Launched in Charleston in 2013, the Colour of Music Festival continues to highlight Black classical artistry and musicianship even as it has expanded well beyond the city that hosted its inaugural season.
“The mission was something that was carefully crafted, and it’s still our official mission,” says Lee Pringle, founder and artistic director of the festival. “And that is: to provide distinctive, extraordinary opportunities for composers and musicians and vocalists of African descent—helping them to present a wide-ranging repertoire of classical music at the very highest musical standard to a diverse audience nationally and internationally, and also to develop our education and community outreach program for families, children, and professionals alike.”
Festival performances have been given in venues such as Howard Theatre and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., the Emancipation Park Conservancy in Houston, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Sisters Chapel at Spelman College in Atlanta, Chappelle Auditorium at Allen University in Columbia, and the Gaillard Center in Charleston.
Pringle hopes to help festival goers of all races gain perspective and better appreciate the contributions of Black classical musicians.
“Colour of Music has to continue to educate not only the Black community but the white community also,” Pringle says. “We have a history that started with classical music before the Spiritual, before Gospel music, R&B—our history started with classical music on the continent of North America. We had our own indigenous music before we were brought over here. Colonized. So I’m going to always be the one shaking the cage about where our roots come from.”
Pringle acknowledges that his cage-shaking has occasionally met with some resistance. “The mere fact that Colour of Music started was a very radical statement, and for some people it made them uncomfortable then, and they’re uncomfortable now.” But Pringle remains undeterred, and envisions a future where festivals like Colour of Music might not even be necessary.
“I often say that hopefully there’s a sunset provision for what I’m doing,” Pringle says, “that there will be a need for some institution like ours not to focus on the words ‘Black classical’ because maybe things will have changed where you go to any classical arts—ballet, opera, or symphony—and it will be so representative of our society that it would be kind of odd to have Colour of Music.”
Pringle is quick to admit, however, that he is skeptical that the Colour of Music Festival will be made redundant anytime soon. In the meantime, he hopes to see it expand internationally and offer performance opportunities to artists of African descent in other countries similar to those it has provided the United States. That’s not to say that Pringle ever plans on leaving Charleston behind, though.
“I’m committed to Charleston, I’m committed to South Carolina. It’s my home. It’s where I was born,” Pringle says. “You know, we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to stay here in the Lowcountry and we’re going to spread our wings to other places that will support us.”
In this interview that aired Monday, February 1st, South Carolina Public Radio’s Bradley Fuller speaks with Pringle about the festival’s origins, mission, growth, and future, as well as the role that historically Black colleges have played. The two also discuss the Colour of Music Festival’s virtual performances planned for February 3rd-7th, featuring works such as Felix Mendelssohn's Octet, Valerie Coleman's Umoja, Toshiro Mayuzumi's Concertino for Xylophone and Piano, and Astor Piazzolla's Five Tangos.
More information at https://www.colourofmusic.org/.