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.

Just stop

“I am ready. I am loved. And I have everything I need…”

… is the opposite of what I think and feel most of the time. It seems like this past month has been full of lessons about about endurance and faith. At the forefront of my consciousness this morning is that drive to Santa Monica I need to make… like, right now. I’ve been thinking of Daniel Chaney everyday because I love him and he’s in hospice right now. I think “I’m not thinking of the right things right now! I am supposed to be thinking something else!”

Right now, I am ready and I have everything that I need. And so does Daniel. So do my colleagues in Santa Monica. And my car has a full tank of gas, and I have plenty of time to get where I’m going because I intentionally planned ahead yesterday. My priorities ARE in order because all those things about which I think I am supposed to be thinking, those things are ALWAYS in my consciousness. I know that whether I succeed today or not, I am worthy of love everyday, and so are all of us. I get a new chance to do right everyday, and so do all of us. I get a new set of hours everyday, I can choose how to make the most of them without being “wrong.” And so can all of us.

I arrived at this understanding this morning because people I care about have been telling me to “Stop.” My support system has been telling me to stop and listen; to be mindful; to pray; to be in relationship with my thoughts and my surroundings; to respond less and listen more. And this morning, I actually chose to try it.

I think I actually meditated!

I might be a teeny tine bit late today (probably not though), but I actually MEDITATED for 5 minutes this morning!! And meditating made me feel like I was ready for the day, that I am loved no matter what, and that I had everything I need to be successful today. Meditation/Mindfulness/Communion with God: whatever you call it, I think it’s a gold mine.

This piece first appeared in Zanaida’s March 2017 newsletter.
Not getting your copy?  Sign up here.

On Social Media

Enough is enough! I am so tired of provocative photos and videos and other various posts and tweets that offer no real opportunity for dialogue. Social media is infected with rhetoric: language and images designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience — to rile us up. But these posts are too often rooted in questionable compassion or sincerity, bound in ulterior motives, and lack meaningful content. Social media is an echo chamber: it’s all noise, where dialogue is impossible. I’m sorry folks, but provocative posts and their ensuing comments don’t count as discussion for me!

Because it’s too easy to throw out an unanswerable, unsubstantiated opinion on Facebook, social media is not where change happens. It happens when we engage each other face-to-face. Either we engage in a constructive dialogue and learn to live with each other, or we don’t engage and it kills us — socially, spiritually, emotionally, or worse.

What if we actually had a roundtable discussion, perhaps at the Alkebulan Cultural Center in Pasadena, to talk about sociocultural issues, and to interact in real life? I’d like to explore ways to encourage better dialogue about a variety of topics — perhaps hosting live events — and hope we can spark some real discussion.  If we want to see our world change for the good of us all, then we need person-to-person dialogue, so we can build relationships that can learn to withstand disagreement.

I’ll keep you posted about this idea and other developments. Please let me know if you want to get together and talk.

This piece first appeared in Zanaida’s February 2017 newsletter.
Not getting your copy?  Sign up here.