One thing I loved about Barack Obama’s campaign was the way it brought people together—black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, you name it. But it wasn’t just American voters who were inspired by Obama’s message of hope and reconciliation. As we now know, people from all around the globe celebrated Obama’s presidential victory. Check out this post at The Assimilated Negro blog for a stirring gallery of photos from around the world with people’s reactions to the news of America’s new president.
I think the world has always revered the U.S. for its freedoms and accomplishments. But for the first time, I think the world witnessed the American ideals that we always brag about being truly realized in a most significant way. We finally chose a leader whose narrative and skin resemble a greater fullness of what America is all about.
I know some of you are not Obama fans, so I won’t belabor these thoughts. But I will add (at the risk of sounding too much like Michelle Obama) that I gained a new appreciation for my country on Tuesday night. I occasionally get chills when the National Anthem is played or when I see U.S. military servicemen and women getting off a plane at the airport. But seeing the American flags waving Tuesday night, the rainbow of men and women, and our new president-elect made me feel more patriotic than I ever thought I could. I just pray that God will use this enthusiasm and spirit of hope to do something profound and lasting in the life of our nation—and in the world.
Anyway, I’ve been carrying these feelings around with me ever since Election Day. So it’s no surprise that it’s affecting the way I listen to music. Earlier today, I started jonesing for some Tchaikovsky. In case you didn’t know, I’m a big classical music fan, especially composers from the Romantic period. Back in college, Tchaikovsky was my indisputable favorite. His heartrending melodies and dramatic intensity were the perfect match for my sometimes melancholy and hyperactive college self. I’ve since added Brahms and Sibelius to my list of all-time favorites, but Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is still the gold standard for me as far a Romantic-era composers go.
So what does Tchaikovsky have to do with Barack Obama? Well, as I sought to fulfill that Tchaikovsky jones, I wondered if there were any good video performances of Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture Francesca da Ramini, so I logged on to YouTube. After stumbling through a few unexciting renditions, I finally landed upon an incredible performance from late last year by the Teresa Carreño Youth Symphony Orchestra of Caracas, Venezuela. Led by a fiery young conductor named Manuel López Gómez, these young men and women “tore it up!”
If you’re familiar with Tchaikovsky’ s Francesca da Rimini, based on a tragic character from Dante’s Divine Comedy, you know it’s a thrilling (perhaps over-the-top) piece of music, filled with pounding syncopation and swirling strings that evoke the flames of hell. I’ve never had the privilege of seeing the work performed live, but I always imagined it would provide quite a workout for an orchestra and its conductor, and that’s definitely the case with this dynamic Venezuelan ensemble. While poised and professional, these kids are clearly feeling the emotion of the music. You can see it in their body language and the way they throw themselves into the performance. By the end of it, I was reminded of how transfixed I was upon seeing the Soul Children of Chicago gospel choir for the first time. It was back in 1991 at Wheaton College. To watch and hear those joyful African American children and teens transform that initially stiff Wheaton crowd into a congregation of unabashed worshipers was something to behold. These Venezuelan youth performed Tchaikovsky with that same energy and exuberance. Please watch the performance below (in three parts) to see what I’m talking about.
Then I thought about the fact that here I am, an African American nerd listening to young Venezuelan musicians perform a classical Russian composer’s interpretation of a medieval Italian writer’s epic poem. This, of course, speaks to the power of great art to transcend time, genre, and culture. But, for me, at least during this historic time in our nation, it also says something about the power of diversity, bridge-building, and multicultural harmony—the notion that we’re all connected. The same values and ideals that first got me excited about Barack Obama way back when.
Francesca da Rimini Part 1
Francesca da Rimini Part 2
Francesca da Rimini Part 3