A typical day started at 9:30am and quitting time was often around bedtime. The morning workshop that started the day was always with the Imani Winds after which we would follow our schedules toward a rigorous day of masterclasses, coaching, and professional development seminars. There was no time to be shy with our chamber groups; we got cozy and comfortable with each other pretty fast to coordinate rehearsal times between mandatory festival events.
Director of Community Engagement
Read Adrienne's FULL BLOG POST and keep up to speed with the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival happening June 21-30, 2016 at Mannes College in NYC. And while you're at it, get to know Imani Winds and listen to a performance of their original composition "Umoja:"
Hello BIBA readers!
Here is our second BIBA Vlog, which is a reflection that is related to Castle of our Skins's upcoming event, entitled FREEDOM RISING: FROM EMANCIPATION TO INCARCERATION. We are excited to present this project with you TOMORROW at 6PM (reception) and 7PM (main presentation). This project is our second collaboration with the Museum of African-American History in Boston. It features narration, poetry by incarcerated poets, and music by Frederick Rzewski, Ed Bland, Yusef Lateef, Renee' C. Baker (world premiere), Jeffrey Mumford, and myself. The musicians for this event are Shaw Pong Liu (violin), Ashleigh Gordon (viola), Seychelle Dunn-Corbin (saxes), Lizzie Burns (contrabass), and our lovely narrators Ulysses Thomas and Nina LaNegra.
Peace to all.
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Happy April everyone!
The BIBA Blog is changing! From time to time, these entries will be Vlogs! Today's post is the FIRST BIBA Vlog, and we're looking forward to presenting many more in the future! Please feel free to respond to our questions for you in the comments here, in comments on YouTube, on our Facebook page, as Tweets, through e-mail, or however you feel the most comfortable! As COOS grows, we need all the help that we can get, and we're willing to entertain suggestions and any other form of help and support from everyone! Thanks so much, and hope you enjoy!
In the United States, this observance started in 1976, almost a decade AFTER the civil rights movement ended. Canada followed suit in 1995, and an observation of Black History began at the urging of a Ghanaian in the UK in 1987. February is close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day (observed on the third Monday of January, which is usually close to his birthday - January 15th), but February is quite far from the official observance of African-American Music Appreciation Month (originally titled Black Music Month by President Ford), which is in June (which includes Juneteenth celebrations).
While Black History Month has caused strong criticism, many benefits have been birthed from its creation, including the obvious increase in awareness of important Black figures. And while Martin Luther King Jr. may get more accolades than his friend Bayard Rustin (who arguably is just as important or more important to Black History), such phenomena occurs throughout history (see Arnold Schoenberg getting credited for a serial system over Josef Mattias Hauer, or Antonio Meucci inventing the telephone, NOT Bell). Personally, when February comes, I do not immediately associate it with Black History Month until I start seeing announcements about celebrations. Perhaps because Black History for me is who I am, what I live, what I'm creating every day. However, February is a time when I contemplate what this tragic and beautiful history means to me.
In a recent conversation, someone questioned me as to why knowing the country of origin of my African ancestors is important to me. The question, admittedly, gave me pause. I responded in this vain: it is most likely impossible for me to find out this information. Instead, I can read and study and research the stories of slavery and how it manifested itself in the United States. Slave masters took Africans from their country, forced them to ride a slave ship in some of the most inhumane conditions that history has known. The survivors were treated like animals; beautified for the purpose of making a high profit, then taken to an alien domicile where they were forced to work for no pay, little food, no care, no mercy. They were stripped of their original names, not given any last names, stripped of their education, stripped of their original language, stripped of their dignity. Is there another people who has had this happen to them, where - through it all - they came out with education, family, religion, new culture, a mastery of language, an incredible arts tradition, wealth, property, fame, and now the highest political office in the USA?
Black History, to me, means encouragement. It is an empowerment. It reminds me that SUCCESS is where I come from, despite how Blacks may be portrayed or stereotyped or ridiculed or profiled. Happy Black History Month!
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Growing up Black in the USA, I did not celebrate Kwanzaa. A woman at my church held a Kwanzaa celebration, but not every year. It petered out after a while, and I never questioned why because I never cared for Kwanzaa. Children in my schools would talk about Kwanzaa. “It’s ridiculous!” “It’s hilarious!” “It’s a made-up holiday.” (As if other holidays weren’t also made-up!) And in talking about Kwanzaa, there was also a tinge of talking about Africa and Africans. I witnessed a classmate with a very African name and two African parents also talk about Kwanzaa in this way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I participated in the mocking of Kwanzaa just to fit in. How tragic a commentary that a holiday created to help Black people in the United States be a tighter community and remember their African heritage has become the subject of such ridicule, especially amongst Black people!
But this status of Kwanzaa is a result of systemic racism – a type of racism that is not overtly nefarious, but contributes to maintaining the “inferior” status of anything that is not “typical American”. A good example of a comment that embodies this systemic racism is “I want my country back”, which is usually uttered by an older Republican woman who wants to return to a time when gay people, immigrants, and Black people didn’t have that much of a voice or a presence in the American political fabric, and you could knock on your neighbor’s door to borrow sugar. It wasn’t until Castle of our Skins started that I began to intimate the true spirit of being Black, and the diverse ways to celebrate and own this identity. With that in mind, I am proud to include Kwanzaa in this celebration. I do not have a kinara (the candle holder). I do not know Kwanzaa songs. I have not memorized all of the Swahili terms. However, the 7 principals that come from African harvest traditions are available for me to reflect upon in the context of reflecting upon my Black identity. Setting aside the end of the year to do this every year is symbolic for me; a way for me to look back upon my identity that particular year, and to remind me to always celebrate my identity in the coming year.
Habari gani? Umoja – Unity!
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I recently had the honor of engaging in this process. To reveal my inner state of being, Daniel asked me a series of questions about my life, my art, my processes, my family, my relationships, my approaches to certain issues, and more. What is unique about Daniel's process, though, is that this does not in any way feel like an interview, but rather a talk with a close friend, partner, mentor, or family member. As we discussed various aspects of life, he sketched my face and plans for my MassQ. I only quickly glanced at his sketches, but what I saw showed a level of technical mastery that rivals the great artists of our time.
During the actual MassQing, the discussion continued. While I couldn't physically see my face being altered under Daniel's capable talents, I did notice myself thinking more about the topics we discussed, especially about political issues and the love I have for my complex and supportive family. Daniel made impromptu alterations to his design during the process, and paid meticulous attention to detail. His announcement of completion wasn't grandiose. Rather, it felt like an organic, subtle ending - a culmination of various factors simultaneously competing against each other and working with each other.
The time came to look at my transformed, MassQed face in the mirror. My immediate reaction was a sense of wonder at the talent of the artist. Then it occurred to me that the person in the mirror was me!
A sudden sense of pride came over me, as well as a unique type of strength that I knew existed, but perhaps never knew how to reveal. The MassQ that Daniel created has elements of multidirectionality juxtaposed with a focal point, a multicolored palette that is focused and strategic, a design of lines and curves that bring out certain features of my face while creating an element of dance for the eyes, and a sense of partitioning that extends physical as well as personal/emotional features. Only a persona that is truly invested in his/her artistic practice can achieve such a combination of intuitive creation and flawless execution.
After the MassQing session, Daniel explained to me that the removal of the MassQ is also a part of the ritual. I spent the rest of my day with the MassQ, which included interactions with workers, a commute, walking and driving by hoards of teenagers in line for a concert, and doing karaoke. People were not shy to either ask me about the MassQ or give massive compliments. It did give me a sense of power and confidence, but a different type of a confidence. It is the type of confidence that comes from not being afraid to be who you are, in spite of how the world may look at you. While certain groups of people may experience being "viewed differently" for various reasons on a day-to-day basis, the MassQ forces the bearer to come to terms with this differentiation-through-transformation, and encourages to keep this feeling after the ritual has ended.
In March 2017, Castle of our Skins is planning on collaborating with Daniel Callahan on various events related to celebrating Black visual artists. Be on the lookout!!
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Another guest artist will be Castle of our Skins's very own Director of Outreach and Community Engagement, Adrienne Baker. Originally from Wilmington, DE, Ms. Baker has studied music at Ithaca College and the Longy School of Music in Boston, MA. Now residing in the Boston Area, Ms. Baker's passion about accessibility in music has lead her to teach musicians of all levels, create and conduct workshops linking music with storytelling, and study music entrepreneurship with one of today's leading ensembles, the Imani Winds. For the program, Ms. Baker will be playing "Flute Set" byAdolphus Hailstork, and her own arrangement of the Gospel standard "Total Praise" (Richard Smallwood). You can hear some of Ms. Baker's recordings on her SoundCloud page.
According to one of their members, "the HildaMan Chorale is a talented volunteer vocal ensemble group founded by Leander Morris and Allen E. Clark in 1980, at the urging of Bebe Ross Coker. Ms. Coker felt the need for a community-based ensemble whose primary objective would be singing and preserving the spiritual. As a secondary objective, Morris and Clark selected performing music by local composers. The members of the chorale share a love of music and the joy of performing to the delight of the audience. Their repertoire ranges from spirituals, standard oratorio and classical literature, madrigals, jazz, and show tunes."
Brava to Adrienne Baker, and congratulations on 35 years of service, HildaMan Chorale! Here is to 35 more!
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Seeing this large cabinet full of documents of events we wanted to attend, people we want to know, music we want to hear - it was extremely moving for many different reasons.
Lastly, Castle of our Skins has the goal of serving as a type of model for others interested in starting an organization similar to ours, whether it focus on celebrating Black artistry through music or celebrating the artistry of another culture through painting. Our mission, while focused, is inclusive. It is more of a critique rather than a filter. Today, despite the overwhelming number of orchestral works by composers such as Gary Nash, Kevin Scott, Jeffrey Mumford, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Ed Bland, Margaret Bonds, Evan Williams, George Walker, Olly Wilson, Florence Price, Renee Baker, Tania León, Mary Watkins, and others, it's typical today to go to an orchestral concert for an entire season and not see one work programmed by a composer with brown skin. And while chamber music concerts provide a bit more of a complete cultural picture with regards to "classical music", there are numerous ensembles that are proud of the "diversity" in their program, and this only extends to women and composers from less-represented European nations. The concept of diversity in "classical music" today does not usually include composers with brown skin. In my professeional travels, I try to make it a point to ask my colleagues their general knowledge of Black composers outside of me. The answers are rather dismal. Some might say, "this is okay because composers should be associated more with nationality rather than race/skin color." I would be okay with this, but the problem then lies with the fact that Black Americans are generally not included in the fabric of "classical music". In discussions of American Composers (which usually focus on composers from the United States rather than all of the Americas), how often do you come across Julius Eastman or Blind Tom? While they are definitely American composers, the label is usually Black composer. Perhaps collections of Black music further exacerbate this separation. But then I ask myself, would this documentation exist within the fabric of "American Music" if it weren't separated? The state of Blacks in "classical music" is definitely a complicated catch-22, in which the general system of "classical music" includes unspoken expectations that conceal segregation. Castle of our Skins attempts to change the system. Hopefully a box for us will be created in some Black Music collection in the future.
(This is the last part of the BIBA Blog's CBMR series! We'd Like to Hear From YOU!)
During his time, labels such as "octoroon" or "quadroon" or "mulatto" were used in abundance, even though it was difficult to exactly determine these qualities simply by looking at skin. Motley's portraits embodied this message, along with other piercing critics regarding race in the United States of America. Ashe and I were so moved by this exhibition that we decided to base Castle of our Skins's next Call for Proposals on works of visual art by Black artists.
Other suggestions (just to mention a few out of many, including the Helen Walker-Hill books mentioned in the previous post) were the music of Akin Euba and Fred Onovwerosuoke. Both still living, these composers represent their native African countries very well in their clever, moving music. The suggestion of these composers has lead me to look into the music of other African composers, like Fela Sowande and Samuel Ekpe Akpabot and Halim El-Dabh. So much good music to discover!
(Stay tuned for part 3!, and We'd like to hear from YOU!)
This line of research also lead me quickly to believe that I was grossly unware of about 90% of the Black women composers about whom I read. Consequently, I constructed a list of names in a word document, along with (very light) notes and birth/death dates. This list includes over 200 names. My favorite part of this list is that some of the names I added to it were names I came across before Ms. Walker-Hill had her chance. Ms. Walker-Hill left this earth suddenly on August 8, 2013. At this time, however, there was not any update to any of her books or research to include composers like Renee’ Baker, SerenaCreary, Pamela Z, and Nailah Nombeko, to name a few. It is good to know that her line of work will continue to have a need, and her legacy will continue as this scholarship develops.
(Stay tuned for part 2!, and We'd like to hear from YOU!)
Beauty in Black Artistry
Writings, musings, photos, links, and videos about Black Artistry of ALL varieties! Feel free to drop a comment or suggestions for posts!