming and what I consider inappropriate dressing in public (even in church) nowadays is very hard for me to accept.

Widespread destruction of human lives and property happened only during declared wars. We went about our daily lives without fear of being the innocent victims of some emotionally unbalanced stranger who had a grievance to settle with society.

On the positive side, science has advanced beyond my comprehension. I am certainly grateful for the many inventions which make life easier for me, as well as the technology that provides education and entertainment. However, as we have already experienced, all too often good things can become lethal in the hands of the wrong people.

I grew up in a different time—an era which is gone forever.