Classically Lake View Concert series to feature chamber music by Black composers

Cleveland won’t be done celebrating Juneteenth this year until a long-anticipated concert takes place on Sunday July 7 at 3 p.m. in the sunlit atrium of Lake View Cemetery’s Community Mausoleum.

That’s when two gifted musicians who’ve called Cleveland home—one in the 19th century, the other in our own day—will come together for the first time to reclaim their shared heritage through music.

Oberlin Conservatory of Music rising senior Damian Goggans will play guitar with musicians from the Cleveland Orchestra the works of forgotten Clevelander, 19th Century composer Justin Holland.  

Cleveland's Forgotten Composer, Guitar Hero, and Abolitionist, Justin Holland” is the second installment in the Classically Lake View chamber music series, and will feature selections of more than 280 years of chamber music by Black composers under the artistic direction of Cleveland Orchestra violinist Isabel Trautwein.

Damian GoggansDamian GoggansIn addition to the works of Holland, the program will include works by Joseph Boulogne (nicknamed “Le Chevalier St. Georges”), a long-neglected contemporary of W.A. Mozart from the 1700s and “King of Ragtime” Scott Joplin; a recently published 1935 String Quartet by Florence Price; William Grant Still’s jazzy “Danzas de Panama;” and George Walker’s mournful “Lyric for Strings.”

Goggans will also perform two etudes for voice and guitar by trailblazing composer Thomas Flippin that were inspired by Spirituals by Black Americans.

Flippin, a descendant of slaves from Georgia and Tennessee and a gifted classical guitarist, had found himself increasingly dismayed by the fact that this rich treasure trove of some of America’s greatest music, produced while enduring some of the most oppressive conditions human beings have every endured has been inaccessible to the classical guitar.

“There is so much beauty there, such rhythmic inventiveness, such complexity in the phrase structures,” he says. “And the lyrics are profound.” Flippin says he sees his own 14 Etudes inspired by that music as a way of reclaiming that heritage.

Goggans is studying classical guitar performance under Stephen Aron and says he is driven by a profound mission to diversify the classical music landscape and champion musical equity.

Goggan focuses on making classical music accessible to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or religion. He began his guitar studies in eighth grade at Citizens Leadership Academy under the tutelage of the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society, a nonprofit with a mission is inspired by Justin Holland's legacy.

Since his middle school years, Goggans has been on national television and radio, has performed at Severance Hall, toured New York and Spain with the US Guitar Orchestra, and performed as soloist for 2,000 people at the Cleveland Foundation's annual meeting in 2023.

Along with Goggans, accompanying musicians will include Cleveland Orchestra members Liyuan Xie and Isabel Trautwein on violins, Eliesha Nelson on viola, and Tanya Ell on cello.

Jennifer Coleman, program director for Creative Culture and Arts at the George Gund Foundation, will be the afternoon's emcee.

Guitar virtuoso, educator, and activist Holland (1819–1887) was born to free Black parents in Norfolk County, Virginia. After the death of both parents when he was 14, Holland moved to Boston in 1833 where he learned Spanish guitar, flute, and the art of arranging before enrolling in Oberlin College for two years of musical study.

Unable to afford continued studies at Oberlin, Holland settled in Cleveland around 1845, where he supported himself as a guitar teacher and composer and later, by publishing wildly successful guitar method books, transcribing popular Italian opera arias and over 300 popular songs. At least 100 of his works were published by Brainard’s Sons Co., Chicago, a nationally distributed music publishing company. About a half dozen of his works can be found at the Library of Congress today.

Holland was one of the most influential American guitarists of his generation, yet he had another passion: working towards equitable and just opportunities for African Americans in the US. He served as an assistant secretary and member of council at both National and State Negro Conventions where he worked alongside noted activists including Frederick Douglass.

He was also active within the Underground Railroad movement and co-led a visionary effort to acquire sufficient land in Central America for a Black colony. While Holland left America during the Civil War, he ultimately returned to Cleveland, which he saw as a place that would give him the opportunity to realize his dream of equal rights with and complete acceptance by white Americans.

Tickets to the concert on Sunday, July 7 at 3 p.m. are $35.

“Cleveland's Forgotten Composer, Guitar Hero, and Abolitionist, Justin Holland” is produced with support from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation in partnership with the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society.