In the midst of the Atlanta Pride Festival this weekend, Atlanta Freedom Bands is hosting the 2013 national conference of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association. The LGBA’s massed band, which involves more than 200 musicians drawn from over 30 bands across the United States, will perform a public concert at the Ferst Center for the Arts on Saturday at 8 p.m., then march in the Pride Festival parade on Sunday. This past January, the band performed as part of President Obama’s inaugural festivities.
In celebration of the Pride Festival, the concert’s theme is based on the eight-color rainbow flag designed 35 years ago by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, the original incarnation of the several LGBT pride flags in use today. The finale will be the world premiere of “Colors,” a new 8½-minute work commissioned from Atlanta composer Tim Jansa.
ArtsATL spoke with Jansa about his new composition.
ArtsATL: How did this particular commission come about?
Tim Jansa: About a year and a half ago, Cliff Norris, the president of the Atlanta Freedom Bands, approached me and said they were applying to host the Lesbian and Gay Bands Association’s conference here in Atlanta this year. He asked if I would be interested in working on a commission for them, as it’s both the 20th anniversary of the ensemble and the 35th anniversary of the pride flag. They had envisioned a gala concert with a program modeled after the colors of the flag and what they stand for.
ArtsATL: How did you approach composing “Colors”?
Jansa: I’m a storyteller, and I wanted to tell a story that the audience and musicians could relate to. Basically it’s a coming-of-age story, of finding yourself and your place in the world and of self-affirmation.
I modeled the [beginning of the] piece after the first real public emergence of the LGBT community in 1969 with the Stonewall riots, the first Gay Pride march in 1970 in New York City, moving to the ‘80s with tragic setbacks, the AIDS crisis. Then a ‘90s fanfare, because that was really the time when the LGBT community really started to get traction politically and socially. So there is a fun, tongue-in-cheek section full of mischief, musical jokes and quotes, and a couple of themes and motifs that play a role in my personal life with regard to meeting my husband.
I just tried to create a kaleidoscope of the LGBT community, in terms of its history and makeup, and bring it to a glorious, rousing conclusion. There’s allusion to wedding bells at the end. We’ve come so far, and we are so close to the LGBT community finding fully accepted legal status in our society, so it was very important to end with that very hopeful kind of outlook for the future.
ArtsATL: Even now in the 21st century, do you feel there is a societal “ghettoization” of musical ensembles that identify themselves as LGBT?
Jansa: The concept of “ghettoization” is not so much coming from members of LGBT organizations. They are perceived as being exclusively gay and lesbian, but they’re not. They’re inclusively gay and lesbian. I know the Atlanta Freedom Bands are open to anybody. There are members who are not gay or lesbian.
I’ve had this discussion with others who ask, “Well, why do we need a gay band?” Number one, its a window to a different way of interpreting existing literature, it provides a vehicle to creating and performing new works embedded in a particular context with an audience that has a particular set of life experiences and ways they view the world. It breathes new life into the standard literature. If Copland or Bernstein is being performed by a mainstream orchestra it has a different meaning, a different connotation than when being performed by, for example, a gay and lesbian band.
Having organizations that specialize in a particular outreach and serve a particular community [affords] an opportunity, because there’s a lot of literature out there that is simply not being played because it doesn’t appeal to a broad public. There are also a lot of “things still to be said” in the musical art world in general that are not being said or asked for.
ArtsATL: What are your hopes for future performances of “Colors”?
Jansa: It’s important that this piece doesn’t speak just to the LGBT community, even though that was the premise. The whole concept of coming of age — trying to find yourself, making a statement to the world of who you are, of how to assert yourself in a community, whether it’s your family, your friends, your school or your workplace — this is truly what the piece is about. We all experience times of victory and times of defeat. Ultimately, hopefully, [we] find a good middle ground with regard to “this is who I am, this is my community, this is my place in the world” without marginalizing ourselves or our community.