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PaviElle French and Sands of Time

Soloist and orchestra

Today, we’re excited to release video of the June world premiere of PaviElle French’s Sands of Time in our free Concert Library. The work was commissioned for the SPCO by community supporters Bill and Susan Sands. The project built on our previous collaboration with PaviElle in 2018. It was also a part of PaviElle’s residency with six Saint Paul arts organizations, which culminated with the American Composers Forum’s Artist Equity Summit. You can read more about the summit below.

The Creation of Sands of Time

Writer Aaron Grad shares more of the story of the new work:

Born into a musical family in the historically Black neighborhood of Rondo in Saint Paul, PaviElle French has brought her lifelong influences from ‘70s soul and R&B into her wide-ranging and powerful work as a singer, songwriter, poet and theater artist. After she approached The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for a possible collaboration, she embarked on her first foray into concert music in 2018 with A Requiem for Zula, an orchestral song cycle that honored her late mother.

When SPCO supporters Bill and Susan Sands decided to commission a new work for the orchestra in honor of their fiftieth anniversary, they entrusted French with the assignment and encouraged her to respond to the commission in any way that was meaningful for her. French worked on the resulting score, The Sands of Time, in a world before the Covid pandemic, and before the murder of George Floyd, events that have only deepened her resolve to use her music in service of human connection and justice. As in her first piece for orchestra, French collaborated with the arranger Michi Wiancko, but after steeping herself in the principles of orchestration and the ranges of concert instruments, French took on the responsibility of distributing her music into the orchestral parts herself, using her keyboard to record layer upon layer in Apple’s GarageBand software.

Through meetings where she got to know Bill and Susan Sands, French was inspired to have her first movement deal most directly with romantic love. From the beginning of this song that shares its punning title with the cycle as a whole, “Sands of Time,” French speaks to us, the audience, as a knowing guide: “I’ve been thinking, y’all,” she sings, “about what love has taught me this far.”

The second song, “Give Me Your Love,” pivots to an interrogation of what disrupts love — a sentiment inspired specifically by the former president. “Your finite words of hurt and hatred won’t pollute my mind or change my hope for unification,” she sings. As an orchestral interlude takes flight, she invites us along, shouting, “Hold on y’all! Change is coming!”

In an interview, French spoke about how, in the years since the deaths of her parents, she has been on a journey “to love myself and to like myself, and to understand why I am the way I am, and be investigative and introspective, and to unlock core memories and fully love my whole, total being.” She articulates aspects of this brave emotional work in the third song, “Breaking Free,” where she sings, “It’s overwhelming to have to look so deep inside. I wanna break free from my iniquity.”

The next selections explore other facets of love that animate French’s life and music: “the love for my freedom of thought and freedom of speech, and the persistence of life. I was thinking about all the ways that love works, whether it is platonic or romantic or agape.” The sense of freedom comes through in the fifth song, “Me Being Me (Is Revolutionary).” A celebratory song, “The Dance of Life,” encourages us all to “be ambitious and assertive in the dance of life. There’s no room for any fear with an aura that’s so bright.” After an instrumental dance interlude, the cycle closes with a reprise of “Sands of Time,” bringing this journey of love back to its interpersonal point of origin.

French spoke about how much she learned from her mother, an educator and community activist, and her father, whom she described as “more hotheaded and political” and deeply involved in community action. As she sees it, “People can hear the truth if you can give it to them in a way that they can hear it. The way I approach music is that I am going to make it so beautiful and so lush and so honest and vulnerable and authentic that you have to hear it.”

PaviElle at the American Composers Forum’s Artist Equity Summit

This fall, PaviElle was featured in the Artist Equity Summit presented by the American Composers Forum (ACF). Each year, ACF hosts a summit that centers music creators and examines themes related to equity that impact the music field and beyond. The summit’s theme in 2022 was “Lifting Up our Youth”, drawing from PaviElle’s vision, and coming out of our collective need and responsibility to empower young people and give them a platform. PaviElle was featured in two of the summit’s sessions:

These two sessions were only a part of the Equity Summit. You can find the entire event on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN .TV.