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Classical 101

A Year In The Life Of '400: An Afrikan Epic' By Columbus Composer Mark Lomax

ccolor photo of Mark Lomax playing a drum set
publicity photo
Courtesy of Mark Lomax
Columbus composer Dr. Mark Lomax

Columbus Composer Dr. Mark Lomax had ambitious goals for his musical cycle 400: An Afrikan Epic – to heal wounds and release people from the devastating legacy of slavery in America.

Since the cycle of 12 musical works was released as recordings one year ago, Lomax has continued to spread the messages of 400: An Afrikan Epic, performing the cycle around the country and engaging communities on the subject of racial healing one concert, one conversation at a time.

The narrative of 400: An Afrikan Epic begins before the institution of slavery in the American colonies – “when people of African descent were healthy, happy and whole,” as Lomax put it in a 2019 interview with WOSU Classical 101

The cycle continues the story of slavery in North America through the stolen Africans’ tragic journey to this continent on the Middle Passage, the Great Tragedy of slavery and its aftermath and, ultimately, to an aspirational point of healing and reconciliation among the human family.

The cycle has earned Lomax and accolades, including a 2019 Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio. And it has also garnered visibility in performances that Lomax and fellow musicians gave of 400 during 2019 throughout the eastern United States.

“We’ve been everywhere from boarding schools on the east coast to colleges in the west and south, as far south as New Orleans, as far west as Oklahoma,” Lomax said in a recent phone interview.

The tour sparked conversations about healing America's racial divide among diverse audiences. In collaboration with Mosaic Education Network, Lomax devised a curriculum guide to help local instructors foster deeper engagement with the issues 400: An Afrikan Epic raises.

“What’s been the most amazing thing about traveling with 400 is that exactly what I thought would happen has (happened), no matter where we are,” Lomax said. “People have welcomed the conversations, and there’s a recognition across the country in places we’ve been that not only is this an important conversation, but it’s especially timely, given the divisiveness that we are experiencing politically and socially in this country.”

Continued Lomax: “And the music itself, even though it’s music composed through the lens of the African-African American experience, it’s resonating with people who are not from that ethnic background. That just confirms and affirms the importance of sharing from our most authentic human place, you know, to connect with other human beings to make the world better.  So that’s been really encouraging.”

Lomax has condensed the sprawling 400: An Afrikan Epic into an orchestral suite. The 400 Suite was premiered in January 2019 by the Urban Art Ensemble at Columbus’ Lincoln Theatre and performed in October 2019 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Cincinnati’s National Underground Railway Freedom Center.

Lomax’s 400 Suite was also performed on the Cleveland Orchestra’s January 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Community Open House, an event that also saw the release of the concert recording of the Urban Art Ensemble’s January 2019 world premiere performance.

Beyond 400: An Afrikan Epic, Lomax is composing a cello concerto, expected to premiere in 2022.

And the whirlwind continues for 400: An Afrikan Epic as Lomax finishes composing his Symphony No. 1, “Uhuru,” distilled from 400, for its world premiere in May 2020 by the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra in Worthington.

Lest there be any doubt about Lomax’s vision for his symphony, the work's nickname says it all.

“’Uhuru,’ Lomax says, “is a Swahili word that means ‘freedom.’”

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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.
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