by Anthony R. Green
This weekend, Castle of our Skins presented a pre-show and pre-reception for the Lyric Stage Company’s production of Breath & Imagination, a musical play about the legendary lyric tenor Roland Hayes. The play highlights some of Hayes’s most incredible accomplishments – gaining acceptance to Fisk University despite not graduating from high school, working hard and self-funding his voice lessons and some of his concerts (including one at Symphony Hall), traveling the world and singing for royalty (including King George and the Queen Mother at Buckingham Palace), and starting a school of music in the south. After reading a couple biographies about him, it is clear that he was a gentle, dignified, complicated man. He wanted kindness in the world, and justice. Nobody is perfect, and of course he made mistakes in his life. But his achievements are so great, yet not given their deserved celebration.
One moment where Hayes displayed utmost patience was when he was in Germany. The audience he encountered was reportedly hostile; shouting racial epithets and other unkind jeers, sneering at Hayes before he even let out a word, let alone a sang a note. The pre-judgement of this man with brown skin from the United States who had the audacity to perform in Germany was high to almost dangerous levels for Hayes. Instead of running away, he waited patiently for the right moment, then sang Schubert’s gentle song “Du bist die Ruh”. The crowd was entranced. Something magical in Hayes’s earnest delivery, transcendental artistry, and innate kindness must have communicated something other-worldly to this motley crew. It was enough for Hayes to finish the concert successfully.
Another astounding moment where Hayes showed super-human kindness was when he traveled to the plantation on which his mother was born. He met with his mother’s merciless master, who killed members of Hayes’s family, and physically beat his mother. Hayes arrived at the plantation at a moment in his life where he was financially bounteous, and the former master was nearing poverty. In a surprising twist of fate, Hayes purchases the land of the plantation, but allows the brutal master to live on the land. This is the land where he opened his musical school, with the mission that children of all backgrounds and skin colors will study together in harmony.
Castle of our Skins’s pre-event offerings were expertly executed by artistic director Ashleigh Gordon, spoken word artist Tim Hall, tenor Duane Moody, and pianist Joy Cline Phinney. The text and music created a synergy that was perfect for whetting the appetite of the full production. The reception also was engaging to the body and the spirit, providing nourishment and drinks, as well as entertainment from the incredibly talented Boston Arts Academy Spiritual Singers. Castle of our Skins will give another Ode to Hayes event and reception on December 23rd. If you missed this weekend’s event, be sure to attend the event on the 23rd, and definitely see the critically acclaimed production Breath & Imagination. Celebrate Roland Hayes! His name should be shouted worldwide and remembered forever!
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