How bass-baritone singer Davóne Tines is rethinking America’s anthem

Davóne Tines has love on his mind. The night before our Zoom chat, the tall bass-baritone told me he went to an amazing dinner at a steakhouse in Vail, Colorado where he was performing at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. “It was great, and I spent way too much money and ate a lot of Wagyu beef,” he says with a satisfied smile.

While in Vail, the 35-year-old creative also worked on a new play that reflects on the concept of love — more on that later — and provided the lighting scheme and other details for tonight’s premiere of Concerto No. 2: Anthem” completes The Hollywood Bowl, a new work he developed and created in collaboration with poet Mahogany L. Browne and composers Michael Schachter, Caroline Shaw and Tyshawn Sorey.

Except for a handful of majors world premieres and reprisalsTines has spent less of his career singing conventional roles in opera houses and more energy creating musical works that are at the same time deeply personal, carefully considered artistic statements.

A decade ago, Tines wrestled with the realities of life as a Harvard-educated, Juilliard-educated, black American singer performing to a mostly white audience. As he considered his situation intellectually and emotionally, he processed it musically. Over the course of several years – and in collaboration with Schachter and director Zack Winokur – he developed one musical theater work based on the poem “The Black Clown” by Langston Hughes, which premiered at the American Repertory Theater in 2018 to cheer. (Tines says the work is now “possibly slated for Broadway, we hope.”)

In 2021, Tines revealed “Consideration #1: Mass‘ at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The focus was on a newly composed setting of Shaw’s Latin Mass with music by Bach alongside traditional American spirituals. The recital was Tines’ way of deconstructing the historically rigorous performance practices of classical music.

Tines’ approach avoids total disruption of form and instead uses and reinterprets established classical music structures. It followed “Recital No. 1: Mass” with “Concerto No. 1: Sermon”, a vocal interpretation of an orchestral form that traditionally confronts a violin, piano or other instrumental soloist with the bravado of a full orchestra. “Concerto No. 1: Sermon” retained the concerto’s conventional structure – three movements juxtaposing soloists and orchestra – while exploring more contemporary thematic and vocal areas.

As the work’s soloist, Tines lent his powerful, memorable voice to his meditation on social justice. He also co-created “guard‘, a newly composed portion of the concert dedicated to the memory of Breonna Taylor. As he explained in a promotional video: “I wanted to share with an audience what it might mean to be a marginalized identity that despite being marginalized would like to be able to move a certain way or exist a certain way.”

This week Tines unveils his new work, Concerto No. 2: Anthem, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The orchestra asked Tines to create something for their “American Stories” concert Thursday at the Hollywood Bowl, which will be conducted by Joseph Young. Tines says when he met with Young to discuss the performance, they wondered, “What will two black men standing in front of this orchestra do? [with] this big platform and this huge venue, you say it?

It seemed like the perfect opportunity to “perform a magic trick,” says Tines. Why not “turn the Star-Spangled Banner into ‘Lift Ever’ry Voice’?”

Raise every voice‘, an anthem written and composed by brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, is known as ‘The Black National Anthem’. His lyrics contain no bombs bursting in mid-air or allusions to war and enslavement. Instead, it calls the collective and asks everyone Voice to come together and sing joyfully about freedom.

Tines says the current US national anthem “outlines very colonialist ideals.” While the first, familiar verse reflects “the idea of ​​sovereignty through war and conquest,” things get darker in the following stanzas, which contain images of trampling down your enemies and instilling fear in enslaved people.

“These are not the foundations that I think our country should stand on,” says Tines.

Close-up of a man at the side of the Hollywood Bowl stage.

Bass-baritone Vome Tines backstage at the Hollywood Bowl.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When Tines has ideas for musical arrangements or new pieces, he scribbles them on paper or types them into a Word document, similar to a storyboard. These notes then serve as a source of inspiration and a map for the composers with whom he collaborates.

For “Concerto No. 2: Anthem” asked Tines Schacter to create an arrangement of the first verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that would echo the splendor of the Hollywood Bowl. Give me “Super Bowl, Disney World, MGM Musical, Whitney Houston,” he said. For verses two and three, he specifically wanted the mood to change. His notes on these verses read: “Haunted, blood-soaked battlefield” and “grotesque”.

Tines does not see himself as an activist. He doesn’t create a recital or concert with an agenda. His art is more process oriented, an elaboration of feelings and ideas through music, text, artistic collaboration and performance. When he looks at a question artistically, he also explores it personally: what does it mean to be a black performer in white spaces? What does it mean to be a Black American? What does it mean to be American?

For Tines, being an American means being the descendant of enslaved ancestors. It means being the grandson of a retired naval officer who also served as pianist in the local church choir. It means growing up in Fauquier County, Virginia, a quaint, mostly white community southwest of Washington, DC. Tines describes it as “a truly complicated place that exists in the remains of the Civil War, a place where contradictions are cloaked in the beauty of its landscape.”

These deeply Southern, deeply American contradictions were evident throughout Tines’ early years. He describes life in Fauquier County as “like growing up in a Ralph Lauren commercial” and recalls singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before weekend polo games in high school. A talented young violinist, he played in youth orchestras with all-white or mostly white peers. “I can honestly say I had one black friend outside of my family and church,” he says of his childhood and high school years.

Attending services at Providence Baptist Church in Orlean, Virginia with his grandparents who raised him connected him to his local black community and influenced him musically. Church choir rehearsals at Providence Baptist Church, which lasted for hours, were “an affair of the heart,” he says. As a young boy, he was often bored and “rolled around on the floor wondering when it would be over.” But he also became obsessed with triads, or chords — the combination of three simultaneously sounding notes that form the basis of Western harmony — as he internalized gospel rhythms and watched his elders engage in ecstatic, music-driven worship experiences.

Tines’ musical ideas reflect his life experience, combining the classical forms and timbres he fell in love with as a young violinist and studied extensively at Juilliard University with the gospel traditions central to his upbringing. His artistic work has repeatedly dealt with race and identity. “Concerto No. 2: Anthem” continues on this thematic path, but for his next project – a love-themed recital – he wants to break away from the gravity of US racial wounds and politics.

“I’ve researched race and identity a lot,” says Tines. “You reach a saturation point, maybe even a certain exhaustion point.”

Maybe that’s why “Lift Every Voice” means so much to him right now. Unlike the current US national anthem, which he says glorifies a bloody past, the Black National Anthem is inherently positive and forward-looking.

“The majority of [American] Population can exist in ways that romanticize the past,” says Tines. “But I think [Black people] must be future-oriented, because only then can we move to where we really feel welcome. “Lift Ever’ry Voice” might be a better choice [for a national anthem] because it is about collective unity. Freedom, freedom – that is harmony.”

The upcoming work reflects Tines’ focus on the pursuit of harmony and love in his private life. “I am very excited to embark on a journey at this point in my artistic life, where I strive for something more personal but also potentially universal,” he says, adding that he has read about love in the works of CS Lewis and Bell have hook.

And that wonderful date he had in Vail? It was a solo affair.

“Right now I’m having a really nice time meeting myself,” says Tines. “I’m really looking forward to exploring what self-love actually is so that I can share that with others.”

When he takes the stage at the Hollywood Bowl this Thursday night in a bespoke white tuxedo commissioned by black tailor Brandon Murphy of B|M|C, look out for sparks from Tines’ next project while you tune in about ponder his proposal: a new, more inclusive, joyful, loving anthem for America’s future. How bass-baritone singer Davóne Tines is rethinking America’s anthem

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