Cycles of My Being --homage to Black Lives Matter Movement
Keepers of narrative prose know to step aside for the greater clarity of poetry. Add the crisp tenor voice of Lawrence Brownlee, equally comfortable with high and low notes, and that poetry precision becomes laser sharp.
Such was the historic experience of seeing and hearing the Chicago premiere of Cycles of My Being, a six-part song cycle inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, with music by Tyshawn Sorey and Text by award-winning poet Terrance Hayes, at the now Smithsonian-affiliated DuSable Museum of African American History. Actually, we learned from the program notes, many of these poems’ lines came from the tenor’s pen as well, as did his seeming extemporaneous word swaps to add references to the black robes of courtroom judges and blue uniforms of police.
The texts simultaneously bottle both rage and restraint—pouring out from Brownlee in a relatively narrowed vocal range that seems to communicate this tension. We travel from the slave ship – “…Black boxes of cargo…’ to what is referred to in the program book as an ending hopeful note, but seemed to this writer to rather paint the images of an incarcerated man with little – toothbrush, hairbrush, mirror and a window’s morning glow- as he keeps on keeping on —“Each day I rise, I know.”
Brownlee and poetry both— sing.
Next stop for Cycles of My Being will be Carnegie Hall. There was a muffled gasp of sorts from the audience when this was announced--- the feeling of being there at a historic cultural moment underlined by the news.
After an intermission, Brownlee with his pianist accompanist, Myra Huang, continued the performance, starting with two signature Donizetti works in the Bel Canto repertoire for which Brownlee is famous. Truth to tell, this writer almost felt dread that the spell of Cycles of My Being would be violently broken. Thankfully, the order of these songs was reversed from the program to start with the more soulful “Una furtive lagrima” from L’elisir d’amore, and then, after this salad course cleanser, a cheerful high note trapeze act by Brownlee singing “Ah, mes amis” from La fille du reminent. Then Brownlee performed two songs popularized by Nat King Cole, a male singer whom Brownlee noted was a role model of sorts, as were Chicago’s Gospel legends that were part of his first church-born musical experiences. The pre-encore finale was two songs in the “traditional” spiritual tradition, including “All Night, All Day”, conjuring images of a benevolent God keeping watch, which Brownlee shared he cherishes as a song that comforts him as his career takes him away from his family and especially his autistic son.
Huang could not ask for a more generous musical collaborator than Brownlee, who was always pointing the spotlight back to her talents as well.
Kudos to Lyric Unlimited for arranging this performance in the DuSable Museum Theater - -- a seemingly perfect venue choice.
You can see Brownlee perform in I Puritani the evening of February 24 and also a matinee on February 28 in the grand Lyric Opera House. (For tickets visit the Lyric opera website or call 312-827-5600.)
Visit the Lyric Unlimited web pages to find out about more Lyric events in our communities.
And, visit the DuSable Museum website for information on exhibits and upcoming events at the museum.
Picture this Post readers in New York take note—the Carnegie Hall reprise of Cycles of My Being on April 24 is highly recommended. Visit the Carnegie Hall website for more information.
ALL PHOTOS BY JACLYN SIMPSON
About the Author: Amy Munice
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About the Author:
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.