Kuumba in 2021
As challenging as 2020 has been for many of us, I'm grateful for the opportunities this year has afforded me to practice Kuumba, today's Kwanzaa principle. Kuumba means creativity, "To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it." 2021 will ask for more from us, so I wish you a joyous and creative New Year! See you all on the other side!
Celebrating Music with Ensemble ARI
I am honored to have violinist Heeguen Song perform my solo violin partita in concert this Thursday, December 10th, as a part of Ensemble ARI's celebration of Black composers. I'll be doing a Q&A with the audience and am so happy to share the program with Derrick Spiva, whose music I love! These musicians understand that our fates are tied together, and that, in the words of Maya Angelou, "we are more alike than we are un-alike." Here is a link to the Youtube livestream. I hope you'll join us!
My newest composition for the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Black & Alive, premieres this Saturday, November 14th, at 7:30pm EST, 4:30pm PST. This work, which I'm dedicating to my mom, has been months in the making, so I hope you'll consider listening to it. Tickets for this Saturday's live-streamed concert can be purchased here. My friend, the amazing young African American soprano Chelsea Fingal DeSouza, will also be performing Mahler's Symphony no. 4 with the orchestra on the program. It's going to be a wonderful night of music!
While live-stream access to the concert on the 14th is for subscribers only, your donation of 25$ or more to the ASO gives you access to the concert beginning on Friday, November 20th. They've been wonderful creative partners in this challenging time, so I hope you'll show the ASO some love with your donation today!
The Times Union of Albany wrote up a nice profile about the piece and some of my musical thoughts. Check it out here!
All my best to all of you!
I have admired Maria Sampen's artistry and advocacy of new music for more than twenty years, so I am just over the moon that she will be performing my Partita for Solo Violin in its entirety this Friday, October 2nd, at 7:30pm as a part of her online faculty concert at the University of Puget Sound. Maria is a wonderful musician and a delightful human being, so I hope you can join us online!
My friend Lucy Dhgrae created a digital concert from New York City which includes my setting of Emma Lazurus's poem "The New Colossus." This poem, at the base of the Statue of Liberty, has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States. Lucy has put together an eclectic program of new work that is like her: brave and musical and true. Show her love!
Solo Violin Partita in Online Recital
I'm so pleased that violinist Sarah Jane Kenner has chosen to perform excerpts of my solo violin partita on this wonderful online concert from Ars Musica Chicago. Attendance is free, donations are welcome. I'm looking forward to hearing my work on *Baroque Violin.* The program also includes works by Telemann and Lully. A link to more information is here. Please join us!
To Wichita with Love
I am still buzzing with gratitude from a recent performance of my six-minute flute soliloquy, Falling Skyward, by the wonderfully talented and ever-resourceful principal flutist of the Wichita Symphony, Carmen Lemoine. She, along with WSO concertmaster Holly Mulcahy, produced an inspiring online concert of new works that featured music by living composers. I was really happy to have my music included with the likes of Jonathan McNair and Marco Granados.
To me, the concert was what it might have been like to experience a 19th-century salon: it was informal and warm as the composers and musicians took questions from the other Zoom call participants. My thanks to all involved for keeping new music alive in the time of Covid. These are the sorts of efforts that ensure we can and will defeat the worst this pandemic has to offer. Even in the midst of challenging times, we can still meet together, make music together, adapt, and thrive.
My thanks to my colleague and friend Nicholle Andrews, music director and conductor of the intrepid Phoenix Chamber Choir, for inviting me into conversation with some really wonderful and brave musical artists and diversity stewards. Our discussion was wide-ranging and expansive, and yet always driven by a sense of mission. One thing we know for certain is that aspiring to musical justice is generational work. Endeavoring to make our musical choirs reflect the diversity, breadth, and depth of society is not one person’s job; it is not the job of one community, city, or country. It is the job of all of us. I’m really humbled to have been a part of this exchange. I was nervous (and it shows, at least to me), but it’s really important that we each find ways of putting ourselves out there, testing our discomfort, and try to be a part of solutions. Whether it’s racial injustice, climate crises, or the plight of refugees around the world, Making Music in the Mess has encouraged me to look for ways of asking more challenging questions of myself and my community. Hopefully, conversations like this might encourage you to know that, in the beautiful struggle to affect positive change in your community, you are not alone.
A link to our conversation is here.
Making Music in the Mess
Looking forward to discussing diversity in Canadian choral music with this brilliant panel of forward-thinking artists! Hope to see some of you there!
Making Music in the Mess:
A conversation towards a greater understanding of African Diasporic voices in Canadian choral music.
Monday, July 6th, 2020
1:00pm PST / 4:00pm EST
June 19th, 2020
Studies in Hope on WMHT radio
Happy to be a part of the Juneteenth celebrations for WMHT. If ever you wanted to take a listen to the complete piece, now’s your chance! Tune in if you can!￼
His friends described George Floyd as a gentle giant, as a spiritual man.
We are losing so many to pandemics of illness, violence, and rage.
Many of you are struggling with what to do next in the face of racialized injustice. I certainly don’t have any answers. I’ve spent a lot of my life under the radar, trying not to draw the attention of lethal force, so I don’t feel like the best person to speak with authority on how to bring about change and social justice. I literally have just tried to stay alive.
But here’s what I’m thinking about now. Begin anywhere. Every morning I remind myself that I’m not dead. I literally speak those words out loud, “I’m not dead.“ I do this to speak into the world the truth that poet Lucille Clifton put in a poem: that every day something has tried to kill me and failed. I struggle with you. So maybe it’s time for me to start working past not being dead and start working towards being alive.
I would add to the insight below from poet Gregory Orr: turn your words back into the world. Repeat the cycle. Create an alternating current that powers your desire for social justice. Words matter. Words help me live into the world with more courage. Words power change. And change powers words. And that alternating current creates electricity that powers our desire for social justice.
So talk with your friends; talk with your neighbors; speak with your community leaders. If you’re white, listen and bear witness. If you’re black, don’t be afraid to make your opinion, heart, and mind known. Speak out from the shadows. Let’s strive not for equality but for justice. The difference is subtle but important. Because in America we’re not the same. But to live well together, everyone has to belong. ✊🏽 🌈
Such a beautiful short film!! And a very good underscore to boot!
My first radio interview. I'm filled to the brim with gratitude for the extraordinary musicians and staff of the Albany Symphony, and its director David Alan Miller; the Albany High School Chamber Choir, and its director Brendan Hoffman; student rappers Mohamed & Esmeralda; and soprano soloists Paule Aboite & Chelsea Fingal DeSouza. Their tremendous work on "Studies in Hope: Frederick Douglass" this December was a massive undertaking, but always a labor of love. Such a joy to celebrate with each of you! From my heart to yours, *thank you*!
2019 has been a wonderful year, and new adventures await in 2020! Wishing all of you a joyous New Year!!
With the Albany Symphony
In Albany this week for the orchestra premiere of “Studies in Hope: Frederick Douglass” with the Albany Symphony, and choir from Albany Highschool, who are crushing it in rehearsals. I’m doing radio interviews with David Alan Miller the next couple days if you want to tune in. *Note changed times* Friday 12/6/19 @ 2:00pm on WMHT, and 12/6/19 @ 11:00am on WAMC. 😀🎼
I'll be in Troy, New York at the end of May for the premiere of my latest piece "Good Fred," with the Dogs of Desire & Albany High School Chorus. I'm glad to share the program with fellow University of Michigan alum Clarice Assad, and I'm also hoping to see my old friends the Argus Quartet, who got their start at Renaissance Arts Academy when I was on the faculty there. The trip represents a kind of homecoming for me. I spent some of my formative years in Western New York, living and working as a confused, ambitious twenty-something in the city of Rochester. It's been twenty years since I've been back in the area, and I'm looking forward to the trip! For more information on the American Music Festival, visit: https://www.albanysymphony.com/aboutamf. Hope to see you there!!
Here is the Program Note I wrote for my composition, Good Fred:
Good Fred, by Andre Myers
Scored for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Bassoon, French Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Drum Kit, Two Sopranos, High School Choir, Hip-Hop MCs, Piano, Two Violins, Viola, ‘Cello, and Double Bass/Electric Bass
Commissioned by the Dogs of Desire, David Alan Miller, conductor
Duration: about 20 minutes
The first movement of Good Fred introduces the premise of the composition: that the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, whose instagram handle I imagined to be “Good Fred,” was the most adroit social media influencer of his time, utilizing print media, photography, autobiography, religious exhortation & public oratory, voluminous written correspondence, and coalition building to further his political agenda and moral imagination. The second movement features a quartet of young MCs who outline a narrative of his life. His struggle was a fundamentally American one, and it is important we draw courage from it in our time. The third movement features the Dogs of Desire, and reflects on how Douglass recognized the rights and liberties of women and African Americans to be deeply connected. “Permission to Rise” asserts that intersectional thinking about the struggle of blacks, women, and LGBTQ+ persons is as important today as it was during Douglass’s days of coalition building with the suffragette movement during Reconstruction. The fourth and final movement features the Albany High School Choir, and asserts the legacy of Frederick Douglass to be for everyone. As our world gets more connected, and the challenges of our time grow increasingly intense, Frederick Douglass’s call to community action is as prescient as ever.
I moved to Rochester New York when I was 18, and taught myself very little about Douglass’s life, work, or local significance during my six years living downtown. I do not remember once visiting his grave, or reading any of his works. Perhaps if I had, I would have felt less alone and less afraid on my own. I composed Good Fred thinking about young people today who may not be familiar with his extraordinary life and legacy. I hope the piece illustrates how History is not static, but dynamic and fluid as water; how one life lived in community can inspire, edify, and bring solace to a generation of folks that too often feel isolated from their past, and lonely in their present. I believe Frederick Douglass can be a friend to us all.
Corey Henry's "Purple Rain"
Corey Henry is one of the most compelling musicians performing today. Deeply committed to his craft as a keyboardist and improviser, his singing talents too often go unnoticed. This cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" might go a very long way to changing that. Also, listen closely to the magic in Henry's treatment of the postlude--the ether of chords after the massive and iconic plagal cadence closing the arena-rock section of "Purple Rain." Here one gets a wonderful sense of how the keyboards of Corey Henry are an extension of his voice, and how his voice is an extension of his energy: fierce, focused, and deeply humane. Put your headphones on and listen. This work changed my world.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us in her book, Big Magic, how showing up to engage in creative acts can invite both the mundane and the miraculous to thrive within us. Her thesis is that when creative production discards its vain romance with foolish notions of inspiration and genius, things get better for the artist and the art. Gilbert favors the workaday grace of a craftsperson, who plods patiently onward with or without proof of her work changing the world. I find proof of that type of grace in this sonnet by Lin-Manuel Miranda:
"My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards Promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall, and light, from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride."
Miranda delivered this sonnet as thanksgiving for having received this year's Tony award for Best Score. It honors his wife, their son, and grieves over the death and injury in an Orlando nightclub mass-shooting this weekend.
The sonnet begins simply enough. A humble nod to his family, Miranda's first quatrain enchants us by taking the big honor he's received and placing it in the hands of his son. The second quatrain gives the poem action--"we chase the melodies that seem to find us." At the end of this group of four lines, however, Miranda shows us that the poem's "We" is chasing much more than just melodies; the "We" is also chasing meaning in the present moment. ("nothing here is promised") This sentiment goes beyond the Latin saying Carpe Diem, for it builds a fire in the poem that grows as we travel to the next stanza.
If the second quatrain gave the sonnet action, the third places that action right inside the struggles chronicled in Hamilton: "hate and fear" that "rises and falls," and "remembrances that hope and love last longer." But that's not why I'm writing to you about this poem. I'm writing to you about this poem because of what happens next.
Form in art is like law in society: both allow channels for the violence of one's most private feelings to converse with others. Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust called law "the wise restraints that keep us free," illustrating how our collective tendency towards less regulation too often betrays a danger toward real ontological imprisonment. Form liberates us from that imprisonment, allowing the artist and her audience to share densely packed abstractions of energy and emotive power.
So what happens when that form is stretched, broken, bruised, violated? What happens when the end of this sonnet does not provide a neat little bow for itself, summarizing its aforementioned thanksgiving, love and resilience before going on its humble, merry way? What happens when, instead of a final couplet of around twenty syllables, Miranda gives us this:
"And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride."
Three lines. Close to fifty syllables.
It shakes the foundations upon which this sonnet was built. It calls bullshit on the ability of this formal poem (which moves from the awesome simplicity of a small family to the horrendous violence of mass murder) to do its job without some violence of its own at the end. One can recognize the shape of a "proper" ending in the lines above--perhaps something like:
And love cannot be killed or swept aside
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
This would have been lovely. And moving. And inspiring. But for Miranda. . . for Miranda it would not have been enough.
"And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside."
Two lines collide--crash into--one another, making a long virus of a sentence. Because the form was not enough. It could not hold the grief, the rage, or the sorrow--the gratitude, or the affection. It could not hold all of the worlds of pain--all of the feels. It could not hold all of the strange and sad things in his heart--not in that precious, little, sonnet-package. The form was not enough. The couplet could not rage. The moment demanded more.
So Miranda broke with convention. He set an expectation, and then stretched it past its limit, bringing the ferociousness of love onto the form of this couplet again and again and. . . isn't that better than bringing ferociousness onto others with an AR-15?
Form matters to me because law matters to me. Because they are similar. And if I am to bear witness to either being broken, I hope it's in service to the workaday grace of being Alive, not a corrosive romance with greatness that would have someone crown themselves king, and shoot people with an automatic weapon. Miranda brought us the former to counter the latter.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us in her book, Big Magic, how showing up to engage in creative acts will invite both the mundane and the miraculous to thrive within us. And while Lin-Manuel Miranda built art with no confidence of finding that grace (that grace of the cabinet maker or patient gardner), grace is exactly what he found. And he found it by knowing, in his deepest place, where to build, and also. . also, where to break.
Ta-Nehisi Coates on Nina Simone biopic
Two things come to mind after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' pitch-perfect critique of the film "Nina": 1. How forces at work in casting this movie also inform the way we now listen to and appreciate jazz music at large. Were he alive today for exmaple, Thelonious Monk would not get close to winning the piano competition that bears his name because we reify his legacy while denuding its contemporary racial and cultural importance. 2. How Hollyweird has little trouble casting black women with African features to portray servitude and illness. (e.g. Hattie McDaniel in "Gone with the Wind," Octavia Spencer in "The Help," and Mo'Nique in "Precious," all of whom won Oscars). And yet it denies and denudes Simone's face? Coates' writing offers some of the most cogent observations on African American life available today. It's time to face the music.
Megyn Kelly in Vanity Fair
What I find most interesting in this Vanity Fair portrait is how her brand of conservatism does not seem to be driven by ideological impulses so much as her own brand of common sense reasoning. It's refreshing to read about someone who believes in knowing what the hell they're talking about without fetishizing or valorizing their work as a moral triumph. I get so tired of hearing about how wonderful someone is because they've accomplished something extraordinary, as if their achievements were the product solely of their own ingenuity or rugged individualism. Doing something awesome does not make me better than someone else. While it may help me keep a job, doing awesome things and knowing how to learn are skills acquired and cultivated over the course of my life. Accomplishments and hard work, while admirable, are not what should give people their sense of self-worth. A person's accomplishments extend from who they are, and every person has inherent worth, and is deserving of regard and respect.
According to the article, early on in Megyn Kelly's tenure at Fox News, her boss, Roger Ailes, told her to "make more mistakes." That's great advice for anyone starting out in a new venture. What is the point of having knowledge, enthusiasm, vision, and dedication to a field if one is afraid of making errors? How can we learn if we don't try new stuff out? Over time, Kelly's voice in journalism began to emerge when she became less concerned about making mistakes and more interested, in the words of Steve Martin, in "being so good they can't ignore you." (She is said to like this quote very much.) To take on a mission like that necessitates hubris that can produce groundbreaking work, but also some errors along the way. My takeaway from the Vanity Fair article is that those two outcomes are not separate, or, as buddhists like to say, "they are not two." Groundbreaking work means that one must make mistakes along they way.
Talk all you want about the evil Roger Ailes and Fox News have rendered onto our republic and the world by making candidates like Donald Trump appear to be viable alternatives to the very un-glamourous and important work of governance, and I will largely agree with you. And if the folks at Gawker are to be believed, Kelly is an odious presence on television, and a virulent racist. There is a case to be made, however, for the rise of Megyn Kelly, no matter what Donald Trump or Gawker may say about her. My lesson from the article is simple: living with a voice can be challenging sometimes. Any composer worth her salt knows this. But to move through challenges, humbled and informed by them, and everyday be un-ignorable by virtue of one's good works--maybe that's the hokey pokey. Maybe that's what it's all about.
Yoked to Justice: A Brief Meditation
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," King said. Perhaps it bends like an asana, or yoga pose. Yoga translates roughly from Sanskit to "yoke," which ostensibly brings ugly associations of enslaved ancestors to my mind. But perhaps the idea of "bending towards" something (instead of "fighting for" something) can reframe our understanding of what and how we strive in social justice work.
The vocabulary of social justice work is filled with struggle and battle. Much like the war on crime, the battle against HIV/AIDS denotes, for example, a direct enemy, and specific sites for confrontation. We "struggle against" racism, and "battle for" a living wage, thus demonstrating our commitment against corruption. But to "bend toward" desired outcomes involves a very different set of material and psychological tools than to "battle for" or "struggle against."
King observed a force within the universe that binds all of us, long before the discovery of the Higgs field or the musings of master Yoda. He observed that the work of social justice is as much a question of inner alignment & disposition as it is of material struggle. For King and many others during the civil rights movement of the 1950s & '60s, fervent religious conviction was a primary instrument of that sense of alignment with the world around them. Their struggle for radical change through non-violet revolution was rooted in a deep-seated belief in the inherent goodness of their cause.
So, thirty years into our MLK Federal holiday, what shall we call King? A jedi for justice, perhaps? What we can say with certainty is that he recognized justice to comprise more than the absence of corruption, and peace to be more than the absence of war. He understood that the fates of every person on earth are tied together.
So let's not celebrate Martin Luther King as an icon, or idea, but rather as a person who deeply understood our interconnection. He knew that we are yoked together in a lifelong bending towards justice, today and everyday. That, for me, is worth celebrating.
George Shirley Scholarship Fundraiser
BOP! in Bosnia and Herzegovina
If you are in or around Banja Luka, on the 25th of November, stop by and listen to the MAN trio (flute, flute & piano) for me. The trio is putting on a concert that night that features fifteen 1-minute premieres, and my frisky little romp, BOP!, will be among them. This group has a lot of energy; to put together a program like this demands some serious technique, and I wish I could be there to experience the concert in person and meet them. If you're close by though, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
"Wear your mask & practice social distancing. Together, we can defeat Covid 19!"
"Literacy in Music & Arts is one of your vital links to global citizenship!"
"Be sure to support the arts in *your* community!"