5 Reeds (flutes, oboe, clarinets, bassoon, saxophones); Horn, 2 Trumpets in Bb, Trombone, Tuba; Piano, Banjo, Drum Set/Percussion; Cello(s), Bass; Bass-Baritone; SATB Chorus
Some years ago, my good friend Davone Tines (a fabulous bass-baritone) and I bonded over our mutual love of Langston Hughes’ poetry. After poring through his works, we settled on transforming his interesting narrative work “The Black Clown” into a song cycle. “The Black Clown” is striking both for its subject matter (a redemptive tale of a black minstrel discarding his clown costume and asserting his basic humanity) and its natural inclination towards performance (Hughes intended the poem to be read as a dramatic monologue accompanied by piano or ensemble, and he even accompanies the poem’s main text with a sidebar full of suggestions for stage directions and musical cues). Since its initial conception, the project has grown into a full-fledged musical production commissioned by the American Repertory Theater. The musical language dwells in the nexus between early-20th-century jazz and ragtime, African-American spirituals, 19th-century art song, and more idiosyncratic compositional language.