Hello and happy Sunday, BIBA! Today's blog is a feature of Castle of our Skins Season 6's Composer-in-Residence, Brian Raphael Nabors! Brian has been doing some amazing work with us, writing BIBA Blog posts, composing music for our events, and making transcriptions. His career is blossoming grandly, and we are super lucky to have had the chance to work with him! Want to know a bit more about him? Read below, and at the end you will find links to his social media and website! You can also check out the world premiere of his new work We Wear the Masks, composed for and dedicated to Castle of our Skins for our upcoming I AM A MAN 2019 project.
BIBA: What fascinates you most about the composition process?
BRN: I would say the most fascinating aspect of the compositional process for me is witnessing the unfolding of a piece, from its conception to its realization, with performers on the stage internalizing and expressing your most vulnerable thoughts and emotions. It’s simply exciting and an incredible labor of love. Depending on the piece, you may have found yourself in an intense struggle to craft and engineer your ideas in a way that is most effective. Other times a piece simply writes itself. However, every time we dare to create a new work, it’s a new journey, with its own unique set of challenges and experiences. It’s such a thrill to see new performers tackle your work and to hear new perspectives on how your artistry is perceived. It all helps to make what you give to the world that much more effective.
BIBA: What have been some of your favorite experiences as a composer in terms of unexpected pleasant happenings/occurrences?
BRN: It is definitely always in those tiny moments when you’re listening to dedicated performers of your music and you truly have a sense that they “get it.” It’s as if they become your emotions themselves and you can hear through every breath, strike, and articulation that what you’ve attempted to say as a composer/artist has been felt, understood, and internalized. It is an amazing feeling, as the music truly comes alive! It’s those moments that remind you why you go through the painstaking effort to do this. One of my favorite memories was hearing the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra play through my piece Let It Ring for the first time. I was so anxious thinking about what it would sound like, questioning if I did enough for the piece to turn out like I hoped it would. Just from my speaking about what the piece meant to me in addition to how that related to all of the technical aspects of the piece, they just simply “got it.” It wasn’t just the run of the mill “almost perfect” reading that any orchestra of that caliber would produce. There was truly something special about the way all the musicians internalized the essence of what I sought to express. It effected all of the colors, balance and overall sound. I find it incredible what musicians can do when given enough clarity to develop a relationship with the music. It’s something that as an artist I do my best to have happen in every piece.
BIBA: How has your work with Castle of our Skins been this season?
BRN: It’s been a WONDERFUL experience! I feel like I’ve gained an extended family. I can truly say I’ve formed relationships that will easily last a lifetime. Through every piece that I’ve had the opportunity to write for Castle of our Skins, I have been so full in terms of how I and others perceive the affect of my work. It has been work that has excited and challenged me emotionally and spiritually. I can say I’m definitely a better artist because of it. I am in constant awe of the work COOS has done to bring cultures together and promote greater understanding between people. They have inspired me just as much as I hoped to have inspired them. I’m hoping for many more wonderful collaborations with this truly dynamic organization!
BIBA: Why did you choose to set We Wear the Mask for the I AM A MAN 2019 project, and what does this poem mean to you?
BRN: I chose the very powerful text of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask because it displays the great courage Black Americans exuded in the past as well as the strength that all oppressed people continue to exude in the face of bigotry today. The “mask” that Dunbar is referring to consists of the many occurrences where oppressed people had to put on a false expression of happiness and contentment to appease their oppressors. Dunbar does a phenomenal job of taking the reader through a descriptive journey of the hurt and shame of wearing this “mask.” I find this poem very meaningful as I contemplate the meaning of I AM A MAN and the sheer strength of many Black men of the past who sacrificed their very dignity at the hands of racism and bigotry to feed their families and protect everything they held dear. Because of their inner strength to simply press on, we have the ability to display our external strength to stand against injustice everywhere. As a Black composer working in the contemporary classical field, I wholeheartedly acknowledge and operate in the fullness of that, and it does a great deal to inspire what I do as an artist.
BIBA: When and where are your next premieres and/or projects?
BRN: I am very fortunate that 2019-2020 is a very busy time for me! In July 2019, I will be attending a 2-week artist residency at the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts. The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) will be premiering my work "Iubilo," a fanfare for chamber orchestra on Nov. 16th, 2019 at St. John the Divine church in Houston, TX as apart of their 2019-2020 FIFteen commissions project. The Atlanta Chamber Players will be premiering my 7 Dances for Flute, Clarinet, & Cello on Nov. 19th, 2019 at Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, 7:30p.m. On Nov. 21st & 23rd 2019, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will premiere my new orchestral work Onward. Conducted by music director Robert Spano, my work will share the program with the premiere of composer Richard Prior's Symphony No. 4 and Emanuel Ax performing Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1! From February-November 2020, I will be commencing Fulbright study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia. There, I will be studying with one of my favorite composers, Carl Vine, working on a culturally immersive concerto for orchestra among other projects!
To learn more about him, please visit his website and follow him on social media:
by Anthony R. Green
Hello BIBA Readers! Apologies for the brief BIBA hiatus, AND Happy Belated Mother's Day! Castle of our Skins is gearing up for its next project - its first multi-event project - entitled I AM A MAN 2019. As a companion project to last year's Ain't I a Woman? project, I AM A MAN 2019 explores this civil rights declariation in the contexts of Black masculinity, humanity and equality, and - of course - music. Musicians have been commenting on issues of masculinity throughout music for decades in various ways. Blind Tom's depiction of war in his stunning piano piece Battle of Manassas (1861) depicts the juxtapostion of external masculinty, ritual, and inner-struggle in a wild, musical fantasy. Paul Robeson's interpretation of Old Man River (Oscar Hammerstein II, 1936) expresses a frustration with what is expected from a Black man, transcending the lyrics. James Brown's proclamation in the song It's a Man's Man's Man's World captures how men do not acknowledge the role of women enough in their life (notwithstanding this song's lyrics were written by a woman, Bettye Jean Newsome). The list goes on! In the world of opera, one stunning example comes from Terence Blanchard's first opera Champion, about the life of the boxer Emile Griffith.
The career of Griffith was stunning and controversial. One of the greatest boxers of all time, his most infamous match resulted in his opponent - Benny Paret - dying 10 days after losing the match from a harsh knockout. Griffith, however, was not straight. He did not identify as gay, bisexual, or homosexual; he did not want to associate himself with such labels. His most powerful quote: “I kill a man and most people forgive me. However, I love a man and many say this makes me an evil person.” From this one line, it is obvious how much Griffith must have contemplated what being a man means ... or what it should mean, rather.
Blanchard's opera takes this contemplation and expounds on it in an aria titled What makes a man a man? Blanchard's music, combined with a libretto by Michael Cristofer, questions stereotypes while affirming some basic truths that perhaps are not so masculine to admit. Below is a video (beware of the volume level), followed by a transcription of the text (unofficial). Enjoy, and do not forget to check out the many events and details of the upcoming I AM A MAN 2019 project!
What makes a man a man? What makes a man the man he is? Is it the flesh and bone inside, outside? Is it the skin he wears? The color of his voice? The walk he walks? The talk he talks? Inside? Outside?
What makes this man a man? Is it the life he’s lived? The yesterdays or what he dreamed for – the tomorrow days? Inside? Outside?
You hide your heart somewhere – somewhere inside. You hear it beat. You hear it sing. It cries and talks to you, and tells you what you feel is what you feel inside. It makes you strong, or does it make you weak outside? You hide your soul somewhere, somewhere inside. You feel it pull. You feel it lift. It carries you and takes you where you know you have to go.
And love – and love – and love is in this heart, and in this soul. It makes you strong inside, or does it make you weak inside, outside?
And somewhere there, where love is living, there is a man who is a man I am inside – the man I am. And outside, outside, this man that all this world can see, who is this man? Who is this man who calls himself me?
There was no sound, there were no people I could see. In my head, the place was empty. There was no one there but me...
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