The field of classical music was and remains racist. The racism is documented, pervasive, and continues. AMERICA was founded in the blood and slavery of BIPOC people, inflicted upon us in the brutality of white people, and these acts are part of a policy of oppression which manifest as white supremacy.
Just days ago, a 9 year old Black girl in Rochester, NY was handcuffed and pepper sprayed by 3 white officers. Think about any child. Think about your child. Think about the trauma and damage that young, innocent girl will carry with her the rest of her adult life. Think about what you would do if this was your child and what you won’t ever do when it happens again.
I wrote this work knowing that a brilliant artist---with her own stories of immigration, struggle, resolve, and success---would be playing and advocating for an array of composers and change. Her work is compelling, urgent and beautiful. America’s white classical community would do well to follow her lead and fully embrace her voice. Until that happens, America’s BIPOC classical community will continue to suffer, and their music and voices won’t be heard.
I don’t want to be complicit in the horrors of white America, so, as a composer, I will do all that I can to remind us all just how much America has not, is not, and may not ever really be beautiful.
This is my variation on the song, America the Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward. The score also contains fragments of Lift Every Voice And Sing—commonly referred to as the Black National Anthem---by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamund Johnson; We Shall Overcome attributed to Lucille Simmons with words by Charles Albert Tindley; and Wade in the Water by John Wesley Work II and Frederick J. Work.
This country has created horrors for so many, that the title reflects how I feel, and the music is an expression of anger and rage and sorrow.
Is there still hope for us?
Daniel Bernard Roumain’s acclaimed work as a composer, performer, educator, and activist spans more than two decades, and he has been commissioned by venerable artists and institutions worldwide. “About as omnivorous as a contemporary artist gets” (NYT), DBR is perhaps the only composer whose collaborations span Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones, Savion Glover and Lady Gaga.
Known for his signature violin sounds infused with myriad electronic, urban, and African-American music influences, DBR takes his genre-bending music beyond the proscenium. He is a composer of chamber, orchestral, and operatic works; has won an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for his collaborations with ESPN; featured as keynote performer at technology conferences; and created large scale, site-specific musical events for public spaces. DBR earned his doctorate in Music Composition from the University of Michigan and is currently Institute Professor and Professor of Practice at Arizona State University.
An avid arts industry leader, DBR serves on the board of directors of the League of American Orchestras, Association of Performing Arts Presenters and Creative Capital, the advisory committee of the Sphinx Organization, and was co-chair of 2015 and 2016 APAP Conferences.
DBR has most recently created the musical score for The Just and The Blind, a collaboration with spoken word artist and writer Marc Bamuthi Joseph, commissioned by Carnegie Hall; and a new work for Washington State University’s Symphonic Band, Falling Black Into The Sky, based on the work of the artist James Turrell and his “light work” at Roden Crater. DBR is currently creating Cipher, a new pocket opera for the Philadelphia Boys Choir, with a libretto by Joseph, based on the incarceration of young, Black boys.
As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents. They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization. Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor. Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility. In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far. CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward". I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities, whom we felt we could easily move forward.
- Min Kwon