Lee: Beyond Mirrors of Color

Alison Buchanan, soprano

On January 17, James Lee III’s newest song cycle Beyond Mirrors of Color premieres in Jacksonville, FL, performed by soprano Alison Buchanan and the Ritz Chamber Players. Scored for soprano, cello and piano, the five-movement, 19-minute chamber work features poetry written by Buchanan, under the nom de plume of Alison Harding. The premiere is part of the Ritz Chamber Players MLK concert “In Remembrance of The Dream.”

“The poems in this set,” Alison Buchanan observes, “all share a common theme of identity, particularly from the perspective of how one is viewed by others. As a black British woman of Caribbean parentage, I have always struggled to define myself, ever too conscious of how I thought others viewed me. When I came to America all those years ago, I was surprised to find that Black Americans had a similar struggle with identity…In my life’s journey, I gradually learned to embrace and celebrate concepts of beauty that were not Eurocentric. More importantly, I discovered that there is comfort and security in the knowledge that another person accepts you as you are and knows you enough that just a glance and a smile can tell the story of your day.”

Ritz Chamber Players

Lee comments about this new work. “Beyond Mirrors of Color is my newest song cycle [written] in collaboration with Alison for whom I composed the work and who also wrote the texts for the songs. The first song “How do you see me?” is a song that is quite playful with extreme contrasts in mood. The second song “Nappy” is a kind of sassy song that comments on the hair of a woman of color and the harmonies that are presented throughout the work display hints of jazz. [The third movement], “Shades of Me,” is more of a solemn song musically commenting on America’s categorization and stereotypes of the various shades of skin color…The next song “At Day’s End” is a calm reflection of one’s experience at the end of a day…The last [movement], “Is My Voice Too Loud?,” is a boisterous and energetic song that switches between irregular, compound, and simple meters. The piano part is quite agitated throughout as the vocal [line] questions the listeners and entices them into noticing and enjoying various aspects about voice of the singer.”

More Lee news: This month, the Chicago Sinfonietta – joined by the Waubonsie Valley Mosaic Choir – gives two performances of Lee’s Come Unto Me for its own MLK concerts in Naperville and Chicago, IL.