‘I’m Going to Write a Musical’: With ‘Almanac,’ Tufts Seniors Explore Black Art

‘I’m Going to Write a Musical’: With ‘Almanac,’ Tufts Seniors Explore Black Art

What is Black art—and who has the company to develop it? What does it indicate to make? These are some of the thoughts posed by Almanac, a new musical established by Tufts seniors Harrison Clark and Ben Mizrach, which is operating at Cohen Auditorium by way of November 14. 

Influenced by the work of composer/conductor TJ Anderson, Austin Fletcher Professor Emeritus, Clark has fused his possess experiences as a jazz musician with the analysis of Black students and artists. For the new musical, Clark and co-creator Mizrach have made a score that is drawn from genres as wide-ranging as hip-hop, soul, R&B, significant band, and folk—and is done by a forged of all Black-pinpointing learners. 

In the middle of tech 7 days for Almanac, Tufts Now spoke with Clark about this new perform:

Tufts Now: What did you have in brain when you had been conceiving of this musical? 

Harrison Clark: A number of distinctive factors led to me declaring, “I’m heading to publish a musical.” The first was in March of the Spring 2020 semester. Ahead of the pandemic hit and we all obtained sent dwelling, I was participating in drums in the Tufts Jazz Orchestra I experienced also performed in the band the semester in advance of. Each semesters, I was the only Black scholar in the band. In the 2nd semester, we had been preparing for a demonstrate at Scullers, a premier jazz club in Boston. And we were being in the approach of acquiring completely ready to do all these items that I believed were being my desires and ambitions, that I imagined would feel good. And they just did not: they felt seriously awful. 

And there was one particular class in certain where we ended up enjoying an arrangement that experienced what I can only explain as a brutally white-washed version of a tune that I truly liked. And I just missing it, I commenced bawling in rehearsal and I obtained up and still left. In the instant, I couldn’t make clear to anyone why I was sensation that way. Ben [Mizrach] was in the band—we had been also in a separate band alongside one another. I experienced a conversation about it with him and he just received it. Harrison Clark. Photo: Olivia Clark

Ben’s connection to the audio is a lot distinctive than your normal Tufts student. He comprehended what it intended for me to be in a area where by I couldn’t work out my cultural id, make sense of my blackness, or have an understanding of myself in a house that just was not designed for that. Which is the core of what our musical is about. 

The second practical experience took place all around the same time. A couple of days ahead of we received despatched home, I went to see a display at Berklee [College of Music] that was headlined by Cisco Swank. It was an eight-piece band, all Black… most of the audience was Black. In the middle of the exhibit, this white girl receives on phase with a guitar, and certainly shattered my conception of what it was like to be in that room. She sang the most attractive, clear, genuine tunes I had ever read in my life.

It produced me query what it meant to be an artist. It felt like she had like arrived at into my soul and extracted matters and then sent them again to me. And I had hardly ever definitely been in a location exactly where that took place in advance of and to have this white lady do that in this house, that was predominantly Black and felt like a cultural celebration. That practical experience manufactured me dilemma a large amount of issues about my masculinity, what it means to be an artist, what it signifies to write music… All that, put together with my jazz encounter, is what brought me to Almanac

How does it truly feel to know that a PWI (predominantly white institution) like Tufts is making your demonstrate?

It’s been fascinating because the exhibit by itself is primarily based in the critique of institution. And it can be utilized to any PWI in general, but I feel it is really been really appealing to enjoy a demonstrate that is critiquing institution to be developed by that institution. It can be not like anybody’s trying to commodify or muffle our voices. But just by nature of being in an institution like this, which is what transpires sometimes. It’s systemic and structural. You can have the most effectively-this means folks in the environment in the place, but this put has been all over considering that 1852. 

It feels neat to be the 1st student to have their function produced by the university like this. I’m quite humbled and honored by it. But at the similar time, I am usually variety of wanting ahead to what liberation seems like—and what it implies. I would like to see a entire world in which my worth just isn’t predicated on the fact that I went to an institution like this, and I really don’t want an establishment to do do the job like this. That is what I want to see. But as for where by I’m at now… I’m feeling really grateful for the college and its resources when at the same time acknowledging that this is not liberation. 

A clearly show like Almanac that facilities a Black tale that has 15 Black pupils on stage will without end be the exception at a location like this. It’s not likely to be a little something that occurs each year. That is 1 of my other significant ambitions: to revive a Black theater troupe at Tufts, so we could get much more learners accomplishing items like this so that it can be a ordinary event on campus. 

The description of the demonstrate refers to Black students who sacrificed to create—and define—Black artwork. Can you talk about how Almanac builds on contributions of previous Black artists and students?

The 1st two that appear to head are Langston Hughes and George Schuyler. My senior calendar year of substantial faculty, a mentor of mine launched me to a Langston Hughes essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” which was a reaction to an essay by George Schuyler identified as “The Negro-Art Hokum.” 

In his essay, Hughes suggests the Black gentleman in The usa has been programmed to look at large modern society as a aim to attain… that you should really want to be a wonderful classical vocalist and you need to want to go to the opera instead than likely to check out your favorite jazz musician on a Saturday night. And Hughes responds, ‘No, this is our lifestyle, this is our individuals, this is what we do, and you’ve been brainwashed to feel that way.’ 

So, a person of Almanac’s key tracks is centered close to that argument. I have a few figures likely back again and forth, asking, ‘What does it imply to generate? What is Black artwork? Who can create it and why do we do it?”

In addition to that, I have accomplished a lot of archival investigation at Tufts. Gerald Gill, a heritage professor at Tufts who passed away in 2007, still left a huge assortment of papers on the historical past of Black university student lifetime at Tufts, together with his have writings and lectures. His operate led me to Jester Hairston, who was a Tufts graduate, class of 1929. He went on to be a renowned choral composer and director. Jester led me to TJ Anderson, who created a number that, in element, impressed the demonstrate.

All of this is about legacy, proper? I would not have experienced the inspiration or thought or ideological framework to compose a demonstrate like this devoid of standing on the shoulders of giants. I think that is this sort of a stunning matter due to the fact I sense like that’s why I produced this lovely, ancestral ritual, nearly like it is in my blood. I am intended to pass on the traditions of my persons.

What is the significance of the title? In what means is this do the job an “almanac”?

Almanac is the identify of one particular of the rap groups in the demonstrate. We named the rap team way in advance of we named the demonstrate, and all three primary people at some stage end up in that rap team. When we ended up deciding to identify the exhibit, we went through a bunch of alternatives that have been all just egregiously horrible. And then Ben was, like, “Why you should not we connect with it Almanac?” And I was, like, “What does that even indicate?” 

An almanac or the Farmer’s Almanac, for illustration, exhibits you what to prepare for, what you require to do to be ready for what’s coming. And he explained, “In a good deal of strategies, I feel like this story is a information for Black artists on how to exist inside a PWI.” The Black Artist’s Almanac, if you will. 

Do you have any programs for Almanac soon after you graduate?

Our quick objective is to get it developed skillfully. We you should not truly know what that looks like however, but that’s our aim. We have a good deal of people today who genuinely think in the task. There is certainly a lot of excitement all-around it. Observing how the cast has interacted with it has been major. It really is been so spiritually satisfying to walk into a space and to have men and women I did not know 3 months ago singing all my tunes.

Tickets to Almanac are readily available on the Tufts Drama and Dance division web page.