MSU Composer Says Latin Grammy Nominated Project Points Out That Diversity Is An Elusive Construct
The College of Music at Michigan State University has received two Latin Grammy nominations for music composed, conducted, and played entirely by artists from MSU.
The inspiration for King Mangoberry goes back to 30 years ago when Venezuelan composer Ricardo Lorenz took his friend to a fruit juice stand in Caracas, Venezuela.
"He had this idea of asking not for a mango or for a strawberry or for a passionfruit juice, but he decided to ask for a mixture of mango and strawberry," he said. "And to our surprise, the person who was making the juices was very confused because he didn't understand in a way why an exotic fruit, like the strawberry would want to be ruined with such an ordinary fruit like the mango.”
Mangoes are native to Venezuela but strawberries have to be imported. For Lorenz, this experience made him think about the unique opportunities we often miss because of limitations caused by biases and fears.
“So I wonder how much we're missing because of our upbringings, and are taken for granted," Lorenz said.
King Mangoberry was initially a three minute overture commissioned for the Dayton Philharmonic back in 1993 but through former Michigan State University colleague, Cormac Cannon, who is now at the University of South Carolina, the piece turned into a five piece allegory in 2015 and was performed and recorded by the MSU Wind Symphony in 2018 and 2019.
Although the MSU Wind Symphony was not the first to perform the piece, Lorenz says the MSU performance was the most definitive and accurate performance.
“So by the time I heard it in Michigan State I had the chance to finally hear it the way I had imagined it with all its complexities," he said.
For Lorenz, the Grammy nomination from the Latin Recording Academy brings Latino culture home to a place like East Lansing.
“I've made a career and a life and I've built a family here in the US for the past 15 years in Michigan, and to be honest, I know Latinos are present in Michigan, but they're not as visible as I would like us to be," he said.
"It's hard to to see the impact they're having in Michigan, unlike other states and so for it to have reached this level of recognition is extraordinary.”
What was most meaningful to Lorenz about the Grammy nomination is that it’s a recognition of an opportunity for MSU students performing the piece, many of whom are not Latinx, to connect with a perspective of Latinx culture.
“For some of the students performing the piece, this performance might have been the first encounter with anything of the Latino culture, and suddenly here they are tossed into the excitement of Latin Grammy nomination. That's extraordinary," Lorenz said.
For MSU conductor Kevin Sedatole, the recognition for the piece does not get much higher than the Grammys.
“I feel so great about it for students who really put in the work to produce [an] extremely high quality product of a performance," he said. "And it's also a marker of a really fantastic learning experience for them, a very multicultural one.”
Sedatole said conducting this piece was a natural fit for him because he’s always looking for pieces that use instruments in new and unusual ways.
“King Mangoberry is all about allegories or things that don't go together that are being mashed together, and each one of the characters in the piece represent that," he said.
What was most challenging for the students, according to Sedatole, was adapting to playing music in a more relaxed way.
“American students tend to play right on the edge. They play very rhythmically, and in this particular piece the music needs to be played a little bit more relaxed," he added.
Sedatole hopes that the biggest takeaway listeners have from this piece is the importance of being open to diversity.
“It's the promotion of diversity, and that you don't always have to put salt and pepper together or put gravy on your mashed potatoes," he said. "It can be a wide variety of things. Creating an openness of thinking is the overreaching aspect of the piece."