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Apologies for the BIBA hiatus. Castle of our Skins has been busy, though, both presenting lectures and concerts in Boston and Gettysburg, PA, as well as planning our exciting second half of the season, and upcoming seasons! In the interim, please stay connected, and stay strong in these challenging times! Happy Holidays everyone, and stay tuned for the next BIBA Blog on January 15th!
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BIBA is back from a summer hiatus, planning wonderful entries here, as well as a preparing for a FANTASTIC, giant new season for Castle of our Skins! The season kicks off with COOS's first ever portrait concert, featuring string works by the beloved composer Jeffrey Mumford! The concert, entitled a veil of liquid diamonds, will feature solo, duo, trio, and quartet works, and the composer will be in attendance for a Q&A after the performance. I (Anthony Green) recently got to speak to Jeffrey about music, life, and the future. Unfortunately the recording app that I downloaded did not do a very good job, and I cannot post the audio from the conversation here (which was my grand plan). However, I truncated the conversation, and scribed it for you all below. I hope you enjoy, and if you are in the Boston area on September 24th, PLEASE COME AND CHECK OUT COOS's a veil of liquid diamonds! Buy tickets : click here!
BIBA: Hypothetical situation. I give you $1 million and 2 years. What piece would you compose? What would the instrumentation be? Approximate duration? Instrumental forces?
JM: I have longed wanted to write a double concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra, so that would be the piece. Right now, I am focusing a lot of my work on orchestral music, and I would love to get the opportunity to record it. My focus these days is to get these pieces on CD and out into the world, because – as you know – orchestral music can be very difficult and expensive to get out there. But that is one of my next priorities. I finished recently a concerto for cello and orchestra, in memory of my former teacher Elliot Carter, and I am now working on another concerto for violin and orchestra, a concerto for piano and large ensemble, and a concerto for cello and chamber orchestra. So, a double concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra would be what I would write, and then create a CD of all of these concerti.
BIBA: That sounds like a fantastic project! I know that your repertoire does have lots of commissions from orchestras, but it also has lots of chamber music. What attracts you to the orchestral sound as a composer who also has quite a bit of chamber music?
JM: Well, I love the colors and the possibilities of writing for an ensemble that produces such amazing layers and colors. Like a lot of composers, I love that the possibilities to write for the orchestra are endless, and one can create a beautiful fabric of sound.
BIBA: How did you come into music, and when did you know that you wanted to be a composer?
JM: I always had melodies running through my head. Perhaps from my past lives, but I certainly heard melodies. I started my studies as a painter, but one of my paintings was sabotaged during my sophomore year. Nevertheless, I graduated with a degree in Art, but I had focused on going to graduate school for composition. Fortunately I had the opportunity to study with Bernard Rands and Elliott Carter.
BIBA: That is amazing. Do you still paint?
JM: Unfortunately no, there is no time.
BIBA: You mentioned that you studied with Elliott Carter. How was he as a teacher and what are some of the most valuable gems that he imparted upon you?
JM: Actually, he was great. I remember one time during our studies, I was writing a violin concerto, and after the first performance I had some doubts. I will always remember what he told me. He said, “always create a window for the soloist”. After that, I thinned out some of the textures, and the second performance went so much better because I created these windows.
BIBA: As a successful African-American composer, what words of encouragement and wisdom do you have for the upcoming generation of African-American and Black composers around the world?
JM: I have been thinking about this in the context that, next month – in October, I was invited to be on the panel for a major conference hosted by the BBC entitled Diversity and Inclusion in Composition. Also one of the panelists will be Chi-Chi Nwanoku, a bassist who started the all-Black Chineke orchestra in the UK. So I have been thinking a lot about this issue, and I would say that one of the most important things is to do what you and Ashe are doing – creating networks, making friends, making connections, reaching out into the community, becoming a voice for change, garnering a very clear vision, and having alliances within the greater community. Stay true to your voice. Don’t let anyone tell you what is or what is not Black music. Anything that a Black person writes is automatically Black music.
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!)
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!