ListN Up: Alexander Lloyd Blake (June 19, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. This series is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Alexander Lloyd Blake is a singer, conductor, arranger and music activist in Los Angeles. Blake is the Founding Artistic Director of Tonality, a professional choral ensemble that focuses on diversity and social justice. He also serves as the Director of Classical Choirs of the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts (LACHSA), Principal Associate Conductor with the National Children’s Chorus, and a singer and vocal contractor in TV/film projects.

Hello, My name is Alexander Lloyd Blake, and I’m the Founding Artistic Director of Tonality, a professional choir in Los Angeles that focuses on diversity and social justice issues. The playlist that I have selected will include choral works that focus on issues of our time. You will find that a lot of the subject that are covered in this music will be subjects that you probably do not encounter in choral music, generally. But I wanted to show an example of how we as choral artists can directly respond to the issues that are affecting our lives and the lives of our neighbors, both here and abroad. I hope you enjoy the selection of music.

“We Tell Each Other Stories” from Considering Matthew Shepard by Craig Hella Johnson, performed by Conspirare

I selected “We Tell Each Other Stories” from Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shepard because I believe telling stories through music gives a unique insight into opportunities for empathy, an aspect our world desperately needs right now.

Sing About It by Moira Smiley, performed by Tonality

In the same vein of empathy and understanding, Moira Smiley’s words perfectly emote the difficult and necessary emotions and inspirations allies experience. Also, how many choral works start with a group of riffers? #IBachyounot

“Amadou Diallo” and “Oscar Grant” from Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson, performed by Tonality

These next two works are from Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, a work that uses selected text from Black men and fatal encounters with police officers and systemic racism. These works are essential for audiences who may never encounter these stories aside from hearsay or (current) videos of the actual incidents.

“Lady in Blue” from for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Zanaida Robles, performed by Tonality

“Lady in Blue” comes from a choreopoem titled for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. This work by Dr. Zanaida Robles speaks on an experience of abortion from the perspective of a young Black female, a voice we rarely hear from in our genre.

“Jainism” from This Love Between Us by Reena Esmail, performed by Tonality with Saili Oak (voice), Robin Sukhadia (tabla), and Kristen Simpson (piano)

Reena Esmail’s This Love Between Us uses a blend of Western and Indian styles and language to describe humanity as written in religious texts. This movement uses text from the Jain religion.

“Poor Wayfaring Stranger” arr. Alexander Lloyd Blake, performed by Tonality

My arrangement of Poor Wayfaring Stranger blends an American traditional song with some jazz type feel. (I do not want to call it jazz for the real pros out there.) This selection was written for a holiday concert around homelessness and displacement and the connection to the Nativity story.

Democracy by Jared Jenkins, performed by Tonality

This last selection composed by Jared Jenkins is called “Democracy,” using the words of Langston Hughes. I place this at the end to (pleasantly, of course) remind you that these pieces are not just for empathy, but should inspire you to act with your votes!

Want more from Alexander Lloyd Blake?

Read his essay Art for Art’s Sake: Steps to Prevent Tone Deaf Social Justice Concerts on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN