Going national

I am pleased to announce that I have just been elected to serve on the national board of the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM). If you go to www.nanm.org, you’ll learn that this organization has been dedicated to the preservation, encouragement, and advocacy of all genres of music created and/or performed by African Americans since 1919.
To grasp the breadth and scope of NANM over the last century, here are some of the notable artists that have given performances with this great organization:

Clockwise from top left:
Marian Anderson, Ellis Marsalis, Jessye Norman, Robert McFerrin, Lena Horne, William Warfield
Clinicians and lecturers of note include Wendell Whalum, Doris McGinty, Alain Locke, Grace Bumbry, Sylvia Olden Lee, James Cleveland, Robert Ray, Willis Patterson, Roland Carter, Brazeal Dennard, Robert Harris, and Shirley Verrett. These notables (my heroes) represent only a fraction of the many musicians, educators, scholars, and lovers of music who constitute the musical fabric of this organization.
During the national convention in New Orleans, LA this past week, I ran for a post on the national board of NANM because I believe in its mission, I am proud of its legacy, and I want to play a constructive role in its future. NANM is one of the most profoundly diverse organizations in this nation. Yes, we proudly claim our identity as Black, African-American, and Negro. But as a body of people, we are also multicultural, multi-stylistic, intergenerational, inter-geographical, multi-lingual, inter-religious, and socio-economically dynamic and diverse. What a gift we are to our people and to our nation as an exquisite example of how to recognize our common cultural heritage while celebrating our diversity and expanding our legacy! The National Association of Negro Musicians is a beacon of light in our country during times of great darkness, and I am honored for the opportunity to officially serve as a national ambassador for NANM. I look forward to doing my part to shine its light throughout this country.

Resigning from SGVCC with Love

Dear Friends,

Effective June 30th of this year, I will resign from my position as Artistic Director of the San Gabriel Valley Choral Company. This decision is one that I have struggled with, as SGVCC has meant so much to me over these last 5 years. The time seems right for this transition, as I have accepted a full-time position as choral instructor at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City.

With SGVCC, I have been nurtured and supported, and I have grown exponentially as a conductor. My vision as an artistic director was realized and validated through my work with SGVCC – for this I am deeply grateful. We served children and the elderly in our community, collaborated with other arts and civic organizations, performed major works, sang a wide variety of styles, honored each other, and had so much fun! I have learned so much about non-profit arts management, board succession, fundraising, and staff management. Most of all, I have made beautiful music with a group of the most beautiful people on the planet. Our community is so special, and we should never ever take that for granted.

I have no doubt that under the leadership of the brilliant Dr. Alexandra Grabarchuk, SGVCC will continue to thrive and grow. As my work with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Project, Street Symphony, and the National Association of Negro Musicians continues, I look forward to remaining connected to SGVCC.

My final concert with SGVCC is this Saturday, June 24 at 7pm. Our concert entitled ”Route 66- Music and the All-American Highway” features jazz and blues, folk tunes, and rock ‘n’ roll songs that explore our relationship with this historic highway. It’s a choral celebration of America’s love affair with the open road and the stories we tell on the journey of life. Our children’s choir “Kids in Concert” will also be featured. Tickets are now available at the cost of $5 for children, $15 for students and seniors, and $20 for the general public. The concert will be held in the beautiful acoustical space of The Parish of Saint Luke, 122 S. California Avenue in Monrovia. More information can be found at www.choralcompany.org or by calling 818-802- 9620.

Yours truly,

Zanaida Robles

It’s my birthday!

It’s May 25th.  Happy Birthday to me!
I’m celebrating by compiling a top 10 list of my favorite musical artists, as of this day in my life:

Bruno Mars

His live performances are actually even better than his recordings!


Steve Reich

I just performed his Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ and Drumming with the Jacaranda group in Santa Monica. Reich’s deep knowledge of Ghanaian drum music permeates his works. I feel connected to my core, to something primal when I sing them and hear them.

Santa Fe Desert Chorale

Can’t get their 2015 ACDA performance in Salt Lake City out of my mind.


Leif Ove Andsnes

Best recording of Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor EVER


The Chieftains

Their recording of “Lots of Drops of Brandy” is the the happiest music I’ve ever heard.

Chris Thile

Simply the best, most accomplished and versatile mandolin virtuoso. Founding member of Nickel Creek. Currently touring with Punch Brothers, and host of Prairie Home Companion.

Frank Sinatra

This man really could sing!! I heard this song called “Crush” on KJZZ the other night. I was slain.

Deborah Cox

Her song “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” is STILL my jam. Plus, she nails the Whitney Houston character in “The Bodyguard” musical.

Denyce Graves

The voice for whom the solo in my arrangement of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was written.

…and today’s #1 favorite is…

Morris Robinson

Former Citadel football player turned internationally-known opera singer, I follow Morris on Facebook religiously. Morris is Gittn’er done!!

This list is subject to change.

I’m gonna be on the radio!

Conductor Jenny Wong and I can be heard on KUSC tomorrow morning, talking about LA Master Chorale’s upcoming “Wade in the Water” concert this Sunday!

I’m so honored to be part of this amazing ensemble, and to have my arrangement of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing included in the program.  Learn more about the concert with the link below (and get your tickets now), and turn in to hear our interview.


KUSC has many ways to listen. Learn about their web stream, apps, Apple TV and more here

Arts Alive
with Brian Lauritzen
KUSC — 91.5 FM
Saturday, April 29
8am segment

Catch the concert!
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Wade in the Water
Sunday, April 30, 7pm
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Get tickets

A song for every voice — then and now

Historical musicology is not my strong suit.

I have a tough time remembering dates and details, and as a non-linear thinker, I often feel like an awkward storyteller. For this reason, I should probably always carry with me some notes on my arrangement of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, a work that will be featured in LA Master Chorale’s upcoming “Wade in the Water” concert on April 30.

Controversial issues tend to surface with every performance, raising questions that include

  • “Who should (or shouldn’t) sing this piece?”
  • “To whom does it speak?”
  • “For whom was it written?”
  • “Shouldn’t we stand when we hear it?”
  • “Does it even belong on the concert stage?”

The questions outline the impact of this song. Over the years, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing has gained such importance in the repertoire that it is commonly referred to as the “Black National Anthem”, making it doubly important to understand that the original hymn has a life that’s larger than any one setting, and a history that can only be understood in its own context.  (For anyone who is interested, this simple Google search can get you started.)

But while historical musicology is not my strong suit, socio-theomusicology is where my mind and soul thrive. I could testify for days about how Lift Ev’ry Voice wasn’t written just to empower and/or encourage a group of people who are constantly oppressed and dehumanized. It is also a bold statement of present-day victory. The fact that this poetry even exists is a testament to the wisdom and resilience of Black Americans whose faith (rooted, for better or for worse, in Christianity) said that the time for rejoicing is now; the time of our triumph is now; that the price has been paid, death has been conquered, and while there will always be work to do, by God’s grace we are here NOW, and we should sing.

This work fills me with deep gratitude and humility, and I am extraordinarily honored that this incredibly prophetic and timely poetry was composed and embraced by my people, people who identified themselves as Negro. Lift Ev’ry Voice connects me to my roots, honors the present, and points toward the future. Yet it simultaneously connects my people to every other people on this planet, by speaking to our common struggle with brutality and injustice. Mostly, it speaks to the value of EVERY collective human voice that has ever been imprisoned, demoralized, persecuted, and/or murdered.

The Johnson brothers

What an extraordinary gift was given to this country through this work from James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson, two brilliant brothers whose heritage was Negro. THIS is why we proudly refer to this work as the Negro National Anthem – a stirring and timeless anthem for a nation comprised of all nations, written by Negroes – like me.