Created in response to a moment in time, “Dark Matters” is a new seven-minute work for choir and piano by commissioned poet Samiya Bashir and composer Joel Thompson. Capital University’s Chapel Choir and Choral Union will perform the collaborative project on April 29, 2023, at 7:30 p.m. in Mees Hall. The concert, which will also feature a performance by guest artist Karen Slack, is free and open to the public. Both Bashir and Thompson will be in attendance.
“’Dark Matters’ really came together through the depths of the pandemic,” said Bashir. “The whole piece is written from an ‘I’ space, but I write from an ‘I’ that’s always a ‘we.’ I don’t necessarily believe in singularity and individuality, especially knowing that there could be 20 people singing at one given time along with who knows how many people hearing and then engaging with it. There’s something about that collective ‘I’ that really breaks down walls, breaks apart aloneness. Culturally, I think we are very isolated. A lot of us are seeking connection in a way that’s different.”
A poet, writer, librettist, and “maker of magic with language,” Bashir is a theatre kid at heart who thrives in a world of community and collaboration. She worked with Thompson on a previous piece before coming together for “Dark Matters.”
“One thing I love about working with composers is the way a whole new magic happens. It’s kind of like this translation. There’s this ekphrastic process where I write a thing that I hear musically, and then someone else writes it musically in a way that I never would have imagined it. The two pieces become a different piece and there’s something very beautiful about that,” said Bashir.
Led by Lynda Hasseler, D.M.A., professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities for Capital’s Conservatory of Music, the collaborative project began in July 2020, shortly after George Floyd was murdered.
“The choral and instrumental communities were beginning to recognize and own their role in white-centering concert programs that were exclusive and limited in the representation of artists,” Hasseler said. “In response to our rising awareness, the Capital University Conservatory of Music began developing an Inclusive Programming Policy. Wanting to go beyond diversifying our concert programs, I began to explore the creation of a new work. This led to the commissioning of Samiya and Joel. Layered with meaning, the text and music of ‘Dark Matters’ go straight to the core of a message we deeply need as we seek to make a better world.”
Bashir expressed her excitement about hearing the singers.
“There’s the music, there’s the language, but it becomes a whole other thing in the body when you bring the voices into it. When you’ve got dozens of bodies and breaths, it changes the vibration, and it’s really exciting,” she said. “One of the first things that vanished with the shutdowns in 2020 was singing. There really is something about being in the space when those bodies are doing that work that changes the air.”
Thompson, a composer, conductor, pianist, and educator, worked with Bashir to create the musical elements of “Dark Matters.” He is the composer-in-residence at the Houston Grand Opera until 2027 as he pursues his D.M.A. in composition at the Yale School of Music.
“A lot of my work prior to this has been in response to the world around me, like many artists, and specifically as it relates to my identity as a black man in the United States. I turn to the text of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, who also, in their own way, translated these emotions that Black America has felt for decades into words that I then use to respond to my present moment,” said Thompson. “I was feeling fatigued leading up to this collaboration, my music only being in response to the world around me as it relates to my identity. I wanted my imagination to be used to facilitate a better world not just for me but for everyone.”
“Dark Matters” focuses on a specific turbulent moment in time and creates an optimistic and hopeful view of the future.
“We understood that Capital didn’t necessarily have a lot of singers that look like us in the choir. We had to consider, as two black creators, what would we want a predominantly white choir to speak about on our behalf. Dr. Hasseler gave us the charge of responding to all the chaos that’s going on around us,” said Thompson. “We talked about it a little bit, but we essentially left room for each other’s artistry.”
Creatively inspired and yet emotionally spent at times, Thompson worked with Bashir’s poetry to push his creative boundaries in a different way.
“I found myself working on the piece in short doses, in short bursts, because there was a spiritual fatigue that came with dwelling on Samiya’s text. I think that’s a testament to her skills as an artist to put words, to put voices to these amorphous feelings that we’ve been struggling with. It was sort of difficult to work on how accurate the text was in describing the emotional state that I think a lot of marginalized individuals were feeling in the last three years,” said Thompson. “Yet, there’s still a push towards joy. There’s still a push towards hope in Samiya’s text and also in my music.”