“I grew up singing. It was natural and easy,” said Oral Moses who, after serving in the military, attended Fisk University where he majored in voice.
Following his undergraduate work, the South Carolina native received masters and doctorate degrees from University of Michigan.
“In music, I studied the great European composers. I never really studied composers of color,” said Moses whose operatic achievements include major roles in “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Regina,” “la Boheme,” “Albert Herring,” “Tremonisha,” “Rigoletto,” and “The Magic Flute.”
While at the University of Michigan, Moses studied voice under bass Willis Patterson who assembled a book of classical songs by black composers. At the same time Patterson formed a group of singers including Moses to showcase these musicians.
“(Patterson) started my interest in African-American composers. I found out there was a whole large body of music I knew nothing about,” said Moses, who has performed with symphonies across the U.S.
He has also studied and toured throughout Europe.
“I fell in love with the poetry, the music (by African-American composers). That led me back to discover the Negro spiritual. I had sung spirituals but not really put any emphasis on them. I loved this music. I loved singing and performing it. And there’s an audience for it,” the Smyrna resident said.
Spirituals are important because of their heritage.
“(The Negro Spiritual) is the voice of my people during an era of enslavement. They show what was the condition of their lives as they faced the struggle while fighting for freedom,” he said.
“I love this kind of music. I love the melodies. I love the rhythms of (the Negro spirituals),” said Moses, 1986 recipient of a National Endowment for Humanities Grant who co-authored a book, “Feel The Spirit-Studies in Nineteenth Century Afro-American Music” published by Greenwood Press.
He is a contributing author in the third edition of, “Notable Black American Women,” and the second edition of “Notable Black American Men,” published by Gale Press.
“More so than anything else I love the texts (of the Negro spirituals) which gives me the history. It gives me a sociological understanding about what life was like. It gives a broad spectrum of the lives of Africans in this country in the early days of enslavement,” said Moses, 66.
Spirituals also provide understanding. “(The Negro spiritual) speaks to lives and times to what African Americans were feeling and what they were expressing in terms of their lives,” Moses said.
Moses moved to Cobb County in 1984 after graduate school to take a teaching position with KSU.
He developed his own course at KSU on black composers after studying (at Harvard one summer with foremost scholar at the time Eileen Southern) music of 19th-century blacks such as Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins Bethune of Georgia.
“I love to engage the minds of young folk,” he said.
“I’ll always be teaching. … I don’t ever want to go to a place and just sit down. Retirement just opens the door to take wings and fly in different directions,” Moses said.
To learn more visit www.oralmoses.com.