Composer, James Lee III

James Lee III: Courageous Lights Ancestral Lands

“The Nebraskan premiere of James Lee III’s Courageous Lights brings everything much closer to home as we reside on the ancestral lands of many Native American tribes.” English horn-soloist Darci Gamerl offers some insight into her upcoming concert of Lee’s concerto, when she performs the piece again on May 5 – this time with the Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Polochick. Courageous Lights was written for Gamerl, who premiered the work in January 2024 with the Augusta Symphony Orchestra, led by Dirk Meyer. She adds, “The concerto revolves around the lives of three notable and powerful activists: poet Amanda Gorman; Native-American author and classically trained violinist Zitkala-Ša, and education activist Malala Yousafzai. Their voices ring true with the touching and powerful clarity of Dr. Lee’s compositional voice. I am honored to work with him and my fabulous colleagues to bring this work to life, and to add such a phenomenal work to the English horn repertoire.”

Gamerl continues. “In modern society, many of us feel that we do not fit in or that we do not belong, and I believe that was very much the case for Zitkala-Ša. It was her inability to fit in that granted her the drive and tenacity to enact change for her people – work that is being commemorated in a new series of coins featuring the work of notable women. At the forefront of my mind is Ša’s ability as a master communicator. Her training as a classical violinist, author and composer gave her the skills to enact longstanding changes integral to granting Native Americans citizenship and the prioritization and preservation of Native American culture. My preparation [for this second performance] has been very different as I honor the history that this concerto brings to life, and the lives of the many teachers and mentors that have helped me along my path – not only as a performer, but as a human being. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to each one. My hope is that this work will inspire future generations to find their unique voice, to know that they matter and to use their talents to enact change that will lead to a society that values equality, education and justice for all.” Learn and view more of Gamerl’s insights into the Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra’s Courageous Lights performance here.