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of a Trebled Soul

in a Troubled America

for six voices

//  Duration: 11'
//  Date:  2017
//  Instrumentation: 2 sopranos, alto, 2 tenors, bass
// Text: Courtney Michael Brown
// For: Variant Six
//  Premiere: 29 March 2017, Philadelphia



Text by Courtney Michael Brown
Music by Marc LeMay
Performed by Variant Six


Premiered 29 March 2017, Philadelphia, with Variant Six:
Jessica Beebe, soprano 
Rebecca Myers, soprano 
Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano 
Steven Bradshaw, tenor 
Michael Jones, tenor 
Daniel Schwartz, bass


“Courtney Michael Brown: music-made man.” Thus began a letter of application to the University of Pennsylvania for a joint Ph.D. program in Ethnomusicology and Africana Studies written in 2014 by Courtney Michael Brown. What followed was a work of poetry: two pages of spirit, intellect, music and wit that only Courtney could have written. Courtney was accepted to Penn and began studies in the Fall of 2015. The following summer, he died of pancreatic cancer.


When we heard the news about Courtney, we were devastated. As he did everywhere he went, he left an indelible mark on those us in Philadelphia. In long conversations over coffee, late nights at bars and in living rooms, and sessions of hysterical laughter, he wove his way into our souls in a uniquely unforgettable way. As part of my own grieving process, I decided to compose a tribute to Courtney using some of the beautiful words he wrote in his letter of application to Penn. These words show how deeply ingrained he was in the study of American Blackness, and how important his work was and continues to be in building bridges across communities and cultures. I don’t claim to speak for Courtney with this piece, but I do hope he would be tickled and honored if he heard it. We miss you, Courtney. You were born an original, you saw the uniqueness in each of us, and you left the world a much better place by your being in it.


I would like to thank Courtney’s mother, Kim Brown, for her kind permission in my using this text. A portion of any proceeds from performance of this piece will be donated to the Courtney and Dominic Brown Memorial Foundation.




Text (by Courtney Michael Brown):

I am…music-made man
I am black keys
I am raw expression tuning to the rhythms of reality
My voice accompanied by a gentle tide of ivory keys
I am jazz—Keys,
Tame as Nina’s Blues
And wild as the wind.


Can words describe 
What it means to be ever evolving?
When words fail, [Call me…]
Music remains. 
Music has expressed, music has embodied 
Every incarnation of American Blackness 
And particularly, [Call me…]
My own becoming-of-age
Melodies in my pockets,
I am…
I am a product of a tele-nurtured childhood,
From the music of BET 
To the black sitcoms of 90’s primetime. [They call me…]
Blackness meant mainstream.
Blackness meant thug.
Blackness meant subculture.
Blackness meant Africa.


I am the b(l)ackground
They call me minor
Because I exist between the white
My voice…
My voice is a master class in double consciousness
My voice is a product of echoes and dissonances
I am the blackground yet I create complexity
I am wonder
I am structure
I am fluidity

In my tele-nurtured childhood
My vibrato was born from the speakers of my mother’s Buick Century
In my tele-nurtured childhood
My melodies are weapons of self-determination 
In my childhood
Blackness meant to choose—or be chosen.
My vibrato invokes the spirit in the dark:
Innervisions of a trebled soul in a troubled America

Melodies in my pockets,
I am wonder
I am structure
I am
…raw expression
…Black keys
…tame as Nina’s Blues
…wild as the wind
I am fluidity
I am man, made music.
I am (…)

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