Building a holiday show requires originality, dedication and, well, a certain joyful spirit. For the creative team behind this season’s Joyful Echoes—a re-imagined take on the Orchestra’s Home for the Holidays concert of previous seasons—these qualities were in ample supply.
The versatile singer-composer-writer PaviElle French joined writer Kevin Kling, stage director Peter Rothstein, composer Robert Elhai and conductor Sarah Hicks to interlace stories and music for the season. Their wonder-filled concert creation, which premieres at Orchestra Hall December 16-19, features irreverent traditions, poignant memories, an exceptional cast of singing actors, and the full-throttle sound of the Minnesota Orchestra.
PaviElle French shares her reflections on how it all came to be and where she finds deep joy in the season.
Sometime back in July, I got an email from Grant Meachum of the Minnesota Orchestra asking me if I would be interested in joining them this holiday season, to compose, write and perform with Kevin Kling. I was so excited about the opportunity to work with the Minnesota Orchestra, and Kevin, cast and crew, as well. But, I was a bit nervous about taking on something like this, as I am working on other commissions right now. The more conversations that I had with the team, the more that I began to feel like, yes, I can do this! I felt supported in the fact that there’s an awesome team of people who are working together to make this a really wonderful experience.
Looking back at this process, some of the highlights for me were: one, being able to ask Thomasina Petrus and T. Mychael Rambo to join us for the show. A. Dream. Both of these wonderful artists were/are two of my artistic mentors and teachers. I met them both through Penumbra Theatre as a child. And grew up watching them as I was honing my own craft, so it makes my heart full to be able to embark on such a special journey standing next to them both! And two, getting to meet/write this story with Kevin Kling was a lot of fun! We would meet on Mondays and share stories. And, in that, we learned so much about each other…like, how we know so many of the same actors/artists in the Twin Cities, and how our Mothers are inspirational women in both of our lives.
Another really cool thing for me was getting to meet everyone involved and sing together, workshopping the music/script, receive coaching, in person. It was nice to be able to connect with artists that I’ve not yet had the chance to meet, to make more friends, and have experiences, along the way. I also realized how much I missed doing art and feeling the vibe in the room, at the same time, in a safe and comfortable way. I appreciated being at a creative table where people were open to my perspectives as a Black woman and to work to build a show where I feel like my life, family and memories are represented in a respectful way, and my culture is respected and honored. This wasn’t just joining a show and having to necessarily “fit in.”
I appreciated being at a creative table where people were open to my perspectives as a Black woman and to work to build a show where I feel like my life, family, and memories are represented in a respectful way, and my culture is respected and honored.”
This is my first time co-creating a musical with several minds involved. I want to set the precedent now and, in future works, that as a Black artist, I only wish to work with organizations that acknowledge: me bringing my full self to the stage, having ownership of what I create, and being valued and respected throughout all levels within the craft from fee to contractual language to artistic autonomy. It’s within opportunities like this, where I seek to facilitate culture change within the arts industry, advocating for artistic equity not only for myself, but for Black, Indigenous, POC, and marginalized artists, working within White-led organizations. I appreciate having been able to share my thoughts with the administrative team and fellow creatives, and be heard.
We came at this, re-imagining this annual show, sharing, keeping, and adding in many traditions, and finding the through line of these similar, and different experiences Kevin and I had in our childhoods. Kevin and I, while writing our stories, kept coming back to the traditions, origin stories, loving and funny moments, lessons…we’ve received from our loved ones. These are same gifts that we get to share with you all, the audience, and each other on stage. It’s a testament of the song I composed, The Gift, and how the work I was doing for this show, aligned with the introspective work I have been embarking on. I mentioned to Kevin several times, on Zoom meetings that I really feel blessed to be able remember my memories…down to smells, tastes, textures, feelings, colors, things that I may even have thought I forgot.
I wrote this final song of the show for the cast and Orchestra in that spirit specifically to be able to culminate all of the energy I felt being able to look back, as I am looking forward….to evoke the memories of joy shared between my family and I…and in acknowledgement of the work, and how tremendously grateful I am to celebrate my Mom and Dad’s legacy in song. The most beautiful and personal thing about this project for me was the looking back/looking forward aspect of it. I wrote/say in The Gift, “In the Spirit of Sankofa, I’m In Tune!” And, it was the overall truth!
The most beautiful and personal thing about this project for me was the looking back/looking forward aspect of it.”
I have been manifesting, and receiving a lot of blessings in life, regarding my artistry, and with this piece, I’ve gotten this cathartic chance to look back at my young life. The times when I dreamt of being in the place that I stand right now. Getting a chance to remember all of the work, the sacrifice that I, and my family, made to ensure that I could follow my dreams. Getting the chance to further honor my parents, and elders—to bring their memories to life, and to share the poignant things that they have said to me, the wisdom they passed down—how these gifts that they have given me, I now have to give.
I (we) can’t wait to share The Gift with you all!
I warmly invite you all to join all of us in the cast and crew of Joyful Echoes, this winter season with the Minnesota Orchestra. Happy Holidays!
—PaviElle M. French
PaviElle French is an Emmy Award winning, interdisciplinary artist, hailing from St Paul’s Rondo neighborhood. She is a Jerome Hill Artist Fellow (2021-22), as well as a McKnight Artist Fellow (2020), and her composition "A Requiem for Zula," written in celebration of her mother's life, was premiered with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. She is known for her powerhouse vocals and performing with an equally powerful 6-piece band.
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