Last Sunday’s February edition of our free family-friendly series “Out of Leftovers” at Symphony Space (Bar Thalia) was special for at least two reasons:
First, we experimented with modifying our format by inserting student performances into the program, alternating between the younger generation and the (slightly) older. By doing so, we gave kids a platform to perform in front of a very informal and friendly audience, and for us adults, it was an opportunity to see once again our beginnings and marvel at the traditions growing into the future. This alternating current of music also made the whole experience more carefree — we were performing for each other, building on each other. It was wonderful to see 5-year old CK and 8-year old YK make their Symphony Space debuts. As the daylight hours get longer, I will definitely look to having more student performances interspersed with “Leftovers” programs. (Families with kids, please contact me to sign up as slots are limited!)
The other experiment was more subtle — we performed a program almost exclusively of African American music but did not promote it as such. This was in response to reflections and sentiments shared by my African American friends & colleagues, who have on many occasions expressed concerns that their origins have become a marketing plot, and that they’re only asked to perform during Black History Month (February). I did not intend to create a program in celebration of Black History Month initially, but the opportunity became irresistible when my original collaborator for February had to withdraw at last minute due to a family matter. I was always very curious about music by African Americans composers, but did not feel somehow permitted to perform it — or even knew where to start looking.
For repertoire, I reached out to my longtime friend Curtis Stewart of the PubliQuartet for his suggestions, much of which we were able to include for a program labeled, simply “Out of Leftovers — American Music”. Though I listed all of the composers (Chevalier de St. Georges, George Walker, Florence Price, William Grant Still) in the promo and at the show, I did not single them out for being African-American, neither in the promotion nor during the concert itself — instead I focused on their achievements.
Thinking about it after the show, it felt like I missed a opportunity to teach the audience something about the African American experience — but I did not feel very well versed in the subject, and didn’t want to mess anything up. Additionally, the main idea was simply to be inclusive to any person who was curious about the wider context of American music, and to let the music speak for itself. Certainly this is the ideal way to experience my own music — not starting with the place where I was born, but the people I’ve studied with, learned from and collaborated with.
Our audience, young and old, loved it all, and I can’t wait to play this program again — and to build upon it – for a future date — and it might not be in February next time around, either!
I’m very grateful to violinists Ariana Kim and Guillaume Pirard, and cellist Valeriya Sholokhova, for taking this journey with me.
The next “Leftovers” are on March 8! See here for more info.