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Vermont Symphony Orchestra Seeks Contributors for New DBR Piece

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Published August 24, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Daniel Bernard Roumain - COURTESY
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  • Daniel Bernard Roumain

The Black, Haitian American musician-composer-activist Daniel Bernard Roumain, aka DBR, has composed a strikingly democratic piece that will receive its world premiere in Vermont.

"Riots and Prayers," co-commissioned by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the University of Vermont Lane Series and the Flynn, will be performed at the VSO's season-opening concert at the Flynn Main Stage in Burlington on September 17. It will feature a full orchestra and, at specified intervals, contributions by five Vermonters, who will express whatever they feel is most pressing, in whatever manner they choose.

Inspired by Vermont's progressive history, the composer is calling these intervals "town hall cadenzas" and the participants "speakers." The latter can be visual artists, dancers, musicians, sign-language artists and virtually anyone else. Speakers can also speak in any language, remain anonymous on the program if desired, offer a prerecorded video instead of a live performance — really, anything goes.

The work is "intended to be reflective of our highly divisive, combative, and collaborative times," according to a performance note from Roumain. He began composing it during a residency cosponsored by the VSO, Lane Series and Flynn that consisted of five weeklong visits to Burlington between October 2019 and May 2020.

In a recent email sent while traveling, Roumain added that "Riots and Prayers" is "in search of answers and trust and storytelling," and he hopes the performance will be "a brave, innovative and loving musical experience for an audience that reflects all of those things and so much more."

The VSO is asking those interested in participating to submit an online form on its website by September 2. Anyone "of any age, ability or origin" can take part, including "delivery drivers, law enforcement, teachers, politicians, plumbers, farmers, artists, unemployed, students, retirees," the appeal reads.

The form asks only for the general subject of the speaker's concern, though applicants are welcome to describe what they envision doing. The five chosen participants will attend a rehearsal the night before the concert, led by guest conductor Sarah Ioannides, who is auditioning for the VSO's music directorship.

VSO executive director Elise Brunelle described the format of the town hall cadenzas: "The orchestra pauses and a musician holds a note, and that's when people have their piece. Then they get cued to finish and the orchestra moves on.

"Anyone can say anything," Brunelle added. "I have no idea if they're going to start screaming expletives or chant something with 10 friends about the environment or police brutality or home health care workers. Do the orchestra members want to stand up and say, 'We're tired of Bach'? Do graffiti artists want to say, 'We're misunderstood'? How about the Young Republicans?"

Born in Skokie, Ill., Roumain now lives in New York City, Boston and Tempe, Ariz. During his first week of residency in Vermont in 2019, he played violin for 24 hours straight in front of Burlington City Hall in collaboration with more than 100 local musicians and artists, who joined in for prearranged 30-minute sessions. The work was called "24-Hour Protest Song."

Roumain went on to become the Flynn's creative chair — a position created for him as a result of his successful residency, which drew widespread praise.

He earned a master's degree in music and a doctorate in composition at the University of Michigan; he is now an associate professor at Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and Theatre. He specializes in collaborative, genre-crossing work and has joined forces with everyone from Philip Glass to Lady Gaga. His chamber opera "We Shall Not Be Moved," choreographed by Bill T. Jones, incorporates both a countertenor and spoken-word poetry; "Falling Black Into the Sky," a piece he composed for Washington State University's Symphonic Band, is inspired by the artist James Turrell, whose work explores light, space and perception.

Vermonters now have the opportunity to be the first to experience his latest creative leap and to see themselves in it — literally.

"VSO at the Flynn: Riots and Prayers," Saturday, September 17, 7:30 p.m., at the Flynn Main Stage in Burlington. $5.35-$54.23.

The original print version of this article was headlined "VSO Seeks Contributors for New DBR Piece"

Related Locations


  • Flynn Main Stage

    Burlington