Today is a day filled with mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, my husband and I are both experiencing professional success, achieving things that have been on our want-to-accomplish list for some time now. Together, we are releasing a recording of a piece that he wrote for me called The Beauty of the Protest for singing cellist. Also happening today is an extremely important event that Judah runs called RiseBmore, that I am proud to play a small part in this year. These are wonderful successes that we both worked very hard to accomplish.
On the other hand, the reason this day is significant is not actually because of our release, or because of RiseBmore. In fact, neither the piece nor the event would even exist if the Baltimore Uprising of 2015 hadn’t happened. And the whole reason the Uprising happened is because two years ago today, Freddie Gray died. And all of this, ultimately, is about and because of him.
I never knew Freddie Gray, but we were both born in 1989. He would have turned 28 this year a few weeks before I did, if he were still alive. He’ll never know that people marched for him, that people chanted his name on the streets of Baltimore. My husband wrote his name in his piece, and I sing it, but he will never know either of us.
In The Beauty of the Protest, Judah brilliantly deconstructs the chant “all night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray,” quoting directly from the Uprising itself. One of the ways to keep fighting is to remember him. Judah has done that by writing this piece, and I have taken part by playing and singing it. Now that I have sung those words, I will never forget that I have to keep fighting. The best outcome of this piece is that it becomes irrelevant - a historical artifact, after the true end of the danger Black Men and Women face every day. Unfortunately our country is not even close to that point yet, so we have to keep fighting, and remembering.
It is important to note that The Beauty of the Protest is as much about and inspired by the city of Baltimore as it is about Freddie Gray. I am not a Baltimore native. I love this city more and more every year that I live here. It is a raw, unusual, and beautiful place unlike any other - I have done my best to represent that in the way I play and sing this piece.
P.S. I have no interest in telling anyone how to listen to a piece of music, but I want to say a few words about how I approached this one because it is the first recording I’ve ever made of myself singing and playing at the same time:
I always wondered why Judah decided it should be for singing cellist, instead of a singer and a cellist - why one person instead of two? Judah will tell you that it’s because he loves hearing me sing in the house and he wanted to write for my voice, which is very sweet, but I’m not a singer. My thought, though, is that it would feel wrong for this piece to be played by two people - it isn’t chamber music, and it’s also not a piece for solo singer with cello accompaniment. I find this dichotomy to be incredibly important to my interpretation of the piece. There is struggle, and there is ease. There is light and there is dark. There is the chant of many being sung by one. There is, as Devin Allen says, beauty in the protest.