Growing up as a black pianist and composer was an experience that always felt incomplete, despite having amazing teachers and top post-secondary education. The incompleteness I felt was through the lack of adequate representation of people who looked like me—not only in the concert halls, but also in the classrooms. Contributions of black composers were usually only taught in specialized classes, and also restricted to certain style of music such as jazz or various African music. Where was the segment in music history about how Beethoven composed his "Kreutzer" sonata for George Bridgetower or how Chevalier de Saint-Georges transformed an orchestra of amateurs to the most popular ensemble of his day, which commissioned Haydn? Where was the discussion in music theory class of Ed Bland's raw use of serialism, or Margaret Bonds's transformative processes in her "Troubled Water" transcription?
When Ashleigh Gordon (co-artistic director and violist) and I collaborated to form Castle of our Skins in 2013, we didn't realize how much "bigger than us" our work would become. Simply wanting to contribute to the disproportionately low exposure of black artistry in the concert hall and the classroom, Castle of our Skins has—in a short amount of time—turned into an organization that has inspired conversation, cultural curiosity, and cultural pride. Not only have our presentations sparked reactions of gratitude amongst our audience, but Ashleigh and I also are constantly amazed about the holes in our own cultural history that we fill on a daily basis because of the amount of research we do to become prepared thought leaders. We have listened to hours of music that we are almost 100 percent sure we would never have heard if it weren't for starting this organization. We have read articles and journal entries and watched documentaries and movies about black, African, and Caribbean history in an attempt to draw conclusions from these stories, as well as form new hypotheses regarding art and social struggle. We have used these stories from history as guidelines to shape the work that we do in education and social change. All of this has happened because of music.
And our work is continuing! The organization started with Ashleigh and me, and since then we have added Seychelle Dunn, who is our director of educational programming. We have designed educational workshops that not only teach the stories of black composers, performers, and other artists, but also other figures in black history, such as the entrepreneur Madam C. J. Walker, or the non-violence activist Bayard Rustin. Our work has lead to presentations at the Roxbury Community College, the IDEAS Boston conference at the JFK Library in Boston, the Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast in Boston, and the Museum of African-American History in Boston, to name a few. We have also given events in Providence, Rhode Island, and abroad in the Netherlands, and have executed research in Chicago at the historic Center for Black Music Research. We plan on spreading our presence physically in the upcoming seasons, and hopefully inspiring others to use our organization as a model to create similar groups elsewhere across the United States.
Farah Darliette (soprano) and Anthony Green (piano). Movement IV, "Love," from Songs of Love and Justice by Adolphus Hailstork. Video by Castle of our Skins