A Review: Elijah Thomas’ Scenes from the Life of a Young Man from Philadelphia

May 4, 2016

As Painted Bride Music Curator Lenny Seidman made clear in his introduction, he had no idea what Elijah Thomas and his group of 14 players had in mind when Seidman initiated this musical project some time ago.

The fulfillment of that project, performed this weekend at the Bride, was a powerfully moving multi-level evening that was a journey through the complex lives of educated young black Americans, their education serving all the more to heighten their sensitivity that as blacks, education doesn’t bring equality, it brings instead a painful awareness of the gulf between life in America, as daily experienced by blacks, and how different that same life is for whites, even as they live and work side by side in the these two Americas.

But it wasn’t an evening filled with verbal or musical anger. It was a colloquy of music and spoken dialogue that reached out to the audience – and indeed served as a bond between the white and black players in the ensemble – to say once again, as Rodney King said in Los Angeles in 1992 after the riots, and as Martin Luther King said, in somewhat different words at the great assembly on the National Mall in 1963: ‘Can we all just get along?’

So it was a concert and a classroom, the music portion being about the same length as the thoughtful dialogue between the audience and the players that followed the performance.

And the performance was enhanced by its spontaneous improvisational quality.

Were the narrators reading from prepared scripts, or were the scripts just a guide to give direction to the heartfelt baring of their personal experiences and feelings?

There was nothing improvisational about the compositions, yet even here there was a powerful sense of being in the moment, the music an auditory accompaniment to the dialogues of the two narrators, which, in the final composition, turned into a dissonant slow-motion chorale that warped one’s sense of real time as it wound to its ringing conclusion.

Rick Snyderman

May 1, 2016