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Classical 101

WOSU Classical 101 presents the world premiere of ‘Black Odes’

Musicians rehearsing in a small room
Scott Woods
Courtesy of the artists
Composer and drummer Mark Lomax, left, and the Urban Art Ensemble rehearse for the world premiere of "Black Odes."

WOSU Public Media’s Classical 101 will present a celebration of Blackness and joy in music, poetry and visual art by three Columbus artists.

The Urban Art Ensemble and poet Scott Woods will perform the world premiere of Black Odes: A Reclamation Suite by Woods and composer and drummer Dr. Mark Lomax II, with visual art by Richard Duarte Brown, Thurs., Oct. 20 at the new WOSU headquarters in Columbus. The performance is supported by the Johnstone Fund for New Music.

The concert is the first in a series of three annual performances on WOSU’s JUXTA concert series. JUXTA explores the creative energy that happens when different elements are combined or juxtaposed in unexpected ways.

We were so inspired by the works created, often in isolation, during the pandemic that we wanted to explore the creative energy when people were able to work in collaboration again, and the spark of different genres in combination,” said Classical 101 Program Director Cheryl Dring, who conceived of the JUXTA series.

Woods describes Black Odes as “a multi-disciplinary expression of what it would be like to actually live in America’s promise while being unapologetically Black.”

“We wanted to not only imagine such freedom but to experience it during the creative process where, I believe, it can be achieved,” Woods said. “And we are trying to translate what we discovered on those personal journeys through the creative process to the audience so that we might all share in this moment of unbridled Black joy that comes from that interaction.”

In a broad sense, it is joy that Black Odes: A Reclamation Suite seeks to reclaim. More specifically, that joy can be construed as moving forward from a place of forgiveness for the traumas of the past.

“(The challenge was) to create a ‘reclamation suite’ that really is focused not on pain and trauma but on joy, and forgiveness, redemption,” said Lomax. “So we’re reclaiming that space.”

For Woods, “Black joy” comes with recognizing, embracing and celebrating Black experience in all its fullness and depth.

“I wanted a fuller appreciation of the things in our lives that we already possess and that we already are,” Woods said. “And so what we’re attempting to do is to imbue those elements with joy, with beauty, with no sense of shame, with no oppressive history.”

The titles of Black Odes’ three sections take their inspiration from spaces and occurrences familiar to the Black American experience. “The Ave” situates the work in the geographical context of an historically Black neighborhood. “Ho’oponopono,” named after a traditional Hawai’ian practice of reconciliation, aims to reconcile the world’s relationship with Black women. “The Cookout” concludes Black Odes with a gathering to which all humankind is invited.

brightly colored artwork by Richard Duarte Brown showing people at a cookout
Richard Duarte Brown
Courtesy of the artist
a tapestry by Richard Duarte Brown for "Black Odes: A Reclamation Suite"

“That’s where the good times happen. That’s where the fun is,” Woods said, “and so this is us inviting everyone into that space officially, having done the work of ‘The Ave,’ after having done the work of ‘Ho’oponopono.’”

Joy shines through in the playful titles of the movements of Black Odes – for instance, “Ode to frolicking,” “Ode to the dust at the bottom of a Grippo’s bag,” and “Ode to whoever brought ice on their own.”

Joy also shines through in the vibrancy of the three large hanging tapestries that artist Richard Duarte Brown created to illustrate Black Odes. Brown says his process for creating the tapestries called on him to dig deep into his imagination.

“Capturing a sense of what liberty is – like a physical thing or state of being – is hard work. You have to dig very deeply into yourself and your culture and pull out a root that hasn’t been tapped very hard,” Brown said. “Creating art that isn’t just aspirational but believes in new ways of living is powerful. There’s a magic to it. And we hope that magic transfers to our audience.”

And not only joy but a glimmer of America’s potential shines through Lomax’s music for Black Odes. The score blends Western European classical music, spirituals, blues and hip hop in a hybrid that Lomax calls afro-chamber music. In its instrumentation, the Urban Art Ensemble also represents a hybrid of a classical string quartet, an improvising quartet consisting of piano, bass, drums, and saxophone, and a DJ playing turntable.

“My hope is that the audience hears that we need every element to make that piece work,” Lomax said. “I think that’s the metaphor for how to make America truly great. We need every element.”

The Urban Art Ensemble performs Black Odes: A Reclamation Suite by Mark Lomax II and Scott Woods, with visual art by Richard Duarte Brown, Thurs., Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at the WOSU headquarters, 1800 N. Pearl St., Columbus, 43201. The live performance is sold out, but you can register to view the livestream here.

Classical 101
Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.