It's February again and for many people this is not only the time of year to celebrate love, but also the accomplishments of black people in the United States and around the world. To say people of color have "made it", specifically in music, is an understatement, especially considering Beyoncé is quickly becoming one of the most celebrated artists of all time. While I'm constantly "gettin' bodied" and putting my "love on top", I make sure to acknowledge some of the music and experiences that were so integral in getting me (and blacks as a people) here today.
A couple of weeks ago I took an audition in Rochester and getting there seemed to be just as much of an ordeal as preparing for the thing! Since I had to play with the DSO the day before, my original plan was to drive there straight from the concert. When the show let out, however, it was snowing miserably, and my drive back to my apartment was, in a word, slippery. After an almost-crash on the freeway I decided to book a last minute flight, which I found out was cancelled upon arriving to the airport. I was forced to rent a more snow appropriate vehicle and make my way the best I could. By God's grace I made it, and although I didn't win, I was happy to have overcome the challenges of preparing musically, as well as carefully navigating icy overpasses.
I used the word overcome because it resonates deeply with me, and with black folk in general. "We Shall Overcome", based on an earlier song by black composer Charles Tindley, was the leading anthem of the Civil Rights Movement and a song I'd venture to say most people still know today. The idea behind it is that though times may be tough, and though sometimes we just don't know which way to go, we have to trust that we'll make it somehow. As important as this piece was to blacks in the 60s, it can still be applied today to our situations, trials, and tribulations. If Black History Month goes by without you learning anything, keep this spiritual in your heart.
I mentioned Beyoncé earlier because she said something that is so important for us to live by in her most recent documentary "Life is but a Dream". She said that people need to find the tools and work hard to become who they're supposed to be. As a person, I think I'm on that path, even though there will be the occasional pit fall of losing an audition, or simply having a bad day. More importantly, I think I'm on the right path towards contributing to my people becoming who we're supposed to be in classical music. Blacks are still sparse in professional orchestras by comparison, but overcoming each and every obstacle shows the next generation of black classical musicians that it can be done. Playing with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and being a part of the DSO's Classical Roots Celebration coming up have reiterated this with me, and it humbles me to think that even I can be a small part of Black History. Happy Black History Month to everyone, and no matter how you identify racially remember that you shall overcome. You can and will become who you're supposed to be.
Pictured above: Maya Stone and myself before the final Sphinx Symphony Orchestra concert.
Love is such a funny thing. Love is the source or our biggest weaknesses and strengths, and responsible for what we're most proud of, and what we wish to never tell anyone. At the same time, a lack thereof on a special day like today can make one sad, bitter, and hopeful of something good to come. Some people simply don't care at all about this "love" phenomenon or the day we associate it with, and Valentine's Day only further entrenches them into those feelings. No matter how you feel about it, it's obvious that four letter word has been behind the creation and spread of all sorts of music throughout history, from the Schumann couple's compositions and Beethoven's "immortal beloved" to Whitney Houston's most famous song of all time and most everything else we hear on top 40 radio. Andy and I celebrated earlier this week since I have to work in Detroit this weekend, so today I'm thinking about some of the music that reminds me of him and what we've shared over the years.
Dvorak's "New World Symphony" is probably his most famous work, so I'm sure many people have fond memories attached to this piece. During my second year in Los Angeles this piece was programed with the American Youth Symphony, and at that point I was more than ready to go back to Memphis and spend more time with Andy. The slow movement of the work contains the "Going Home" theme we all can recognize in the english horn, and that's the only thing I wanted to do during rehearsals and performances of that work. The piece was later programmed in Memphis with the Memphis Repertory Orchestra, and hearing that special theme again, but in my hometown with Andy in the audience, made it all better.
One thing I'm very grateful for is Andy's coming to many of my performances, even though he may not have wanted to. Years ago back in my University of Memphis days I invited him to a wind ensemble concert, in which one of the pieces was the clarinet concerto, "Black Dog" by Scott McAllister, composed after the famous Led Zeppelin tune with the same title. Although I think it's a very interesting work, Andy made it clear to me after the concert that he did not like that one. I was just happy he paid enough attention to have an opinion...haha That piece always makes me think of him when it comes through my iTunes shuffle.
When you start dating someone that "in-home" movie night is sure to happen sooner or later. Well, Andy invited me over for this after our very first date, and we watched "Cruel Intentions". I'd never seen it but it ended up being a really great film, and I was deeply moved by the final scene when everything came into the light, so to speak. The ending credits role with the song "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve in the background, and no other song (in my opinion) defines the roller coaster of love in a title better. Me and Andy have had our ups and downs like any other couple, just as the song might suggest, but to this day I think of our first encounter and how far we've come every time I hear it.
Because love is so influential we really have to be careful about the music we mix into our personal lives. I'm grateful that I'm in a situation where most of the music I listen to evokes positive memories, but music could just as easily set me off and put me in a bad mood. Congratulations to all the happy couples today, and if you're single, listen to some music that makes you feel good! If you're working on the beginnings of your own happily ever after, choose your music carefully...
Now if you ask Andy, unfortunately, he'd say our song is "Smack Dat" by Akon. I still need to figure out what we're going to do about that...