Bed-Stuy resident Samori Covington, 12, wrote a poem when she was eight years old entitled, “When Randa Wears Red.” Since then, the poem has been performed as an opera song at The Fort Greene Literary Festival, Carnegie Hall, Galapagos, Cave Canem, Restoration and multiple other venues throughout the city.
Three years ago, poems by Samori, Alexis Cummings and Najaya Royal were chosen for the “I Hear America Singing” initiative, headed by Charles Jarden of American Opera Projects and Greg Trupiano from the Walt Whitman Project.
The girls all came from Angeli Rasbury’s "," a writing workshop held in the Brooklyn Public Library branches in Eastern Parkway and New Lots.
Gilda Lyons, a renowned composer, wrote the music to accompany the poem, and classically trained opera singer Nicole Mitchell performs the pieces. When the children can be there, they read their poem aloud first, before Nicole sings.
The group of pieces, entitled “Songs from the F Train,” has been published as sheet music for piano and voice. Samori’s copy is signed by Gilda. “Thank you for your inspiring words,” it says.
“Samori’s was the most lighthearted poem, and had a nice balance to bring to the other poems which were a little more somber and ruminative,” said Jarden. “The composer said that when she read it, it only took a few seconds for her to feel a tango or dance rhythm in the piece.”
You have to hear the piece to fully understand that this is really opera, a genre of music we rarely hear these days, and definitely not one kids are often exposed to, especially when the piece is something they wrote.
“They didn’t know what to expect,” said Jarden, referring to the children and their families. “When they heard this really lush, lyrical, big sound, filling their words with this sound, I think they were shocked.”
The songs were first performed at the Fort Greene Literary Festival in 2009. Samori and the other girls were even paid $75 for this performance.
“It dragged them into the professional world,” Jarden said.
Samori admits that she starts shaking from nervousness when she has to read aloud, and she still uses a script. Practice has made her more comfortable, however, and she and the other girls often work together to prepare themselves for the readings.
“It really helped them come out of their shell,” said Cheryl Covington, Samori's mother and a firm believer in Angeli’s workshops. It’s a great experience “for kids who never had the opportunity to do something like that.”
Three more pieces were commissioned later on for “Songs from the A Train,” and Jarden hopes to commission another three in the near future. The songs are a great success, and the performances are in high demand. Be sure to look for upcoming performances in Fort Greene Park this summer, as well as other venues.
“So many people came together to make this happen,” said Covington. “Because of Angeli, the girls go after anything they want now, because they know they can do it.”
When asked if she wanted to be a writer when she grows up, Samori answered, “Yeah. Or a pediatrician... Or a scientist.”
*Audio clip attached of "When Randa Wears Red," performed by Nicole Mitchell.