According to legend, Jesus Christ was crucified when he was 33 years old. That's how old I turned today...
As I sit and reflect on these 33 years, I'm reminded of my very tumultuous journey. Whether it was a job in the service industry, with the school systems, and even in orchestras, there have been people at every turn trying to take me down. Isn't it sad that your very best will never be enough for some people? Over the course of my career, and my LIFE for that matter, they've tried to cut me down...
I'm not actually sure WHY I'm thinking about these sorts of things on my birthday today. The way they took down Jesus at my age (again, according to legend), the illnesses that have killed folks my age, and even the character assassinations that have plagued the world's public figures. I know that I'm not FAMOUS famous, but I've definitely had to adjust the way I move over this past year when it comes to social media, specifically. As one of my teachers once told me, "With great privilege comes great responsibility," and it's MY responsibility to make sure I live many, many more years, because there's work to be done.
Thanks in advance for the birthday wishes, and (maybe) the birthday gifts. With COVID-19 spreading across the world, I'm simply hoping to survive today. When it's not your MENTAL health giving you problems, it's the threat of failed PHYSICAL health, isn't it? The world does its best to crucify you in one way or another...
Shout out to Tiffany "New York" Pollard for always giving me what I need. Be sure to wish me a happy birthday by checking out TRILLOQUY. There's something there for everyone, and as Scott and I approach year two of the podcast I'm hoping to see the numbers continue to grow.
I'm gonna be listening to some Drake today - check my "What I'm Listening To" page to find out why...
Welcome to Women's History Month! As you go through the month of March exploring and learning more about the stories of women and girls, remember that the legacies of women of color (especially Black women) deserve a little extra attention - that's what we call equity, right? As Scott and I continue to backlog our TRILLOQUY interviews, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brandon Keith Brown earlier this week. In our conversation, he brought up a woman named Hazel Harrison. I hadn't heard of her, but after doing a little reading I was SHOCKED to have never heard of her! This woman of classical music days past served on the faculty of Howard University, and even made history across the pond! I really encourage you to read more about her - a name that you should DEFINITELY know.
The way that I've decided to honor Women's History Month on TRILLOQUY is by featuring a woman in each opus, as well as shouting out a few women composers who I think deserve a few more flowers. Today's opus (March 5) features Katie Brown and Dalanie Harris, from the Classically Black Podcast. I'm so proud of them - the work they do is BEYOND important, and I hope you'll go check out the conversation that Scott and I had with them. Here's a sample of what you can expect...
While I'm here, I also wanted to offer a shout out and a THANK YOU to Amanda Cook. She and the rest of her team offer some incredible perspectives on new music over at icareifyoulisten.com. I had the honor of being interviewed by Amanda last month, and you can check out that feature here. I look forward to having Amanda on TRILLOQUY in early June!
Listen, it's hard out here. More so for women than for me, so we all have to make sure we're doing what we can to support each other. The road is long, and the road is rough, but you can do it. I believe in you! Keep me in your thoughts...
I'm actually going to keep this one short and sweet.
Last week, I attended the annual Sphinx Connect in Detroit. I had the pleasure of going with my TRILLOQUY co-host, Scott Blankenship this year, so it was great to see his eyes opened to a few new ideas. You can take a listen to our official review of the conference in this week's opus of TRILLOQUY. We also have a conversation about the definition of jazz - I think more people need to be engaging this as we move forward in classical music and explore conversations of diverse programming. Here's a clip from the opus:
It was BEYOND an honor to meet so many people, to participate in several of the Sphinx panels, and to engage with fans of TRILLOQUY! Every year, the conference gets a little more "trill" than in years past. This movement was inspired, in part, by a panel that I participated in a few years back. You can take a look at that one here (and forgive my attire - I've transitioned beyond the suit and tie at this point in my career):
I consider myself a classical music "disrupter" and agitator. The time is coming for me to stick my neck out and disrupt what I consider one of my safe spaces. It's time for Black people to address the inequity behind the phrase "people of color", in spaces that welcome those conversations AND in spaces where those conversations are considered a little uncomfortable. Time will tell which of those two categories Sphinx falls in...
Anyway, like I said, I'm keeping this one short and sweet. Listen - if I shook your hand at Sphinx and there's ANYTHING that I can do to help you, please reach out. I'm rooting for everybody, and I'm ESPECIALLY rooting for everybody black.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Will van de Crommert for my TRILLOQUY podcast. He's a composer of commercial music (music for film, TV, advertisements, etc.), and he has a really interesting perspective on classical music that I encourage you to check out in the latest opus of TRILLOQUY. One of the topics he brought up was the idea of the canon, and how people can impact it both positively and negatively. Here's a clip from the episode, where he touches on this topic:
I'll be honest with you - I actually hadn't spent too much time thinking about the "canon" directly, but this conversation has DEFINITELY been one of the foundations of my work.
First and foremost, I think I should define "canon". Here's what Dictionary.com says:
Maybe you can already see where I'm going with this. When we accept the idea of a musical "canon", we're doing a few things that I draw issue with. Accepting the existence of a "canon" in something as broad, wide-ranging, and complex as classical music is accepting the practices that manufactured it. The maintenance of that "canon" is led by people who don't have a problem with the problematic practices that created it. For the sake of speaking more specifically, I'll offer an example:
When people talk about classical music by Black composers these days, William Grant Still is the first name to pop up most times, right? I heard his name in passing for the first time as a senior in college. I didn't actually get to perform an of his symphonic music until about 3 or 4 years ago. Why is this? Because his music isn't as good? Because it's not important to the "canon"? Or is it because the people who wrote the Music History textbooks that I learned from didn't care about black people and black music? The same could be said for Florence Price, Nathaniel Dett, Francis Johnson, Margaret Bonds, and countless others. This issue also outlines the fact that only western-music is considered to be a part of the "canon" - something that another TRILLOQUY guest addressed with me as well. Why should music like this be othered?
Focusing on the "canon" is something that's come up at my job. As our Music Director continues to work and strive for programming excellence through the exploration of music by diverse composers, classical music LISTENERS (and most orchestras) continue to rely on what is familiar, or again, what's in the "canon". How can I justifiably stand behind practices that reinforce a musical focus that wasn't codified with someone like me in mind? How could I possibly accept the "canon"?
I'm happy to say that my organization is interested in this topic, and members of management have thoughtfully engaged this conversation with me in every way they can. It's not an overnight fix, though. The "canon" has been reinforced across generations, and it'll take at least half that long to disrupt it. I don't have anywhere else to be, so I'm down for the long, drawn-out battle.
In what ways are you disrupting the "canon" in your professional life?
Obviously, the latter part of 2019 was pretty hectic on my end, otherwise I would have written something here last month. What a year! Now that it's officially 2020, lots of people are doing their year-end wrap ups. Scott and I did one for TRILLOQUY that you can check out here.
TRILLOQUY was without a doubt my biggest accomplishment of 2019. Having a platform is one thing, but having a platform that you created is another thing. I got to interview so many interesting guests, and I feel like I learn something new every week we produce the podcast. One of my goals this year is to have a really big name guest on. Joe Budden inspired me to start a podcast in the first place, so getting to interview him would be BEYOND an honor. I guess we'll have to see! TRILLOQUY even managed to get a nice copyright last year...
When I think back to 2019, some of my other stand-out moments include getting to be on the Need to Know Podcast, becoming a board member for the American Composers Forum, and being nominated for the Twin Cities' 40 Under 40! The jury is still out on that one, so cross your fingers and hope that I make it through! On the non-professional side of things, a stand out moment was getting to go back to my hometown of Memphis for the first time in many years. It was also a joy to meet my nephew, Jayren, for the first time.
Last year definitely had its challenges. I'm comfortable to admit that I had some suicidal thoughts in 2019, because working overnight can be a real BITCH (excuse the language). Thanks to continued therapy and taking my time off more seriously, I can honestly say I'm in a much better place. I probably wouldn't have made it to 2020 without my boyfriend, Dell, and my brother from another mother, Scott. Looking ahead, I hope that my relationships with my two closest confidants can grow even stronger in 2020. I have big plans for this new year, and I won't be able to do it without my support system. How about you make that one of your goals, too? Make your personal support system, no matter how big or small, the most important aspect of your day to day. Here's to (hopefully) visiting and typing into this blog more.
To freedom! (And also, to friendship).
I'm sure the news is going to be FILLED with election results all day today. I heard that Kentucky went blue - that's exciting! My former city of Knoxville is also celebrating, because for the first time in history their local government is comprised of mostly women. It's a perspective and leadership that Knoxville desperately needs - I'm going to keep an eye on what happens down there.
In my neck of the woods, the big vote was trash - LITERALLY! The city of Saint Paul is in a unique situation, in which trash collection is private. If you want your trashed picked up, you have to pay for it privately. While many think that this is great, others cite the many reasons why there should be a municipal trash service. This all came to a head on election day, when the citizens of Saint Paul were charged with deciding on whether or not this should continue.
I don't typically pay much attention to campaign signs, but you couldn't help but to pay attention when it came to this vote. Walking down the street, you'd see signs that simply read "Vote Yes" or "Vote No". The signs in my neighborhood all said, "Vote No", because rich people don't need to worry about the needs of the less fortunate, right?
As I walked up to my polling station (which is very conveniently, about a 60 second walk from my apartment building), I noticed how there were no lines, no waiting, and a very welcome and open environment that made voting seem really easy. I went in the middle of the day, so I'm sure it got crowded later on, but still - it was all so easy and so convenient.
After I left, I couldn't help but to think about other neighborhoods and communities. Is voting as easy there as it is for me? Is there suppression at play in other parts of town? I'm used to being asked for an ID, but the attendants only asked for my name at the desk. Is this the reality for voters in say, East Saint Paul?
I don't really have a point to make, other than this: As you prepare to vote for president next year, keep ALL communities in mind, and not just yours. I think I'm going to take the day off to make sure people who live in other parts of my city have the opportunity to vote. It's SUPER easy where I live, but maybe that's not the reality for everyone. It's something that I think everyone should be thinking about as we approach what I think is the most important vote of my generation.
By the way, I voted for a municipal trash service - how dare the millionaires that live along Summit Avenue, and in the other mansions that dot my neighborhood, think only about themselves.
Last Saturday I was invited to see a Minnesota Orchestra performance. I have a little history with this organization, and if you'd like to get THAT scoop, just revisit TRILLOQUY opus 14.
Anyway, I was invited by Afa Dworkin, the President and CEO of Sphinx, whose husband was to narrate the premiere of "An American Rhapsody". If you know me, you know that I support all things black, so I was there with bells on, as they say.
I walk into the hall and I instantly get this feeling of PTSD. Who are these people? Am I welcome here? Will this be an experience I'll remember? As the usher brought Dell and I to our seats, I settled in and prepared myself for whatever was to come.
Fast forward past the first two pieces (which included Jessie Montgomery's "Starburst" - shout out to her), and you have "An American Rhapsody" - music by Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, with the narration of words by George Washington. Here's a bit of what was in the program, regarding this work:
I should have known what was coming up with the use of the phrase, "human frailty that all too often renders our valor imperfect". The music was beautiful (and was performed decently), but the words! I'll have to find a transcript, but my biggest takeaways were Washington's words on slavery - specifically HIS slaves. Washington's "valor" was found in his desire to free his slaves. It was just a desire, though, because they were only to be freed after his wife passed, and after the harvest. The final words of the narration were, "Tis well". Is all well?
Dell and I left after intermission - I'd heard enough. It would be one thing if these events were painted with the truth and rawness that are the words of a slave owner - the ownership of the human body and spirit as something that should NEVER be forgiven. But this wasn't the case. At the end of the performance, people stood up, applauded, and cheered with that sense of "yes, tis well! Washington was just a man of his time, and even WANTED to free his slaves!" It reminds me a lot of this scene from Django:
I didn't mention that kids from one of the Twin Cities' black schools were paraded on stage as well, to show how culturally competent the orchestra is, right? I ALSO didn't mention that this concert was planned ONLY because the orchestra's midwest tour was cancelled, so they didn't even want to do this in the first place.
I'm tired. Orchestras are not going to willfully address how inept and incompetent they are when it comes to community engagement and cultural equity. If you call them out, they try and come for your job. This isn't new information, or even a new experience for me - just showcasing another example of why I left the stage for a job in media.
Over the past two weeks I've typed and deleted about 4 blogs posts. It's not easy talking about hitting emotional lows, so instead of letting my feels get lost in translation, I decided to take a break from it all for a few days.
Before I get into how I spent three whole days ignoring email, my radio show prep, and even my podcast, I'd like to pat myself on the back for the completion of a project that's bigger than anything I've ever tried to do before. American Public Media has a group of donors that get to attend all of the really special events - private receptions, concerts, and recently, the live taping of TRILLOQUY. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann, Scott and I decided to pull together a live opus, featuring women who we thought could speak to Clara's legacy as a musician, muse, and mother. I was beyond thrilled at the outcome, and I'm even more excited for the first live opus of TRILLOQUY to be released on October 17th! Below is a photo that was taken at the end of the event - you can see the others, here.
So by the time this event was done, I was ready to pull all of my hair out. As Big Sean once said, "I feel better at work", but even a workaholic like me needs a little time away. With Scott's help, me and Dell took a trip way up north, to Lake Superior.
If you've never been to the North Shore of Minnesota, I definitely recommend. There aren't a ton of shops or clubs to keep you busy - you're forced to heal and collect yourself in this string of small towns dotted along a coast that might as well be the ocean! Here are a few photos from the trip:
If I've missed your email, DM, or any other sort of message over the past few days, I'm sorry. Or maybe I'm not. As I continue to establish boundaries between my work and personal lives, I'm finding that sacrifices have to be made. Personally, my biggest sacrifice is getting used to the feeling that people can't always have access to me. It's also a very new feeling for me to pass off my work to other people, but I'm getting there. Scott handles the TRILLOQUY production calendar at this point, and I even let Dell do a load of my laundry - if you know me, these are HUGE steps!
I'm feeling semi-refreshed right now, and while I'm glad to be back at work, I'm looking forward to the next long weekend I can use for mental health and rejuvenation. Shout out to my guys, Scott and Dell, for helping me cross the threshold back into sanity.
Do people ALWAYS have access to you? When was the last time you took a few days for yourself? How's your mental health? Don't be afraid to ask the people close to you these questions, and MOST importantly, don't forget to ask yourself these questions!
Maybe you've heard that trope before - people like crabs in a bucket, always pulling whoever's at the top back down to the bottom. While I understand that lots of people are like this, it's an idea I tend to reject. First of all, there shouldn't be a bucket. Secondly, why would you ever try to pull someone down who could potentially pull you up? I'm by no means done climbing myself, but that doesn't mean I can't "pull people up", so to speak, in my own way.
Last February, I had the honor of hosting an event at the annual Sphinx Conference called Sphinx Tank. It's a lot like the show, Shark Tank, but music-centered. The first person to pitch to the team of sharks was 19-year-old Cameren Anai Williams. This Julliard student has already achieved so much, including starting her own non-profit, and writing a children's book called Kinderlute! You can take a look at her pitch presentation here:
Cameren didn't win the top prize at this event, but she DID win my attention! American Public Media offers a monthly feature to kids called Classical Kids Storytime, and my first thought was that we needed to feature Cameren's book! What better "back to school" feature could there be, than a story about how kids should take care of their new instruments? There were a few concerns about how this story would translate digitally, but thanks to our really incredible team we got it done just in time for the September edition. I even had the pleasure of voicing the story! You can check it out here:
In addition to making sure we featured Cameren's book, I wanted to feature Cameren, herself! The biggest platform I have personally (other than my nightly radio show) is my podcast, TRILLOQUY, so I scheduled an interview and got it done in time for the release of the digital version of Kinderlute. You can take a listen to our conversation (alongside my review of Bob Watt's "Black Horn") here. Below is an excerpt of our conversation, where Cameren talks about the importance of diversity in her book.
I've pumped up the work of my fellow black classical musician everywhere I can - on my show, through one of my organization's projects, on my podcast, through my social media, and even here, on my website. I wonder if I'm missing anything....
It's up to all of us to change the face of classical music, and this is how I'm doing it - I'm using my positions and my connections equitably. Spend an hour of your day today figuring out how you can dismantle the "crabs in a bucket" trope, and big up someone's work! Hell, share this blog post so that you can help raise awareness about Cameren's work as well! If we all maintain an attitude of building each other up, we'll not only get rid of that proverbial bucket, but build a world where people don't even remember it.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending a Tyler, the Creator concert! I've watched his Adult Swim and VICELAND specials for many years now, but I was actually relatively new to his music when IGOR came out a few months back. It was a really phenomenal show that I won't soon forget. Here's a bit of my cell phone footage, taken during his performance of the hit single from IGOR, called, "Earfquake":
Tyler's openers were Goldlink and Jaden Smith. While Goldlink gave a pretty traditional hip-hop performance, Jaden kept using his time on the stage to announce Tyler as his boyfriend. If you've listened to IGOR, you know that Tyler has some bisexual tendencies, so it's not really a big deal for me to hear Jaden trolling in that way (or maybe the two are in a relationship - I don't know), but it made the whole experience feel a little different.
I guess I should make it clear that this was definitely a younger crowd - most folks I saw had X's on their hands, which meant they weren't allowed to drink at the bars. With younger crowds come younger perspectives, and it's probably safe to say that younger people tend to be a little more progressive, right? Am I becoming the old(er) gay man who's always going to be surprised by a little cultural competency in spaces I wouldn't expect to see it? Maybe I should have a little more faith in where society is headed. Quite frankly, "queer" events tend to be unattractive to me, because I don't like the idea of reinforcing the white-centric nature of most LGBTQ+ spaces. With that being said, it felt nice to find myself in a space where I could be me, naturally - 100% black and 100% queer. Shout out to the Armory for hosting this really cool event.
There's a clip from HBO's "The Shop" that's been circling around. In it, Lil Nas X is forced to address his coming out, which highlights one of my biggest challenges with my black people - our lack of ability as a race to make sure our spaces are ALL of our spaces. Here's the clip:
There are a number of reasons why I'm challenged by this clip. First of all, why is Kevin Hart acting like he doesn't understand black homophobia, considering his recent drama with the Academy Awards? Also, why was this even a topic of discussion? As much as I feel like I have to validate blackness to white people, I feel like I have to validate queer-ness to black people. The problem is, I refuse to align myself with any white-centered effort to cancel a black person. We're here for our brothers, but our brothers are (more often than not) not here for us. It's tiring.
Shout out again to Tyler, the Creator, for figuring out how to authentically (and naturally) create spaces both black and queer, simultaneously. I'm still working on it, myself.