Growing up in the Black church, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Concert Bands, Dr. William Lake, Jr., deeply understands the power of music and movement.
After hearing Come Sunday by composer Omar Thomas, Lake dreamed of bringing this work to life with movement, bringing together the George Mason University Bands and the School of Dance. Working on such a project would not only expand his students' musical vocabulary but also create an authentic and expansive cultural experience for the Mason community. Associate Professor of Dance, Lawrence M. Jackson, had similar experiences, growing up in “the southern Black church, a very charismatic church” and reflected on his own upbringing and research into African diasporic dance forms. This collaboration came to life onstage in the Center for the Arts on Mason’s Fairfax Campus on February 28.
As a composer, arranger, and educator, Omar Thomas works with some of the most respected names in composition and education, including multiple GRAMMY-winning composer and bandleader Maria Schneider, Ken Schaphorst, and Frank Carlberg. Born to Guyanese parents in Brooklyn, New York, Thomas pursued music diligently, completing his Master of Music at Berklee College of Music and becoming the first Black composer to ever receive the National Bandmasters Association/Revelli Award for Come Sunday. His compositions are described as “thought-provoking, multi-layered masterpiece[s],” which made embarking on a partnership around this piece even more exciting for Jackson and Lake.
Professor Jackson’s career often includes collaborations, a hallmark of his practice at other universities before coming to Mason in the fall of 2022. While the invitation to work with Dr. Lake at the end of the fall semester was a surprise, it also felt reassuring to find this partnership so early on and to begin exploring what this experience would mean for Mason students from both the School of Dance and the Dewberry School of Music.
Building a vocabulary for the dancers was an opportunity for Jackson’s students to explore the storied culture of the Black church's sacred space and develop an understanding of the types of movement vocabulary that would reflect the energy and history of these spaces and traditions. From watching Alvin Ailey’s Revelations and clips of a particular scene from the movie Blues Brothers, Jackson offered context to his creative process, “blending contemporary dance forms, African diasporic dance forms, and pedestrian movement that is derived from the Black church, all merged into an amalgamation of movement vocabulary uniquely designed for this work.”
The dancers are not the only ones expanding their understanding and skills with this performance. “The jazz and gospel musical vocabulary is foreign to my students,” said Dr. Lake.
“It’s inspiring to see how invested our students are in something that they realize is new and different. My hope is that through music and collaborations, my students have a gateway to appreciate cultures different than their own,” Lake adds.
Unlike most concerts, the Wind Symphony will be moved further upstage than normal and without the acoustic shell to allow for the choreography to be presented downstage. This has resulted in the assistance of the Center for the Arts Artistic Staff to add audio, lighting, and stage-managing support. This unique concert has been chosen as one of the Mason Arts at Home features that will be captured via six cameras in the hall and even GoPros! Dr. Lake shared, “I’m jealous of the audience, I won’t get to experience the concert from their vantage point – I’m thankful that the School of Music and the College of Visual and Performing Arts have agreed to record, edit, and professionally mix our hard work”.
The duo is optimistic that this is just the beginning of collaborations between the Mason School of Dance and the Dewberry School of Music.
You can watch an in-depth interview with Jackson and Lake on the College of Visual and Performing Arts YouTube channel, including behind-the-scenes footage of rehearsals leading up to the performance.
The Wind Symphony’s performance from February 28, 2023, including Come Sunday featuring the School of Dance, will be available to watch from March 28 through April 28, 2023 exclusively through Mason Arts at Home.