May 15, 2020

"Candles in the Rain" - 1970, Melanie Safka and the Edwin Hawkins Singers




Today marks the beginning of my sixth year living in a third floor apartment on the corner of Saint Paul and Read in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood.    Yes, I moved into this place in 2015 just a few weeks after the Baltimore Uprising.

That time aside:   if anyone would have told me five years ago that I would be spending two months under a "shelter-in-place" order, I MIGHT have laughed.   

Five years later, here we are.    Five years later, here I am, and during these five years I have realized how important "home" is.     My realization has    included everything from decorating (finally had concert posters framed) to maintenance (it was only a year ago that the kitchen was totally renovated - an example of "overwhelming necessity"), and now purchasing foam-backed blackout curtains because this third floor living, while wonderful, features tremendous summer sunset light as the windows face the east. 

Yea, it get's hot in here....and it's getting hot in here.

The decision to (FINALLY?!) order foam-backed blackout curtains may seem curious to many of you (you've been living there for HOW LONG?!) - and moreso now as COVID-19 continues to shape the way that we live, gather, and SPEND - but it's been "on the docket" for a while.    Personally, it's strange for me as I'm making this choice while realizing that, for financial reasons, I may have to leave this beautiful space (downsizing) at some point between now and October...but all of that aside.

"Quarantine" means many different things to all of us, and during this time I have- despite reaching a "rock bottom crackup" a few weeks ago - been listening on many levels.

The first level:   a teacher/mentor/friend who is downsizing sent me a box of compact discs.   Oh, the discoveries!    I  have made it the point to choose something unfamiliar every day.

The SECOND level:   going through memories, which include my being a high school student and hearing Melanie Safka's "(Lay Down) Candles in the Rain".    While I was stunned upon first hearing as a high school student in 1986, I am grateful to live now with a glimpse of understanding.

I need not say anymore....just read, listen, and think about where we are today....

Melanie got some assistance on the song from the Edwin Hawkins Singers, who had their own gospel hit with their arrangement of “Oh Happy Day” two years earlier. Melanie had to beg the group to join her on the song, since they were reluctant to perform any song that didn’t make sepcific mention of the Lord. “But he’s in there,” she told them in the studio, and she must have been convincing. “By the time I finished singing,” Safka says, “they were joining me in the chorus.”
It was an unlikely combination of folk introspection and gospel exultation, and it’s refreshing to think of an era in music when such a song could conquer the charts. Melanie attributes some of its success to the time period in which it was released. Not only was there the Woodstock connection, but the song also spoke to those fed up with the Vietnam War. “It gave it a lot of poignance that it might not have had if it happened at another time,” she says.

March 26, 2020

Day Whatever....

As I write this, I have to refer to a meme that I saw today in which we were told "I don't know who needs to hear this, but today is Thursday, March 26."

I spent most of Thursday, March 26, 2020 under the covers of my bed.    While that may seem "lazy" to many, especially in light of the state-of-the-world, this was purposeful.    March 26, 2020 would have been my father's eightieth birthday, and I guess I needed some time to think about that.

Nevertheless, a few days ago I wrote a typical "Library of Congress" length Facebook post, and I humbly ask that we revisit that post:

"Day whatever: grateful to have received what I did from Food Rescue Baltimore this afternoon, and even moreso for my neighbor Paula who brought me a pound of rice, a jar of peanut butter, and what can only be called a "hunk" of cheese...
"Strange to live in Mount Vernon and find the streets empty, and to see the city buses empty...
"Grateful that I can trust my intuition, as the "something's wrong" thought that filled my brain this morning went away upon coming home this afternoon to see THREE fire trucks on the 900 block of St. Paul Street. Fortunately, no building went down and to my knowledge no one was affected, but solar plexus energy is NO JOKE, y'all....
"Grateful to have had the ability to say "I need to lie down" in the middle of the afternoon and to do so in a clean, quiet apartment while rains fell...
"Grateful to have seen a neighbor at the store tonight who, while I was walking home, drove by and asked 'Are you okay? Are you able to work from home?'
"Grateful as always for Kimberly Johnson and our tradition of end-of-the-day checkins that has existed for a few years...
"Grateful to be in my home and typing while shawarma chicken is cooking alongside the beets and sweet potatoes that are roasting as I type...
"Grateful to have taken the day away from C-Span, local and national news ...
"Grateful to have made the choice to step away from the noise to remember my truly fearless cousin Russell Sabb (and there's a story that I can tell you if you wish to hear privately as that moment twenty years ago was a real life-changer)....
"...but still: I'm tired. Many of you who know me know that one of my strengths is also one of my weaknesses, that being that the heart is on the sleeve and that the emotions sometimes have no container...but we're all tired, no?

"We're all grappling with this in so many ways, from some worst-case scenario planning to those having worst-case scenarios and income losses thrown into their faces. I shudder as I think of my friends and colleagues who have lost probably tens of thousands of dollars due to cancellations and will be forced to make draconian decisions (as I may have to in a few months).
"We're all tired: As I have primarily worked from home since August 2019, the joy that I had due to being able to watch all of the impeachment hearings on C-Span has been replaced by the profound desire NOT to tune in to the daily updates and watch both a national and world leader step to the podium with the posture of a studio class colleague who never practiced and never accepted the new routines being deathly afraid to pick up the fiddle and play Kreutzer #2, 4, 7, and 13....profoundly afraid for a bad rating, profoundly afraid for a "bad look", profoundly afraid of a shaking bow....
"...but the reality is this: those of us who understand our positions and the responsibilities of those positions "lean in". Those of us who have performance anxiety do the work to get through: therapy, Kato Havas, yoga, meditation, reschooling and retooling, seeking advice and humbling ourselves....
"...While we ARE definitely seeing the needed leadership from officials including Maryland governor Larry Hogan, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, and countless others, we're not seeing this from the Commander in Chief now, and I shall not comment on the article that I read today in which the person responsible for leading our nation out of a pandemic said that he has to this day NOT consulted past presidents for advice.
"THAT fact alone should be enough for everyone, but unfortunately it will not be.
"Dear departed cousin Russell Sabb would approve of this message, as he was tired as well..."

More from the ground coming later,
Samuel Thompson

March 24, 2020

Terrence McNally....

Note:   this started as a Facebook post on the evening of Monday, March 23, 2020 and has been both expanded and edited.


Based on some of my Facebook posts, a dear friend referred to me a "Concierge Music Services:   Always Playing the Perfect Soundtrack of the Moment".   While that was meant as part joke and part serious, I find myself at a loss these days.    As a child of the 80s, I remember the fear, suspicion, outrage and governmental inaction that surrounded the AIDS crisis.    For those who do not remember, there is a both fascinating and sobering Independent Lens documentary titled We Were Here.   This documentary is focused on the city of San Francisco (and if you can, watch this on a large screen, specifically for one scene), but focuses on five people.

According to the Sundance Film Review:  "...this is a rare AIDS movie that is affirmative rather than depressing.  That is because of the lessons the survivors gleaned from these dark days.   They recall the spirit of caring and camaraderie  that transformed the gay community in San Francisco and also awakened the compassion of many straight Americans who went through a sea change in their attitudes towards homosexuality.   The film is not airbrushed.   Many of the memories are start, such s Eileens' recollection of removing the eyes of dead patients in order to gain an understanding of a mysterious virus that caused blindness in a number of AIDS victims.   Despite the painful memories they share, their honesty and clear-eyed intelligence help to provide a sense of healing."


It is more than safe to say that in fifty years, there will be COVID-19 documentaries, especially considering that it was announced today that Terrence McNally, who was referred to as the "Tony Award-winning playwright of Gay Life", died today at 81 due to complications of the coronavirus.

While I WAS going to embellish yesterday's Facebook post:  in light of Mr. McNally's passing (and the present-day irony of his passing based on his life), I shall not, and I have no words to go forward.  There are only questions.....



July 24, 2019

Enlightenment, confusion, and "doublespeak": or, What happens to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in September?

So, in a recent Baltimore Sun article, current President and CEO Peter Kjome has asserted that management "plans to welcome the players back to work on September 9 and to pay them the wages they received under their most recent collective bargaining agreement, which expired in January 2019."


First, let's be clear:   in case you haven't been paying attention, the "most recent collective bargaining agreement" actually expired on September 9, 2018 and was extended retroactively, that extension ending on January 15, 2019.


Second, yet equally as important:    a few weeks ago, Mr. Kjome shared a vague statement that was basically torched by two people with a depth of experience in nonprofit arts management, orchestral governance and orchestral work conflicts.



In a Baltimore Sun article published on June 27, 2019, Mr. Kjome is quoted as saying that "If an agreement has not been reached by Sunday, September 8, 2019, the BSO will terminate the lockout on Monday, September 9, 2019.  Work will be provided to bargaining unit employees beginning on that date."



"BSO offers musicia
ns health insurance extension amid contract dispute"




Mixed with other articles, here are the responses to the current President and CEO's statement about "work being offered":


"Or Its Accredited Successor" (Mask of the Flower Prince)

"The Baltimore Symphony:  Burning Gifts and Burning GIFs" (Song of the Lark)


(Side note:   how fascinating to see that despite former Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson's assertion that "blogs are senseless and must be ignored", the blog entries shared were followed by immediate "message changes", including the current BSO President and CEO asserting that management "plans to welcome the players back to work on September 9 and to pay them the wages they receives under their most recent collective bargaining agreement, which expired in January.") 


While Mr. Kjome's words about the end of this "lockout" could be seen as heartening, we must take a moment to look at both language ("rhetoric") and reality.


"If an agreement has not been reached"....folks, that's not how contract negotiations play out when the employees are represented by a union.   We'll come back to this, though, as today's news again contained both clues to the future, yet another baffling statement from the current Baltimore Symphony Orchestra President and CEO, and a bit of clarity from Mary Plaine, current Secretary/Treasurer of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians.


On Monday, July 22, 2019, an article published in the Baltimore Sun chronicled changes both in the date of the annual Baltimore Symphony gala and the scheduled performer.


"Citing labor dispute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra postpones fundraising gala; Renee Fleming won't appear" (Baltimore Sun, July 22, 2019)


THAT I shall leave for you to read on your own.   However, to cite a parallel it is necessary to revisit October 2010 and the early weeks of the Detroit Symphony strike (October 4, 2010-April 3, 2011).


From The Strad: "[Violinist Sarah] Chang had been due to perform as soloist with the orchestra in its season-opening concert.   But after the players began strike action on 4 October, it was announced that she would instead perform a recital programme.   DSO musicians, who are fighting against salary and benefit cuts (sound familiar?), wrote to Chang, pleading with her not to cross the picket line and perform.   The chairman of f the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents 4,200 orchestral players in the US, did the same.   Strongly worded messages were also sent to her fan-created Facebook page.


"Explaining her decision to withdraw from the recital, Chang said in a statement:   'My original intention to bring music to the community has been derailed and I have been unwillingly drawn into an inner dispute that does not appropriately involve me'."


Violinist Sarah Chang pulls out of Detroit recital (The Strad, October 9, 2010)


Regarding the delayed-yet-upcoming Baltimore Symphony gala:  "The gala is the orchestra's biggest fundraiser and includes a black-tie dinner, a concert at which tickers are sold for premium prices and a post-concert reception.   The previously-announced headlines, opera singer Renee Fleming, is unavailable in May, according to the release.  Instead, the violinist Itzhak Perlman will be the gala's star guest artist."


So:    a decision was made to postpone a gala for eight months.   According to a comment posted at Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc, gala invitations were mailed out within the past two weeks, and notifications of the rescheduling and new guest artist were sent via email.


The recent Baltimore Sun article also shares the "new" plans for the season opening, plans that were also shared in the Baltimore Business Journal:   "In place of the gala, the orchestra plans to host a free season preview concert on September 14 at 8pm at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall".


"BSO reschedules gala to 2020 amid contract dispute"(Baltimore Business Journal, July 22, 2019)


Of course, one cannot ignore the current BSO President and CEO's inexplicably upbeat tone in the Baltimore Sun:  "He said in the release that he is 'grateful' to those who have already promised donations to the gala and added that he looks forward 'to expressing our gratitude to our community by launching our new season with free concerts featuring out extraordinary musicians'."


SO, to summarize:


1.   Gala invitations were printed and mailed despite the fact that the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony have been locked out by their executive management and Board of Directors since June 17, 2019 (For the record, this has gone on now for thirty-nine days.   While "summer vacation" may make this not seem real, just wait until the 2019-20 concert seasons starts)


2.   Approximately eight days after invitations were mailed, an email was drafted and sent.   In that email, the contract dispute is shared as the reason that the gala has been postponed until May 9, 2020.   Due to scheduling, Renee Fleming is not available as previously announced, and Itzhak Perlman has been secured as the headliner.  


Please understand that this date is near the END of the proposed 2019-20 season, and while the current President and CEO insists that this eight-month delay will not affect the organization's bottom line, this rescheduled gala also takes place less than three months after most arts organizations announce their upcoming concert seasons (case in point:   the Baltimore Symphony's 2019-20 concert season was announced on February 22, 2019).    Concert seasons are announced in late winter-early spring so that subscriptions can be sold and revenue generated.


3.   Over the past thirty-nine days, the current Baltimore Symphony President and CEO has made continuously changing statements about the duration of this lockout:


- "If an agreement has not been reached by Sunday, September 8, 2019, the BSO will terminate the lockout on Monday, September 9, 2019.   Work will be provided to bargaining unit employees beginning on that date."


And HERE's where we go to the quote from Mary Plaine.   Remember, Ms. Plaine is the current Secretary/Treasurer of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians. 


Ms. Plaine was quoted in yesterday's Baltimore Sun article:   "We certainly understand management's decision to postpone the gala....They keep telling the public the orchestra is coming back to work on September 9.  But, I don't believe the orchestra will go back to work until they have a ratified contract.  That's the way to hold the gala in September - end the lockout."


"But WAIT:, someone said:   "Didn't the current President and CEO say that the lockout would end whether or not an agreement was reached?"


Yes, he did - but that's NOT how strikes and lockouts end, people.


During work conflicts (strikes and lockouts), contracts have to go through a RATIFICATION process, and the collective bargaining agreement ratification process is both beautifully and clearly explained via this document which was published by (of all organizations) the permanently threatened National Endowment for the Arts.


Collective Bargaining:   What It Is and How It Works


Forgive me for speaking "South Carolinian", but here's the deal, y'all:   As the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony are represented by Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians, any contract dealings that they have with the Board of Directors and Executive Management of the Baltimore Symphony are negotiated through what is known as COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.


According to the National Endowment for the Arts, "Collective bargaining—a mutual exchange of positions followed by agreement—enables a group of employees with a 'community of interest' to negotiate a binding written contract with an employer. It gives workers a voice in their workplace and has become a respected approach, valued by employees and employers in the private sector and throughout various levels of government."


I shall not go into the step-by-step of collective bargaining here:   as the kids say, "reading is fundamental".    Everything that you need to know is contained in this NEA document.   I shall simply go to THE QUESTION:


HOW, in light of locking out your musicians, which was followed by cancelling benefits, which was followed (due to public outrage) by reinstating health insurance (which expires on September 1, 2019 - and this does not take into account the cancellation of other benefits), does the Board of Directors and Executive Management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plan to have the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra "come back to work" in September under the provisions of a previously expired contract (which was a fifty-two week employment contract) while continuing to lobby both the state government and the public to accept the "necessity" of a twelve-week contract reduction which equals a 16.6 percent pay cut, with reductions in health care benefits making executive management's proposal equal a 26.8 percent cut for a single person and 28 percent for someone with family insurance?
While I COULD speculate, I choose not to....but stay tuned...









June 18, 2019

"We want...Information"....






Since there may be "too much news" with which to keep up, here are the pertinent articles (from both sides) that have been published within the last forty-eight hours. 

June 18, 2019
https://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/arts/bs-fe-bso-lockout-20190617-story.html
- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, musicians endure first work stoppage in 31 years.   But they're still talking.


June 17, 2019
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/baltimore-symphony-orchestra-musicians-officially-locked-out/2019/06/17/c9cced8e-9143-11e9-b570-6416efdc0803_story.html?utm_term=.4c1369ffd8b1
- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians officially locked out


https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-bso-musicians-lockout-20190616-story.html
- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians protest Meyerhoff Symphony Hall lockout


https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/readers-respond/bs-ed-rr-bso-finances-letter-20190617-story.html
- Fault poor endowment decisions, not musicians, for BSO's woes


https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-0618-bso-lockout-20190617-story.html
- Many American orchestras have emerged stronger from lockouts and strikes; the BSO can too


https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-0618-musician-lockout-20190617-story.html
- BSO leadrship decisions damage symphony



https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-0617-bso-negotiations-20190613-story.html
- BSO board members:    Responsible decisions will save the symphony


From Emily Hogstad:


"Friends, please stay up to date on this situation! The Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ website is here. The Save Our BSO audience advocacy group website is here. From there you can follow those groups on social media.
"If you feel moved, please support transparent governance however you can, whether by reading articles online about the dispute (this helps show the press that people care!), or by liking and sharing social media posts, or by donating money, or by sending letters or emails of support, or by considering doing whatever else these groups suggest the public do. Those are the best ways to help right now. And good thoughts and a few prayers wouldn’t go amiss, either.
"Signing off with the hope that American orchestral governance as a whole improves, and soon. There are so many smart, creative people in this field. I hope we can build a future where we can avoid these heartwrenching situations entirely."

-SAT







June 17, 2019

LOCKOUT...or Here we are....

...and here we are, in Baltimore.     Today, which included the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's final performance of "West Side Story" with the movie, the Baltimore Symphony Musicians went to Facebook and posted photos of musicians clearing out their lockers


Additionally, the upper management and Board of Directors of the Baltimore Symphony issued a press statement:  "The Board of Directors of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra approved a lockout of the organization's musicians, Local 40-543, if an agreement between the musicians and management was not reached by the end of the regular subscription season.   With no agreement reached, the lockout will go into effect on Monday, June 17, 2019."


LOCKOUT.    In case you're curious, here's the definition: "A lockout is a temporary work stoppage or denial of employment initiated by the management of a company during a labor dispute.  That is different from a strike in which employees refuse to work.  It is usually implemented by simply refusing to admit employees onto company premise and may include change locks and hiring security guards for the premises.   Other implementations include  a fine for showing up or a simple refusal of clocking in on the time clock.   It is therefore referred to as the antithesis of strike."


Taking this to "everyman terms":    the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are allowed to file for unemployment benefits through the state of Maryland.   Had they made a decision to strike, they would not be able to file for unemployment benefits.


That fact, however, is not what this is about.

Regarding the Baltimore lockout: In recent days, friends and colleagues have asked "How does this affect you?" Here are my answers.

First, I am a freelance musician living in the city of Baltimore, and my work includes both performing and teaching in Baltimore, Washington DC, and Philadelphia (and, when I'm lucky, New York City). This is a region overflowing with extremely hard-working and well-equipped musicians, which already means that one has to be incredibly diligent not only in the maintenance of one's playing ability but equally so in building and maintaining relationships throughout the field. Should this lockout continue past September, a shift in the workload of regional freelance musicians will undoubtedly take place.


Second, and this is important: over the past ten years the city of Baltimore has suffered the loss of two performing organizations (the Baltimore Opera and Concert Artists of Baltimore) and, as with any disruption, the destinies of those affected by those losses is still unfolding just as they are for those who were victims of the 2003 Florida Philharmonic bankruptcy.

Third: not only have I been both fascinated and captivated by "large changes" for my entire life (with memories of post-Vietnam War "boat people", the Mariel boatlif and the Polish "Solidarity Movement" being a part of childhood while the Movement for Black Lives, and the still-unfolding post-Hurricane Katrina diaspora are "real-time"), but my first visceral memory of a work-stoppage stems from 1998 when, after having spent a summer with the National Repertory Orchestra, I went back to Houston (in May 1998, I completed the Master of Music at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music) to begin my life as a post-graduate freelancer. During that time, the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony were locked out by their management, and I met a violist affected by that lockout while playing services with the Symphony of Southeast Texas (its home being Beaumont, Texas - which is a FOUR HOUR DRIVE east of San Antonio and at that time rehearsed at night).

Fourth: In addition to both playing and teaching the violin, I am a published writer whose work has appeared in Strings Magazine, the San Jose Chamber Orchestra's "Other Notes" column, Nigel Kennedy Online, and still fairly regularly at online industry magazine Violinist.com (and that sharing of my credentials is not about my self-esteem).

While "diaspora" may seem to be a peculiar word choice when speaking about orchestral work conflicts, it does seem appropriate considering the decisions that members of orchestras make during turbulent and uncertain times.

Stay tuned...and if you don't get it or choose to turn a blind eye to it, "I can't help you"....









June 3, 2019

"The King is Half-Undressed...."

...and here we are.

On Saturday, June 1, 2019, I had the pleasure of attending a concert presented by the Congressional Chorus of DC.  This concert, titled "Let Justice Roll", was a precursor to the chorus' upcoming tour and included the second Washington DC performance of And They Lynched Him On A Tree, the profoundly compelling oratorio written by William Grant Still that was premiered in 1940 by the New York Philharmonic.    This work had its second performance at Howard University six months after the premiere, and sat on the shelves for decades - but that's another discussion for another time.

Having played in the chamber ensemble that accompanies the Congressional Chorus, I have to say that it was even more inspiring to watch this ensemble as an audience member.    Artistic Director and Conductor David Simmons is truly amazing as he gives so much thought to programming.

While I asked myself why, as a forty-eight year old African-American, that I was hearing this work for the first time, I found myself putting that discussion aside as I was unable to shake recent developments in our region.


In case you haven't been paying attention (which, considering that friends and colleagues of mine from both Atlanta and Washington DC have asked me about this):  on Thursday, May 30, 2019, Baltimore Symphony CEO Peter Kjome announced not only the cancellation of the recently planned Baltimore Symphony summer season, but also that the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra would be paid through June 16, 2019 in efforts desperately needed to "ensure both a sustainable model and a sustainable future for the organization".

These measures, according to press releases, include the commitment from upper management and the Board of Directors to explore cost-cutting measures that include reducing the BSO's concert season to a 40-week season (instead of the major orchestra 52-week season).  


While I COULD go down the rabbit hole of talking about how this "went down" (which includes the fact that some musicians heard about this draconian measure via social media), I shall not.    What I would like to do over the next few weeks, is explore.  That exploration is based on the fact that on November 6, 2018, Baltimore Symphony CEO Peter Kjome asserted that "There have been discussions about season length for many years."

https://www.bsomusic.org/misc/bso-updates/a-message-from-baltimore-symphony-president-and-ceo-peter-kjome/

In January, I posed a question:     if it is true that "there have been discussions about season length for many years", why does it seem that the public is hearing about this discussion point for the first time?


Through some research, I did find that this sentiment has been true for quite some time.   In a 2006 "exit interview" with Yuri Termikanov that was published in the Washington Post, it is stated that "Management has refused to rule out either downsizing the orchestra or reducing its status as a full-time, 52-weeks-a-year organization."

"Maestro Stepping Down on a Melancholy Note"
Washington Post - May 27, 2006



So, here's my question:   if current CEO Peter Kjome asserts that this discussion has gone on for a while, and as there is documented proof that this season-shortening discussion has taken place since 2006, who are the key players in upper administration/board governance who have had this thought, and what made them think that the hiring of a new CEO (that being Peter Kjome) who has (not saying that he's not up to the job) less experience as an arts administrator than Paul Meecham, provided the moment to push enough money/political power/social capital to push this agenda and make everyone else fall in line?


Stay tuned...

"The King is Half-Undressed"


March 17, 2019

H. Leslie Adams, or "New Ears"....and Lightning in a Bottle

So...what a weekend of music and musicmaking, and again I am grateful to have had the opportunity to support colleagues and friends as an audience member.

The first, soprano Alexandria Bradshaw Critchlow's senior recital.    Alexandria and I first met at the Colour of Music Festival in 2016, and since have had opportunities to work together, two of those opportunities including the performance of works by Jasmine Barnes.    Well, on Friday, Alexandria presented a compelling recital that included "Creole Girl", a fascinating song by H. Leslie Adams (b. 1932) in which questions are asked about the subject's multiculturalism (this "Creole Girl" being of French, Spanish, and African ancestry).

Alexandria also sang - in addition to works by Scarlatti, Brahms, Gounod, and Schubert - Jasmine's compelling arrangement of "Give Me Jesus".    If you have not heard of these phenomenal women, stay tuned - YOU WILL.

The next night, I had the pleasure of hearing Kenneth Overton, Chauncey Packer, Lucia Bradford, and Marsha Thompson as soloists in a performance of the Mozart Requiem at Washington DC's
Duke Ellington School for the Arts.   If Mozart were alive, I trust that he would have referred to this collection of vocalists as his "dream team" for this work - and I'm not simply saying that because I know all of these folk.   This performance was the real-life definition of "lightning in a bottle"!

In an interview with Peter Lindbergh included in Peter Lindbergh:   Selected Work 1996-1998 (Assouline Press), Antonio Ria asks Lindbergh about the evolution of working relationships.   

Mr. Lindbergh answered:  "I first photographed Isabella Rosellini in Paris fifteen years ago, maybe more, and we still to continue to work together....I am used to long-term relationships, even very long ones.  I have been photographing Naomi (Campbell) for ten years, Linda Evangelista for twelve years....These are very personal relations and friendships.  They are never based on public relations.  That would be something totally unacceptable to me."

Having met each of these amazing human beings and vocalists separately (Marsha in 1994, albeit briefly; Chauncey in 2001 at the Utah Festival Opera; Lucia in 2000 at Spoleto Festival USA and Kenneth in 2004 with the Houston Ebony Opera Guild - only to hear him give his 100th performance as Porgy in a Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre performance of Porgy and Bess),  having watched their collective evolution as artists and to see them all together on stage was meaningful in ways that I cannot describe and I am both proud and humbled to call them all my friends.

BACK to H. Leslie Adams, though:    WOW!    A very interesting and captivating musical language this man has created, and after researching I have found that there are three works for violin and piano.  Additionally, how fortunate am I to have stumbled across performances of his Preludes for Piano that were recorded by a pianist and organist who currently lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (which is just up I-83)?

More from the road,
Sam






March 9, 2019

"La Da Dee..."





Considering what I'm seeing as I walk the streets of Philadelphia and Baltimore - as well as what I'm reading about Los Angels and San Francisco - perhaps it's time to revisit this tune and its message.





While walking to Philadelphia's Kimmel Center last summer, I stumbled upon the perfect "social commentary" photo.   However, out of respect for the man who would have been photographed, I did not take a photo.    After all, would any of us have liked to have been photographed sleeping on the sidewalk (what is called "sleeping rough") right outside of the Wells Fargo Tower?   I think not.




Meanwhile, if one goes just a few blocks south of where I live in Baltimore one shall find at least two people sleeping on a steam grate.   It keeps them warm...and I have written about this before.



February 1, 2019

THE BALDWIN CHRONICLES: MIDNIGHT RAMBLE


The past eight months have been tremendously fruitful for Chicago Modern Orchestra Project founding director Renée Baker. In July 2018, Ms. Baker was one of three female African-American composers to participate in Magnetic Fields: Sonic Abstraction at the Museum of Fine Arts of St. Petersburg, Florida. It was also during the month of July that the first of her Baldwin Chronicles was presented to the world.

Described as “a multimedia work of operatic proportions based on texts by James Baldwin” by
Chicago's The Visualist, The Baldwin Chronicles: Negro Ideologies was presented in July 2018 and immediately considered for presentation at Symphony Center by the CSO African-American Network. “While I was initially approached by Symphony Center with an invitation to present Negro Ideologies, I made the choice to create a larger production to further explore James Baldwin's work,” Ms. Baker said during a telephone interview.

This new work, titled The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble receives its world premiere in Buntrock Hall at Chicago's Symphony Center on Saturday, February 16, 2019 at 5:00pm. This is
Ms. Baker's third presentation as Visiting Resident Artist for the Chicago Symphony African-American Network (AAN) at Symphony Center since the successful presentation of Oscar Micheaux's silent movie Body and Soul in 2017 featuring Ms. Baker's vibrant score for jazz orchestra, which was followed by last year's screeing of the 1927 race film The Scar of Shame which also included a new version of the musical score.

The world “prolific” is used to describe those whose output in their chosen fields has been incredibly fruitful and productive. One can definitely include Renée Baker in this category, as she has composed over 2,000 works including symphonies, chamber music, ballets, film scores and operas. She has also published sixteen graphic novels and received commissions from the Chicago Sinfonietta, Joffrey Ballet, Berlin's International Brass, Chicago's Sheds Aquarium and Indiana University's Cinema and Black Film Center Archive. Blue Sonapoeme, Ms. Baker's first opera, was premiered in 2012 at Chicago's South Shore Jazz Festival, and subsequent works have been presented at both the INTUIT Museum the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Kulhspot (Berlin), and the Destijlik Museum in Zwolle, the Netherlands – thus making her the first African-American to have premiered a significant series of successful operas.

The task of delving deeply into the life and work of James Baldwin could be seen as daunting as he was one of the leading writers, intellectuals and activists of the twentieth century. His output, which included novels, essays, poems, articles and sermons, “serve to remind the American public of our full humanity,” Renée said. “James Baldwin was undoubtedly brilliant, but had he been a White man, there would have been a very different reaction and response to his work. Much of his thought process included finding his 'place', even with being a brilliant man of letters who was able to debate anyone.”

This 'finding of place' manifested itself in Baldwin's move to France from the United States at the age of twenty-four. Baldwin wrote about this move in the essay “The Discovery of What it Means to be an American”, describing the decision as the conscious removal of himself from American prejudice and to have his writing understood on its own merit.

Baldwin's decision to live in France, however, was neither an abandoning of the United States nor of himself. In 1957 he returned to the United States and became deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement (while personally eschewing the title of “Civil Rights activist”), his involvement and observation resulting in a series of articles and essays written between 1957 and 1963 about which Time Magazine said “there is not another writer who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South”.

The thoughts included in Baldwin's essays about race in the United States have maintained their relevance through the present day, and equally compelling are the profound, impossible-to-answer questions that appear throughout all of his work. Despite the relationship between James and his father being harsh, the experiences of religion and spirituality pervade Baldwin's writing, as do questions surrounding sexuality, color, relationships, and the sense of 'rootlessness' felt by African-Americans as described by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson who also experienced the racism and segregation of the early twentieth-century when true equality was just outside of the fingertips of millions of African-Americans.

After a profound exploration of and immersion into Baldwin's work, Renée chose the poem “Conundrum” as the centerpiece of Midnight Ramble. “Midnight ramble is a term once used to talk about late-night movies, Ms. Baker said. “In this context, I use the phrase to describe what had to be James Baldwin's thoughts in some of his darkest moments – dark illuminations inside the Black mind.” Included in the 2014 publication Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems, “Conundrum” confronts the question of acceptance. “How do you tell the difference between what's yours and what's not? Those questions are still faced today,” Ms Baker said. “Fortunately for us, Baldwin confronted these questions in an incredibly straightforward and succint manner.”

Threading ideas from essays, novels, the love letter, filmed debates and stitching images and feeling into music, Renée 's intention with The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble is to “plant the listener and viewer into James Baldwin's imagination.” One manner of accomplishing this is the inclusion of the Keith Hampton Singers to signify Baldwin's constant return to the church and the ideals with which he was raised. In addition to the chorus, The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble incorporates performing forces including eleven soloists and the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project. Ms. Baker's work as a modern artist and filmmaker is also included in this production, as all of the set pieces are original creations. Additionally, the set includes a twenty-four foot wide screen on which film, graphics and paintings will be projected including scenes from both New York and Paris in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Beauty and life for Baldwin stem from the precariousness of terror, the sublime moments of the blues, rhythm and stops of improvisation, and the simultaneity of Black life and life in America,” Renée said. “As a storyteller and intellectual, Baldwin occupies a position as a cultural icon and truth-teller for us all, and The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble is a unique space for stitching together music and his poetic imagination.”


Renée Baker's The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble is being produced by and presented at Symphony Center Chicago on Sunday, February 16, 2018 at 5:00pm. With music and libretto by Ms. Baker, the creative team includes concept direction by Bibiana Maite' and set design by Aghijana Daru. Performs include featured vocalists Dee Alexander, Rae-Myra Hilliard, Vickie Johnson, Sheila Jones, Robert Sims, Julian Otis, Cornelius Johnson, Taalib-Din Ziyad, Saalik Ziyad, Yoseph Henry and Jeffrey Burish; the Keith Hampton Singers, and the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project.
For tickets and more information, please visit https://cso.org/ticketsandevents/.