by Anthony R. Green
The healing continues with the Kurapa Project - part of the Black Love month brought to you by Castle of our Skins. Healing can look like many things and can happen through a variety of methods. There is no right or wrong way to heal if what you do leads eventually to healing. And while this project has weekly prompts throughout the month of November, the ideas of Kurapa are not restricted to November 2020. It is highly encouraged to continually contemplate these prompts and these ideas in your everyday life, and take these philosophies with you long after this Black Love celebration. Kurapa is a gift for you forever.
image from kurapa.webflow.io
This past week's prompt was Fire - Moto. I personally approached Moto with the physical image of burning down something old in a safe, controlled manner, to create a fertile foundation upon which one can build something new. There are quite a number of such practices around the world, including demolition with explosives, forestry practices, farming techniques, and more. Philosophically, one can think about the three-word phrase of a popular song from the animated movie Frozen : let it go! How can we let things go? At times it involves abandoning and never looking back. Other times it includes active destruction - an involved, complicated process to rid the mind, body, and spirit of the very systems that have prevented growth and development.
Moto evokes the concept of refining fire - a process popularly used to remove impurities from metals such as lead, tin, and copper. After the refining process by fire, the result is purity, glistening appearances, and maturity. This same idea is in the biblical parable of the wheat and the weeds, where it is suggested that the weeds and the wheat grow together to a point where the weeds can be separated and burned. Through the burning, our pain can be transformed into lessons and teachings. In contemplating our pain, be sure to protect yourself and gauge your level of engagement. This is not a time to suffer, but to heal. While there is pain in healing, we must always be mindful of ourselves and, as the prompt says, "be kind with ourselves."
The next week is the final week: Air - Mweya!
by Anthony R. Green
This past week was week three of "The Kurapa Project", which is part of Castle of our Skins's Black Love project. This project is an online sequence of steps that we can take to begin a journey of healing. This process can be utilized by all, and it is inspired by African traditions. Have you began a healing journey already? Would you like to begin one? No matter where you are in your process, The Kurapa Project can be an important slice of your healing pie.
image from kurapa.webflow.io
Last week's Kurapa prompt was Earth - Ivhu. Kurapa describes this stage loosely: "Earth - Cocoon stage. Intake, learning, absorption." In this stage, as our roots dig deeper, our inner healing starts to manifest itself in external ways. There is a focus on daily routine in this stage. Personally, this is the most difficult aspect of Ivhu for me. I do not have a daily routine that is practice-based. For example, I do not stretch or meditate or pray or write every day. If I were to claim anything as a daily routine, it would be my daily acknowledgement of my Blackness. However, Kurapa is encouraging me to take on a daily healing ritual, and affirming that this ritual can be non-intrusive, but loaded with meaning and power.
This prompt, so far, is the most challenging for me. Which of the prompts is the most challenging for you?
Next week's prompt is: fire - moto!
by Anthony R. Green
Did you catch Black Love? Thus far, Black Love has been one of the most ambitious projects from Castle of our Skins, especially with respect to the musical/sound offerings. Black Love blends standard string quartets with a digital song cycle movement from Shirley Graham Du Bois Creative-in-Resident Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, and a 25-minute sound healing journey from the young, incredibly talented South African composer Monthati Masebe. In typical fashion, Black Love incorporates spoken word, dance, and creative visuals, adjusted for the digital realm. It is a journey ... and today is the LAST DAY to see it!
That said, for the rest of the month, the online healing space KURAPA is available, and ready for you to follow!
image from kurapa.webflow.io
This week past week, the theme was Water - Mvura. For last week, the focus was on changes - both big and small. The world right now is undergoing a major change, and contemplating Mvura places one in the mindset of weathering these big and small storms of global and personal change. While the current pandemic has been a heavy weight on humanity in so many ways, one must NOT ignore any other changes that have recently occurred, be it related to health, finances, interests, relationships, or other areas. Mvura reminds the soul that, like water, the phenomenon of change is liquid. Sometimes we can control change, but more often than not, we are not able to predict which waves crashing upon the shores of our life will be small and comforting or grand and damaging. Regardless, we must focus on acquiring and strengthening the tools to go with the flow, adopt, and survive with success.
This week's theme is Earth - Ivhu. Contemplate, enjoy, heal!
by Anthony R. Green
In a recent speech given by now President-Elect Joe Biden, the powerful verse from Ecclesiastes 3:3 was evoked to encourage the United States citizenry to come together. Given the various tragedies and injustices that have plagued the US and the world over the past 4 years, now more than ever is "a time to heal". This month, all month long, the BLACK LOVE project from Castle of our Skins is encouraging the healing process on multiple levels for ALL who are willing to engage. The multi-disciplinary events (through music) provide a foundation to intimate and reflect on various types of love: eros, phileo, agape, and everything in between. Through such reflection, healing can begin in a significant way. In addition, Castle of our Skins is supporting a transformational healing journey called KURAPA - elements of healing. Designed by Simba Mafundikwa and Amina Maya, Karupa is inspired by African traditions, yet adapts to the growing need for collective grieving in the United States.
image from kurapa.webflo.io
The first week, Ether (Ruzha), focuses on thoughts and intentions. The two main questions in the prompt guide the participant to deeply consider what runs through our minds and what we do with these ideas. Our ideations are the foundations our actions. We do not act before we think. In that sense, true healing begins with assuring that our primary center - our thoughts and intentions - is functioning, as pure as possible, and healthy. What aspects in your life are you intentionally seeking to heal? What do you want to be intentional about in your healing journey?
This week begins the second process of Kurapa : Water (Mvura). I am looking forward engaging in the second step, and I encourage you all to delve deeply into this process!
by Anthony R. Green
Hello BIBA Fans! After a brief hiatus, BIBA is back to its regular Sunday schedule! Some wonderful projects have been happening within Castle of our Skins as well as outside of the organization, but related to family and friends. Some of this news includes grants from Mass Humanities (thank you!) and the Boston Foundation (thank you!), and the start of our month-long BLACK LOVE project! Friends and family have been participating in concerts, interviews and podcasts, educational projects, panels, and more! It has been a busy season, and it is not stopping anytime soon!
However, an incredibly important event is about to take place in the United States of America, and that is election day. November 3rd, 2020.
first edition cover by Bascove (Instagram: @bascove; website: http://www.bascove.com)
In 1976, Alice Walker published a short, powerful novel about a fictional woman named Meridian HIll. Her journey is deeply associated with the Civil Rights Movement, and the novel, through its fictional plot and complicated characters, comments upon various aspects of the later timeline of this movement, when non-violence started to be replaced by militant actions. For contemporary audiences, Meridian may take on other meetings. The most incredible content for me were the scenes documenting Meridian's efforts to get people to vote. She would do her best to explain the power of the vote, the necessity to voice one's opinion about candidates, and to select someone who will fight for the equality and happiness of all citizens. These scenes had the most impact on me when I read this book, and I urge everyone to take some time to read this quiet masterpiece from the legendary Alice Walker.
With that, vote! And remember - this election will have significant side effects, so be vigilant and stay safe on the 3rd and in the weeks afterwards. Need something to do while at home? Check out our Black Love project for weekly activities, as well as our weekend-long digital production from November 13th to the 15th!
by Anthony R. Green
It is with sadness that we here at Castle of our Skins, along with so many in this world, are mourning the loss of a powerful advocate for equality, an intelligent woman, and a (perhaps unintentional) cultural icon, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is impossible to sum up her hundreds of accomplishments and contributions to the world, but I'd like to mention one. At one point during an interview, Justice Ginsburg was asked when there would be enough women on the Supreme Court, and - without hesitation - she said, "When there are 9." She continued to eloquently mention how nobody questioned the moments when the SCOTUS was 100% male, and we, as a society, shouldn't question an all-female SCOTUS. (Amen!) Not only was Justice Ginsburg extremely correct in this observation, but such can and should be applied to concert programming as well. If it is "normal" to have recitals where 100% of the composers are white, then it should be "normal" to have concert programming where 100% of the composers are BILPOC. I'd like to take this a step further and apply this to entire concert seasons. I charge ANY ensemble leaders to take on this challenge.
photo source: the Supreme Court of the United States
Castle of our Skins is no stranger to supporting women's rights and gender equity. With our conscious efforts to support Black women in classical music and the arts, we have regularly featured women creators on our various platforms (including for our Founders Chat series, our BIBA Blog, and our Black Composer Miniature Challenge), we have shared Elizabeth A. Baker's powerful Ain't I A Woman Too? article for NewMusicBox, and we've curated an entire program dedicated to Black Femininity called Ain't I A Woman? With that, please enjoy a performance of "Love Let the Wind Cry ... How I Adore Thee" by the incredible Undine Smith Moore, and reflect on the greater meaning of this piece and this performance. The text is a translation of a poem by Sappho, an ancient Greek, female poet whose homosexuality is constantly being examined. The composer is a Black woman, whose work within the classical music field is significant, but whose works are not performed nearly as much as they should be. The performance is by two powerful women, representing cultural diversity and celebrating female power through music. Surely such projects are part of Justice Ginsburg's dream, and now it is up to us to continue this important work.
feature by Kelley Hollis
note: this interview originally took place in February 2020, and The Daffodil Perspective has grown since then! To keep up to date, visit their website and follow them on social media!
Welcome back to the BIBA Blog! COOS celebrates Black artistry by exposing audiences to works by exceptional Black composers. In a recent survey of 120 American orchestras ‘19-‘20 seasons, only 6% of the total works programmed were written by non-white composers and only 8% were written by female composers. After hearing her first live orchestral performance of a work by a female composer at the age of 30, Elizabeth de Brito began seeking out and exploring other female composers and discovered a wealth of works by a seemingly endless string of women. Today Elizabeth is the producer and founder of The Daffodil Perspective: the first ever bi-weekly gender-balanced classical music show, dedicating equal airtime to music written by male and female composers. None of the mainstage orchestras in the aforementioned survey achieved total gender parity in their season's programming, and a majority of them allocated less than 8% of their season’s music to works written by underrepresented composers, but de Brito believes there are enough exceptional classical works out there to craft programming that is more reflective of our society.
BIBA: Tell me about your experience with classical music.
EdB: I grew up in the UK and started studying piano and clarinet when I was little. I played through all the grades, was in lots of musicals, Junior Guildhall, lots of stuff like that. I enjoyed it but I kind of felt out of place and I stopped when I was 18. I just returned a couple years ago to classical music.
BIBA: What was your inspiration for creating the first classical radio program with 50/50 gender parity?
EdB: When I was at school, I heard nothing but statements of superiority about male composers and I never really questioned it. Then when I was in my 20’s I started questioning more, and I got really annoyed how it seemed like I only saw male artists, male songwriters, and male composers. Then a few years ago I attended the Women of the World annual showcase and they had an all female orchestra playing, and I heard my first ever female composer at the age of 30. It was Elisabeth Lutyens and her piece Overture En Voyage, and I was just completely blown away!
I had no idea that any female composers existed, so I was simultaneously infuriated that there was all this great music out there that I didn’t know about, but also really excited about it! I went down this huge rabbit hole and discovered all these amazing composers. I thought, I have got to do something about this. So I decided: Let’s do a show! I had done community radio previously and it’s always been a passion of mine. I thought there had to be enough talented female composers out there to do a show, and sure enough every week I research a different composer for the segment Herstory: Rewritten and it just leads me to more.
I’m programming male composers as well. I saw a couple of shows that had just female composers and I knew that that was not what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to include them in context and kind of to be able to tell their stories in a more holistic way, so as to connect all the history. Making sure there was specifically gender balance, specifically a completely equal number of composers would be the best way to promote it and the best way to say this is really easy to do. We’re saying that you can have a balance all the time.
BIBA: How do you think your identity has shaped your experience in music? How has it shaped the way you program music?
EdB: It’s affected me a lot. I was a mixed race girl growing up in a kind of predominantly white, middle class, affluent, suburban England, and I was the only mixed race girl in my school playing classical music. And even when I attended music courses and when I was in the National Youth Wind Ensemble of Great Britain, which is quite prestigious, again I was the only mixed race person out of 200 and one of the only state school (public school) children as well. Most of the people I was meeting were private school-educated, privileged and wealthy, and I never felt like I belonged. I never felt like this was my world. I never felt like this was something I could do, which was one of the reasons why I stopped doing classical music. I experienced a lot of racism and sexism and snobbery.
I was talking to a really wealthy older white lady a couple years ago and told her that I had felt uncomfortable throughout my school years because I was state school educated and my parents were really ordinary. I had no pocket money, no allowance. This white lady told me she couldn’t understand why I felt uncomfortable, and I think people who have a privilege don’t understand what it’s like for people outside of that privilege, and they don’t understand what it’s like to not be seen as well. I think that’s a really big thing because they see themselves everywhere in art and in the media. They don’t understand what it’s like to not be seen. That was a big thing for me. I want people to actually feel seen listening to my show.
I want women to be inspired to think, “Wow, look! There are so many brilliant people, brilliant women in classical music. I could be a composer, or a conductor if I wanted”. And the same with BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) individuals just like me. I want them to be able to see themselves in terms of programming music. I want it to be reflective of our society, not just a very specific narrow version, and I don’t want other people to grow up with that feeling of being uncomfortable because music is music and you shouldn't feel uncomfortable.
BIBA: You said recently that each episode since the start has dedicated 8-16% of the music played to works written by Black and minority ethnic composers, but that going forward that amount would remain steadily at 16%. What made you decide that?
EdB: My inclusion of BAME composers was a consideration when I started the show. I said I was going to program Florence Price from the beginning. But it wasn’t until halfway through that doing so had become really important to me. I am mixed race. There are so many brilliant composers that are marginalized as well. From June 2019 onward I started playing at least one composer on every show, but then I thought, this is tokenistic and I’m not happy with this. Yes it was still every show, which is way better than most programming anywhere, but for me it still felt it was more important for their voices to be heard and to make space for them.
So the first reason I decided to play at least 2+ BAME composers per episode was because one felt tokenistic. The second reason I increased the amount is because I’m doing a gender balanced show and if I want to make this show reflective of society, and I’m in the UK where 15% of people are BAME, then if I played at least 2 composers a week, it would be at least representative of society. Sometimes I play more than two. This week (note: from an episode in February 2020) I played 4: Samuel Colleridge Taylor, Florence Price, William Grant Still and Hannah Kendall.
BIBA: Your most played composer on The Daffodil Perspective is none other than Florence Price. Castle of our Skins has performed several of her works over the years. What draws you most to her and her music?
EdB: I really do love Florence Price. I’m a bit obsessed with her actually, but there is a reason. I think I’m drawn so strongly to her because I see myself in her music. She was mixed race like me, and her music is like that too. For me it’s like listening to my actual life experiences in musical form. She was the first female composer that I really identified with. Listening to her Symphony in E minor for the 1st time felt like I was finally whole. It was this genuine "lightning bolt" kind of feeling; like I was finally present in the world.
I wrote a blog post for the International Florence Price Fest about how she inspired me, and one of the things that I said was growing up as a mixed raced person, you always feel like you have two sides and they’re all in dissonance. You’re surrounded by white people and you’re English, but then you’ve got another half of you, so it’s all really quite complicated. But I listen to her and it’s like I’m not in it. I’m whole. It’s like she’s saying to me, “I know you, I feel your pain. I know you’re strength and I know what you’re going through and what you’re capable of and everything that’s going on.”
And apart from her music just being incredible, everything about her story is just amazing, and the more I find out about her, the more completely in awe of her I am. She was just so utterly amazing with the amount she had to overcome: the sexism, the racism, the Jim Crow laws, the abusive husband. You know she didn’t write her Symphony in E minor until she was 47? And then she just wrote a string of incredible stuff after that. Every time I listen to one more of her pieces, I just fall deeper in love.
You can learn more about The Daffodil Perspective through their website: CLICK HERE!
You can catch a performance of Florence Price's String Quartet in A minor by Castle of our Skins by CLICKING HERE!
Hello, BIBA fans! This BIBA Monday blog is a feature of our inaugural Shirley Graham Du Bois Creative-in-Residence, Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa! A musical powerhouse with a wealth of experience in performing, composing, and scholarship, Tanyaradzwa is a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and scholar whose work bridges Zimbabwe’s past and present in order to inform a self-crafted future. Her performance style connects the seemingly disparate worlds of Western classical music and Zimbabwean classical music in a trans-continental hybridity. She is part of the 2020 National Sawdust New Works Commission cohort, and has been recently profiled in I Care If You Listen and the Boston Globe. Check out her BIBA feature below!
BIBA : How would you describe your overall practice?
TT : My practice is a healing practice. My work is about coming back to the self and the journeys we take to rediscover our wholeness. For me, that journey is rooted in Chivanhu healing practices and ancestral guidance. This modality undergirds all aspects of my creative practice, from process to performance.
BIBA : As a scholar, what do you focus on and how has this journey developed?
TT : The creation of self-liberated zones is the focus of my scholarship, i.e. Chimurenga chePfungwa. This mandate takes on many forms, namely, the centering of African epistemologies, modalities, forms and voices in my work. This journey has evolved over time, and is continuing to evolve. At this moment, my focus is Love, and how the existential journey to find yourself is actually a journey to Love and accept yourself.
BIBA : What is your relationship with your voice and how does that relate to your culture?
TT : I come from a voice practice that celebrates each individual’s inherent creativity. On my mother’s side of the family, my great-grandfather was an evangelist, and my great-grandmother would translate his sermons into 11 languages. My grandmother and her siblings were the choir, singing all the hymns.
My father’s side of the family didn’t convert to Christianity. They are rooted in Chivanhu practice and it was during our family ceremonies that I connected to mbira music. Mbira dzaVadzimu is the instrument we use in ceremonies to connect with our ancestors. These ceremonies combine body, voice, spirit and all members of the community.
All these influences are embodied in my voice practice.
BIBA : Who are some influential people in your life (past, present, or future) and why?
TT : I have a robust support system that is always there for me. Love is the greatest influence in my life, and it shows itself in many ways:
Through my great ancestors who walk with me: Charwe, Dumakude, Pfute, Mbvonyoza, Sekuru Philip, Gogo Soneni, Gogo Lynah, Sekuru John Melusi, Matemai George, Mabel, Auntie Tino, Sekuru Godwin, Uncle Eddie, Itayi and many more known and unknown...
Through my teachers, many teachers, and mentors: Mr. Musindo, Mr. Chikaka, Sr. Loyola. Ron Maltais, Uncle Carlton, Everett McCorvey, Dr. Angelique Clay, Somi and many more...
Through my friends, family and lovers: Ademisola, Aria, Carly, Ijeoma, Saru, Munashe, Tadisa, Tawanda, my mother and my father, and many more…
Through my enemies who are actually divine mirrors, put here to make me the strongest warrior I can be: They have no names.
All these names influence my work, and their Love sustains me and shines Light upon me. This Light helps me to see myself clearly and to channel the creativity that resides within.
BIBA : I give you the commission of a lifetime: unlimited time, funds, resources, and whatever else you need. What piece would you compose?
TT : I would write my story, because my life is the greatest work of art I will ever encounter.
Welcome to the second BIBA Blog that highlights and reviews operas by Black composers, which are full of such richness and breadth! These posts examine the many ways that composers from the African diaspora have used music and drama to tell urgent and necessary stories of love, history, family, and social justice, as well as operas that celebrate or comment upon various aspects of life, the past, and more, with tones ranging from serious to light. In an art form where racism is both deeply and historically ingrained, blackface and yellowface somehow remain hotly debated, and contemporary artists of color are reclaiming the narrative online, the beauty and power of operas by Black composers are part of a necessary operatic revolution.
ANTHONY DAVIS: LEAR ON THE 2nd FLOOR
The Composer: Anthony Davis
With a career spanning more than thirty years and encompassing multiple genres, eight operas (thus far), and one Pulitzer Prize, Anthony Davis is a living force in classical music, dubbed the “dean of African-American opera composers” by the New York Times. His career first took off in the early 1980s, when Mr. Davis became known as a virtuoso jazz pianist and bandleader (after turning down a 1971 offer to play for the Grateful Dead). But it was his first opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, premiered in 1986 at New York City Opera, which introduced audiences to Mr. Davis’ eclectic, sophisticated musical style and his focus on politically and socially relevant subjects.
Since X, Mr. Davis has written operas based on historical and current events, including the Patty Hearst kidnapping (Tania, 1992), the landmark 1839 ship uprising of enslaved Africans and their subsequent trial (Amistad, 1997), and the spiritual connection between a contemporary Indigineous family and the historical Chief Standing Bear (Wakonda’s Dream, 2007). His works often center the experiences and perspectives of people of color and tackle political subjects, calling art “a healthy way to deal with issues and events that are deeply troubling and still resonate today.” His most recent opera, The Central Park Five (2019), explores the systemic racism and injustice at the heart of this sensationalized case -- five teenage boys accused, convicted and later exonerated of the 1989 rape and assault of a white female jogger in New York City. The opera was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Mr. Davis is a longtime professor of music at the University of California, San Diego, and is married to soprano Cynthia Aaronson-Davis.
The Opera: Lear on the 2nd Floor
Anthony Davis, composer | Allan Havis, librettist | Premiered in 2013
The Basic Plot
A contemporary “riff” on Shakespeare, Lear on the 2nd Floor is the story of Nora, an expert in neurodegenerative diseases who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Nora, like Shakespeare’s Lear, has complicated relationships with each of her three adult daughters: Jenna, who performs in adult films and is estranged from her mother; Tara, a self-righteous and greedy accountant who recently married the family lawyer; and Lyla, a pregnant and idealistic substitute teacher whose marriage has recently ended. Nora’s mind deteriorates quickly, and she begins seeing and interacting with her deceased husband, Mortimer. Her daughters’ fight over control of her estate escalates, ultimately landing all of them in court for a bitter battle over legal guardianship. Tara wins, placing Nora into an institution (the “2nd floor” of the opera’s title) as her mind slips away completely.
The UCSD Production: Impressions and Thoughts
In contrast to Davis’s frequent use of historical events or figures as opera subjects, Lear on the 2nd Floor focuses tightly on a fictional family in turmoil as a way for the opera to investigate meaningful questions about memory, legacy, and the ties that bind. It is a complex work, filled with Nora’s bleak confusion and deteriorating relationships as well as moments of wit and irony. For me, it was really Davis’s score that brings this to life and makes it real -- the music is a sophisticated, and sometimes challenging, blend of dissonance, percussion, jazz, and occasional moments of lyricism. Let’s dive into a few moments to experience how this works.
In Act I, shortly after Nora’s diagnosis, Lyla finds her wandering in a cemetery, without her shoes. Their dialogue is bittersweet; Nora’s confusion is evident and she doesn’t remember her daughter at first, but as Lyla confides her ambivalence about her pregnancy and facing it alone, the two manage to connect emotionally in a surprising, lyrical duet. They sing of motherhood, of age, of time and of pain, sometimes in unison, other times in harmony, as the main melody dances along brightly. Lyla, who is based on Shakespeare’s character of Cordelia in King Lear, is patient and loving with her mother, following the twists and turns of her mind and doing her best to take care of Nora in a difficult situation. This clip begins at 14:55, keep watching until about 19:20 for this scene.
Now, contrast that with this section later in Act I. Nora’s condition has deteriorated even more, her mind embodied onstage by a soprano who makes gibberish, wordless vocalizations and screams while the orchestra plays ominously. It’s dark, frightening, and just for a moment, perhaps, makes the audience actually feel the terror of losing one’s mind. This musical moment transitions to Nora herself, who is wandering the street after a confrontation with Jenna. Her aria, like the storm scene of King Lear, gives us a window into her jumbled thoughts as she mixes the past with the present, remembers her daughters and contemplates death. This clip starts at 44:03, keep watching until 50:10.
These are only two examples, but they help to demonstrate the opera’s breadth and style -- the way it can shift from music that is bittersweet and even catchy, to sections that are dissonant, unfamiliar, and challenging.
Nora’s story is not an easy one, especially for the many of us who have seen loved ones taken by Alzheimer’s or dementia and the incredible toll it can take on families. I couldn’t help but think of my own grandmother as I watched, who slipped away early in my childhood and spent her final decade in a gentle, confused fog. She was childlike; she loved coffee ice cream, always perking up for a bowl even when she could no longer feed herself. Davis’s Nora is more like Lear -- a towering, successful figure, a parent with impossible standards, a person betrayed by her own mind and left alone. But there’s also a gentleness in Davis’s ending for her, as Nora and Mortimer imagine driving down an open highway with the radio blaring, reggae echoing in the orchestra. Perhaps, after all, there’s freedom in letting go.
The entire opera is available on YouTube through the University of California Television, which is an incredible opportunity to hear the essential work of Anthony Davis, one of the most influential opera composers of our time, for free online. Check it out below and let us know what you think of the opera too.
Additional readings and references:
Lacey Upton is an educator who specializes in the arts, out-of-school time settings, and community engagement. She began her career in opera at the Metropolitan Opera Guild in NYC and spent five years at Boston Lyric Opera as the Director of Community Engagement. She recently earned her Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and currently works in youth development with middle and high school students.
Photo credit: Esso Studios
by Shannon Sea
I was mesmerized when I first heard Angel Bat Dawid’s “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black.” A friend of mine played it for me, on her iPhone. I didn’t quite grasp the lyrics at first, but I found the melody to be distinctly beautiful and haunting.
Bat Dawid’s mezzo-soprano voice carries the melody. Her airy timbre and the cascading melodic contour creates an atmosphere that is deeply melancholic. And Bat Dawid’s use of contrapuntal techniques accentuates the potency of the words: “… to be captive in this, to be captive in this, to be captive in this dark skin.”
When I returned home that evening, I listened to “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black” again. This time, with headphone monitors. I engaged in what I call mindful listening. I was fully present and listened to all the subtleties within the piece. This is when I fully understood the lyrics. Bat Dawid sings, “What shall I tell my children who are Black, of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin.” I investigated the piece more and discovered that it was inspired by Margaret T. Burroughs’s 1963 namesake poem.
I then watched a video of Burroughs recite“What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black” and was astonished that I had only learned of that poem now. The poem is riveting, and is a raw glimpse into the emotional challenges many Black parents face.
The first stanza reads:
What shall I tell my children who are Black
Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin
What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb,
Of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn
They are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black.
Villains are black with black hearts.
A black cow gives no milk. A black hen lays no eggs.
Bad news comes bordered in black, black is evil
And evil is black and devils' food is black…
The poem continues with four more voluminous stanzas. I invite you to read the rest of it via the links below.
My discovery of Burroughs’s poem through Bat Dawid’s piece made me think about how contemporary music can help us rediscover forgotten Black art. Over the past two years, I’ve been mulling the thought of turning into song Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s 1921 lesbian-themed poem, “You! Inez!” I haven’t yet found the right melody for it, but I haven’t given up.
Angel Bat Dawid - “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhvAD8TFrIM
Margaret T. Burroughs - Burroughs reading “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black”: https://youtu.be/fEwU86r-nTo
Margaret T. Burroughs - “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black”: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/146263/what-shall-i-tell-my-children-who-are-black-reflections-of-an-african-american-mother
Alice Dunbar-Nelson - “You! Inez!”: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52760/you-inez
Writings, musings, photos, links, and videos about Black Artistry of ALL varieties! Feel free to drop a comment or suggestions for posts!