Behind the Curtain: Kendrick Lamar – His voice like an operatic recitative

Driving Black Panther’s story forward is a hard-hitting soundtrack from Kendrick Lamar. Through collaborations with both established rappers (2 Chainz, Travis Scott) and up-and-comers (SOB X RBE, Saudi), Compton rapper Lamar spreads a message both of black power and of cultural inclusivity. “King of the past, present, future, my ancestors watchin’,” Lamar raps on the album’s title track.

Praising both himself and his people, Lamar writes that not just that there will one day be a black future, but that blackness always was and ever shall be. Equality is not a new concept, and strong role models were always present. Likewise, Black Panther is a mainstream film that finally offers a chance for African-Americans to celebrate their heritage without being judged for it. This is not a film made for white people that African-American viewers can also take part in. Instead, the tables are turned and black audiences are the tastemakers.

But Black Panther is not just a film about black rights. It’s about equal rights. It encourages audiences — regardless of race or age or gender — to go out and be the change they want to see. Ghandi would be proud.

Lamar goes on in the same song to rap about the people who change the world, his voice like an operatic recitative, carrying his lesson across in constant, hammering intensity. “King of the optimistics and dreamers that go and get it,” declaring himself the leader of a generation of doers. His people are not a nameless, faceless conglomerate, but a diverse collection of creators and thinkers who aim high and move with purpose. And this is the key message Black Panther aims to get across: if you take away nothing else, know that you need to work hard and work together to accomplish anything.

Seems simple enough to me.

By: Niccolo Bechtler, editor Behind the Curtain: a quarterly update
Link to The Blank Panther movie trailer:
Behind the Curtain: an interview with Craig Levesque

Behind the Curtain: an interview with Craig Levesque

From my perch on the third step of the amphitheatre in Pettoranello Gardens, Dr. Craig Levesque appears exactly as I imagined, walking up from behind the warping wooden stage to meet me. The afternoon has clouded over, leaving perfect conditions for the cameras, and the never ending slough of passing Jersey traffic has quieted to a conducive interview volume. Dr. Levesque introduces himself, and we sit down to begin what I fear will become a forced conversation, the onlooking tripods trampling our chances of exchanging something meaningful. But, as I soon discover, the interview — and Dr. Craig Levesque — are full of surprises.

In his casual dress shirt tucked into khakis, Dr. Levesque is not a picture of the academic esoteric, and though he teaches composition at Westminster Conservatory, he acts much more like a student of music than a professor. Having introduced himself as “Craig” when we first met, I had no idea he even had a doctorate until he used his title in describing himself to the cameras, and even then it was only on the second take, like an afterthought. His speech is approachably intelligent, far from pretentious, and he possesses the unique gifts of a master explainer. This is a man who could condense all of particle physics into a single sentence if he wanted to, and you would walk away from hearing it feeling more enlightened than you ever would leaving a college lecture.

Growing up, Dr. Levesque explains, his interests were more in playing music than in composing it. In his high school band, he showed talent and dedication as a French horn player, finding himself drawn more and more deeply to music as he progressed through his four years there. “I was very lucky in that I was in a place that had a strong music program, and I had a very supportive teacher who saw my interest and helped guide it,” he says, referencing the band instructor who first pointed him toward composition. “It was the only place in school were I really felt I was really successful,” he explains, which led him to spend more time in the program, which led to his being more successful and caused his teacher to take note. “When he saw my interest, he gave me more and more opportunities,” he tells me of his teacher, which began the young Dr. Levesque’s first forays into composition. “The more that I did this, the more I realized that it was something I really liked to do.”

His love of music never faltered, and he went on to pursue a B.A. in theory and composition from the University of New Hampshire and, just for good measure, topped it all off with a Rutgers Ph.D. He has been playing, composing, and arranging ever since, to great success and critical acclaim, not to mention the many instructional hats atop his head at several New Jersey universities. With such an impressive resume and a prodigious talent for arranging, Dr. Levesque was the natural choice to score OPERAnauts’ ingeniously portable La Petite Carmen, a collaboration to which he enthusiastically agreed. He set to work on the score, and OPERAnauts on the production, forging a productive artistic pairing until, at last, La Petite Carmen was ready to debut. And the rest is proverbial history.

by Niccolo Bechtler

It’s a weekday morning in Congo’s capital city

It’s a weekday morning in Congo’s capital city

Photo credit: Laurence Paverd

It’s a weekday morning in Congo’s capital city of Kinshasa, and the humid air is thick with the sound of voices. Children weave in and out of stands selling bananas and oranges, melons and decorative beads, making their way to the dirt road leading to school. The walk is a long one, but their troubles have only just begun.

When they arrive, the rumors they heard are confirmed: the teachers have finally gone on strike since the government refuses to offer them even a meager salary. Deflated, the students begin the trek home once more. Without an education, where will they go? Who can look after them during the busy work day? It certainly won’t be the government. There are no role models to speak of in that area. They have nothing to do, no books to read, no web to surf, not even electricity to power their homes. Without their teachers, the children are lost. The town is still bustling when they return home.

Here’s where OPERAnauts comes in, bearing music and hope for better days. By providing music scores and mentorships for singers and musicians, they bond together while sharing the restorative power of music, proven time and time again to be the fastest boost to existing empathy skills, and strongest aid to those who lack them. As the students grow in their musical studies, they grow as people too; people with direction and resilience, people with the strength and determination that only mastering a difficult skill like musicianship can bring.

Change is wrought by those who feel they have the power to bring it, and for the suffering children of Kinshasa, power is in short supply. But, with OPERAnauts’ help, someday soon the road to school will no longer be paved with disappointment. It will radiate with hope in the brilliant morning sun.

by Niccolo Bechtler