How bass-baritone singer Davóne Tines is rethinking America’s national anthem

Davóne Tines has love on his mind. The night before our Zoom chat, the tall bass-baritone told me he went on a fantastic dinner date in Vail, Colo., where he was performing at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. “It was great, and I spent way too much money and ate a lot of wagyu beef,” he says with a smile.

While in Vail, the 35-year-old creative studio also worked on a new piece that explores the concept of love – more on that later – and finalized the lighting system and other details for tonight’s premiere of “Concerto No. 2: Anthem” at Hollywood Bowl, a new work he designed and created in collaboration with poet Mahogany L. Browne and composers Michael Schachter, Caroline Shaw and Tyshawn Sorey.

Except for a few majors world premieres and retaliationTines has spent less of his career singing conventional roles in opera houses and more energy creating musical works that are doubly personal, deeply considered artistic statements.

A decade ago, Tines found herself struggling with the realities of life as a Harvard-educated, Juilliard-trained, black American singer performing for predominantly white audiences. As he pondered his situation intellectually and emotionally, he worked through it musically. Over the course of several years—and working with Schachter and director Zack Winokur—he developed musical theater work based on the poem “The Black Clown” by Langston Hughes, which premiered at the American Repertory Theater in 2018 praise. (Tines says the work is now “possibly slated for Broadway, we hope.”)

In 2021, Tines revealed “Introductory paragraph No. 1: Messu” at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The concert focused on the setting of Shaw’s newly composed Latin Mass and the music of Bach as well as traditional American spirituals. The concert was Tines’ way of dismantling the historically strict performance practices of classical music.

Tines’ approach avoids completely deconstructing the form and instead utilizes and reinterprets established structures of classical music. He followed “Recital No. 1: Mess” with “Konsertona No. 1: Sermon,” a vocal interpretation of the orchestral form that traditionally juxtaposes a violin, piano, or other instrumental soloist with the brashness of a full orchestra. “Concerto No. 1: Sermon” maintained the traditional structure of the concerto—three movements separating soloist and orchestra—while exploring more contemporary thematic and vocal territory.

As the soloist of the piece, Tines’ lent his powerful, memorable voice to the meditation on social justice. He has also created “Vigil”, a newly composed part of the concert dedicated to the memory of Breonna Taylor. As he explained promotional video: “I wanted to share with the audience what it could mean to be a marginalized identity that wants to move in a way or exist despite being marginalized.”

This week, Tines announces his new work “Concerto No. 2: Anthem”, the result of a commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The orchestra asked Tines to create something for them Thursday “American Stories” concert at the Hollywood Bowl, directed by Joseph Young. Tines says that when he met with Young to discuss the show, they asked themselves, “What are two black men doing standing in front of this orchestra [with] this big platform and huge venue you say?

It seemed like the perfect opportunity to “do a magic trick,” says Tines. Why not “change the Star-Spangled Banner to ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice'”?

Raise Ev’ry Voice”, the hymn written and composed by brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson is known as the “Black National Anthem”. Its lyrics do not contain bombs exploding in the air or references to war and slavery. Instead, it solicits the collective by asking which a voice to gather together and sing joyfully of freedom.

Tines says the current US national anthem “very much embodies colonialist ideals.” While the first, familiar stanza echoes “the idea of ​​sovereignty through war and conquest,” he says, things turn darker in the later stanzas, which include images of trampling on your enemies and striking fear into enslaved people.

“These are not the foundations on which I think our country should stand,” says Tines.

A close-up of a man on the side of the Hollywood Bowl stage.

Bass-baritone Davone Tines offstage at the Hollywood Bowl.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

When Tines has ideas for musical arrangements or new songs, he scribbles them down on paper or writes them in a Word document, unlike a storyboard. These notes then serve as a source of inspiration and a map for the composers he collaborates with.

For “Concerto No. 2: Anthem,” Tines asked Schacter to create an arrangement of the first verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that would lean against the splendor of the Hollywood Bowl. Give me “Super Bowl, Disney World, MGM Musical, Whitney Houston,” he said. In verses two and three, he especially wanted the mood to change. His notes for these verses read: “A wretched, blood-soaked battlefield” and “grotesque”.

Tines does not consider himself an activist. He does not create a concert or a concert with an agenda. His art is more process-oriented, working on feelings and thoughts through music, text, artistic collaboration and performance. If he ponders the question artistically, he also ponders it personally: What does it mean to be a black performer in white spaces? What does it mean to be a black american? What does it mean to be American?

For Tines, being American means being a descendant of enslaved ancestors. It means the grandson of a retired naval officer who also served as a pianist in the local church choir. That means growing up in Fauquier County, Va., a picturesque, mostly white community southwest of Washington, DC. Tines describes it as “a really complex place in the remnants of a civil war, a place where beauty is intertwined with contradictions. of its landscape.”

Those deeply Southern, deeply American contradictions were evident in Tines’ early years. He describes life in Fauquier County as “like growing up in a Ralph Lauren commercial” and remembers singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before high school weekend polo games. A talented young violinist, he played in all-white or mostly white youth orchestras. “I can honestly say that outside of my family and church community, I had one black friend,” she says of her childhood and high school years.

Attending services at Providence Baptist Church in Orleans, Va., with his grandparents, who raised him, connected him to the local black community and influenced him musically. Choir rehearsals at Providence Baptist Church, which lasted for hours, were “a labor of love,” he says. As a young boy, he was often bored and “rolled around on the floor wondering when it would be over”. But he also became obsessed with triads, or chords—the combination of three notes playing simultaneously that forms the basis of Western harmony—as he internalized gospel rhythms and watched his elders have ecstatic, music-driven worship experiences.

Tines’ musical ideas reflect his life experiences, combining the classical forms and timbres he fell in love with as a young violinist and studied in depth at Juilliard the gospel traditions central to his upbringing. His artistic work has also constantly struggled with race and identity. “Concerto No. 2: Anthem,” continues that thematic path, but for his next project — a recital centered on the theme of love — he’d like to step away from the weight of America’s racial wounds and political action.

“I’ve done a lot of work on race and identity,” says Tines. “You get to a point of saturation, maybe even a certain point of exhaustion.”

Maybe that’s why “Lift Ev’ry Voice” means so much to him right now. Unlike the current US national anthem, which he says glorifies the bloody past, the “Black National Anthem” is inherently positive and forward-looking.

“Most [American] the population can exist in a way that romanticizes the past,” says Tines. “But I’m thinking [Black people] we have to be future-oriented because that is the only way to move towards a place where we feel welcome. “Life Ev’ry Voice” is perhaps a better choice [for a national anthem] because it’s about collective unity. Freedom, freedom – that’s what harmony is.”

The upcoming work reflects how Tines focuses on the pursuit of harmony and love in his personal life. “I’m really happy at this point in my artistic life to be able to start a journey to pursue something a little more personal, but also potentially universal,” he says, adding that he’s read about love in the works of CS Lewis and Bell. hooks.

And that lovely date she had in Vail? It was a solo affair.

“Right now, I’m really comfortable dating myself,” says Tines. “I’m pretty excited to explore what self-love really is so I can share it with others.”

This Thursday night, when he takes the stage at the Hollywood Bowl in a custom white dinner jacket commissioned by B|M|C black tailor Brandon Murphy, look for sparks of Tines’ next project as he ponders his proposal: a new, more inclusive one. , a happier, more loving anthem for America’s future.

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