ASU’s Chamber Orchestra and DBR Lab concert celebrates Black composers

February 24, 2023

In celebration of Black History Month, the Arizona State University orchestras and DBR Lab will collaborate on a concert celebrating both contemporary and historical contributions made by Black composers.

The “Reflections of Hope” concert features spoken word, dance and music by the ASU Chamber Orchestra, Herberger Associate and Institute Professor Daniel Bernard Roumain, soprano and School of Music, Dance and Theatre MM alumna Yophi Adia Bost, MFA dance student Alecea Housworth and DMA conducting students Josef Sieber and Kara Piatt. Daniel Bernard Roumain playing a violin. The “Reflections of Hope” concert features spoken word, dance and music by ASU Herberger Associate and Institute Professor Daniel Bernard Roumain. Photo courtesy Daniel Bernard Roumain Download Full Image

The program includes Jessie Montgomery’s “I Want to Go Home,” a traditional Black spiritual set in a hybrid Gregorian chant/spiritual style, Quinn Mason’s moving “Reflections on a Memorial,” Julius Eastman’s minimalist masterpiece “Joy Boy,” Roumain’s ode to the civil rights work of Rosa Parks “Isorhythmiclationistic” and a premiere arrangement of Roumain’s powerful “They Still Want to Kill Us,” commemorating the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. There will be a post-concert discussion to conclude the evening.

“Although there is trauma referenced in the works we are performing, there is also hope, strength, solidarity and love,” said Jeffery Meyer, director of ASU Orchestras.

“‘Reflections of Hope’ is a uniquely collaborative event for our musicians,” Piatt said. “In cultivating this concert, we wanted to give the musicians opportunities to be involved in all aspects of the program. The sharing of perspectives at the heart of this concert with the musicians coordinates directly with the themes presented by the music — the desire to share experiences, to educate, to search for new possibilities in society and culture, and, most importantly, to connect with each other across all boundaries.”

Roumain’s work as a composer, performer, educator and activist spans more than three decades. Known for his signature violin sounds infused with electronic and African American music influences, he is a composer of chamber, orchestral and operatic works.  

“As a Black, Haitian American composer, I think about those liminal spaces where I feel my full, creative self,” Roumain said. “That space is ever-changing, between my body, emotions and dreams. I suspect there’s a liminal space between each of these works (performed) and the composers who wrote them, expressing power, pain, sexual identity, justice and injustice, freedom, life and death, and joy. And I can feel that the liminal space between all the contributors (students) on the program, the ASU Orchestra program and my own work as a collaborator with them is one of safety, security and trust.” 

Roumain has won an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for his collaborations with ESPN; recently scored the film “Ailey” (directed by Jamila Wignot), which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival; scored “The Just and The Blind,” a collaboration with spoken word artist and writer Marc Bamuthi Joseph that was commissioned by Carnegie Hall; and is about to premiere a new work for the Lyric Opera of Chicago called “Proximity: The Walkers” in collaboration with the acclaimed actor/writer Anna Deavere Smith.

DBR Lab, founded by Roumain, is a class, collective and experience where individual ideas and group collaborations form a singular space where artists and audiences can engage and contribute. The Lab operates in close collaboration with DBR Music Productions and SOZO Artists, and is in residence at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

“Watching and listening to all of the contributors (students) engaged in the hard work of performing work by American composers who have been, and are still struggling to be seen and heard on our stages is a reminder of what makes our ASU Chamber Orchestra necessary, vibrant and vital — young people making music, message, magic and meaning together,” Roumain said.

ASU Chamber Orchestra Strings:
“Reflections of Hope and Home”
7:30 p.m., Feb. 27
Organ Hall
Free admission

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre