Reviews | A concerto is a conversation

OK. It is a real pleasure to welcome Kris Bowers, our composer, who wrote a concerto, “For a Younger Self”. Welcome. [APPLAUSE] Can I ask a question? All right, grandfather. Can you tell me, what exactly is a concerto? So it is essentially this piece that has a soloist and an ensemble, an orchestra. The two are having a conversation. And so sometimes that conversation can be this person speaking, and now this person speaking. Sometimes the conversation – It’s a question. – is, at the same time. Yes. And it really depends on how the songwriter wants, or how I want to frame this conversation. Have you ever imagined yourself doing what you are doing now? Eh. [MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] I’m very much aware of the fact that I’m a black composer, and lately I’ve been wondering if I’m meant to be in the spaces I’m in, or if I’m meant to be where I got to. Well, I can tell you one thing. Never think that you are not meant to be there. Because you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t meant to be there. It goes back to slavery. [MUSIC PLAYING] My grandfather, whom I discovered a short time ago, had cancer, I wanted to spend a little more time with him and talk to him about his life, about our family, to ask him as much as possible before he does not die. [BELL RINGING] Grandfather. Mm-hm? Need a little help with this. Do what? Get this for the show. OKAY. Do not step on the pedals. Just push him around the corner. OKAY. Wow. OKAY. We are going to make it really beautiful here. You will be good to go. Thank you sir. Growing up in the South was something for me. Bascom, Florida, as far as I can remember I think the plantation was the Bowers Plantation. Did you all grow up in this house? Mm-hm. Wow. How we all stayed in two rooms I don’t know. We started singing on the porch. And there were people, I don’t know how they could hear it that far, driving into the yard and listening to us singing at night. The people of that region were, the blacks were bowers, and the whites were beavers. The beavers had the grocery store. But when daddy was walking around the store, that kid about my height, little kid – How old were you at that point? Like what age? I was probably 6 or 7 years old. Oh wow. And he would walk up to my father and say, what could I have for you, boy? It stuck with me forever. Why do you call my father a boy? And papa would answer him, sir, yes sir, no sir. But it’s something that stuck with me because I knew then, when I was of age, I was going to take it from there. I didn’t want parts of the farm. I didn’t want parts of that part of the country. I just wanted to leave. Anywhere I could move, this is where I was headed. [MUSIC PLAYING] What was that process like, hitchhiking as a black man in America in the 1940s? I must have been crazy. Now the first place I can remember being is in Detroit. A man came to get me. He said he could find me a job and a place to live and all that. I asked him, is it snowing over there? And he said yes. And that was the end, because I didn’t want to be in a cold place. But I hitchhiked all the way to Denver, Colorado. And I was in this Greyhound bus station, because they had two counters, white and black. So I could have something to eat. And I heard someone say, Los Angeles, California. I said, this is where I want to go. Never heard of Los Angeles before. I had $ 27 or $ 28. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I knew I was going to get there. So I said right, I’m going to pose as an employment agency and call to find a job. Wow. I got the phone book, I started at the A’s. A cleaner. And I don’t think I made more than five calls, and the phone rang, and it was cleaners A, and they said they needed a presser. I have all the information. I said, OK, I’ll send someone right away. And that was me. [LAUGHING] This is where I met your grandmother. [MUSIC PLAYING] How old were you when you bought the cleaners? I was 20 years old. Wow. So in two years, I went from homeless to a business. [MUSIC PLAYING] But I was never able to get a loan. And I owned the place. I said, something is wrong with this picture. I told them I was coming for the loan, and he said no, I have nothing. And I left later, got a request, and posted it. A few days later I got a call, your loan is approved. I said, it’s the color of my skin. I said in the South, they tell you. In Los Angeles, they show you. From that point on we started buying property, I was going to get things from the cleaner, everything, but no one ever saw me. Everything was done by mail. People are constantly throwing things to stop you in life. But you have to know that you can’t stop me. [MUSIC PLAYING] My name is Kristopher Bowers and I want to play “Shining Star in Atlantic City”. My parents decided before I was born that they wanted me to play the piano. Literally I think it’s called like “Piano Sampler No. 5” that they put on my mom’s tummy every day. In fact, one of the first pieces of music I ever wrote was on this piano. And I remember, you know, playing here all the time. But we were in a restaurant, I think it was a Sunday. At Marie Callendar? that of Marie Callendar. They had a piano in there, and I asked the guy if you could play it. And they said yes. I took you there, and you were playing there, and I was proud of you. [LAUGHING] [MUSIC PLAYING] There aren’t many opportunities for young children of color to show off their talents or interact with other children of color by playing music and doing these things, and you talk about being my manager , basically, from the very beginning. If I didn’t have this, I probably wouldn’t have been so confident in pursuing music. I remember – where were you at the school where I was up there? What, in New York? In Juilliard? Juilliard? Wherever it is, you enjoyed it. So that’s all I thought. If you like to make a living from it. I knew it, my boy. And the winner is Kris Bowers. “Green book.” [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING] What do you think is your biggest challenge today? My biggest challenge today, to be honest, is my health. It’s just trying to stay healthy. That would be my challenge today. [MUSIC PLAYING] I still have a few years left, but I’m almost at the top. [LAUGHING] Another ten years, I will be at the top. [LAUGHING] So now I keep trying to do my best. Yes. And enjoy seeing my children and grandchildren succeed. It is glory in itself. It’s just something that I hope I have a little something to do with it. [MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] (SINGING) So sing my soul, my savior, my God for you, how great you are, how great you are. You did it! You did it! You did it! [LAUGHING] See, it surprised you. [LAUGHING]

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