It’s finally fall here at the Long Center and that means we get to enjoy a very special presentation of The Sound of (Black) Music out on the lawn! To learn more about the show that has reimagined The Sound of Music, the classic musical that everyone knows, into an Afrofuturistic wonderland that everyone won’t be able to live without, we sat down with Electric Root’s Kamilah Long (Co-Director of the show) and Jono Gasparro (Producer) to hear all about it. So grab your lonely goatherd and prepare to add The Sound of (Black) Music to your list of favorite things.

MEET THE SOUND OF (BLACK) MUSIC TEAM
The Sound of (Black) Music

Long Center: Firstly, a thing we like to do for fun — what song should people put on while they read this interview?

Kamilah Long, Co-Director: Social Call – Samara Joy

Jono Gasparro, Producer: Jump To It – Aretha Franklin

LC: We hear that the very beginning is a very good place to start. What’s the story behind how The Sound of (Black) Music came about? How does the instrumentation and reimagined score tell that story?

JG: It all began via creative “how-do-we-change-the-world-with-black-music” conversations between Michael Mwenso, myself, and Caleb Hammons who was the Artistic Producer of the Fisher Center at Bard College in 2020. Those conversations evolved into a revolutionary two-week artistic residency in the summer of 2021 with our organization, Electric Root, and the Fisher Center called “Black Roots Summer” where we brought 30 artists up the Hudson River (NY) to create three new shows. One of which was the “Sound of (Black) Music.”

We had asked the brilliant Mathis Picard to work on the music arrangements, but we needed the genius of theatremakers Kamilah Long and Shariffa Ali to put it all together, so they fortunately accepted our invitation and joined us at “Black Roots Summer” to direct this concept into a show.

KL: Shariffa and I had to house this new vision into a story that fit. We had to envision and create circumstances for the music to come alive in this imaginary world that doesn’t exist.

Ultimately, it was a new multidisciplinary approach that lends itself to the improvisational aspect of jazz — keeping it loose for the music to live — while at the same time serving the need to have cues so we could tell a story beyond a stagnant concert and address the two sets of characters involved (the musicians/and the players of characters).

LC: What elements of the original Sound of Music musical made it a great candidate for reinvention?

KL: In Electric Root we always talk about building community while centering love. It can feel like almost everyone knows and loves the Sound of Music so it becomes an easy avenue to communicate with people. Similar to when Shakespeare is presented — which is still taught in schools — the Sound of Music is one of those musicals that most have seen or come by throughout their childhood in some way. So it’s very familiar and easy to have a common understanding with the audience of what this music was.

Photo from Black Roots Summer
Photo from Black Roots Summer

LC:  We know that you take this show on the road. In your view, what’s the element that makes this show relatable to so many different types of people across the country?

JG: Continuing from what Kamilah mentioned in the last question, part of our mission at Electric Root is to unite and empower diverse communities across the US with love and radical hospitality, and we are really seeing that The Sound of Music transcends generational, socioeconomic, and racial borders — and is a source of joy for so many hearts. We have been blessed to see so many relive their youthful bliss while witnessing the look in young children’s eyes when they see themselves (for the first time) in this storied music.

KL: I believe it also resonates so deeply because the lyrics and melodies remain unchanged, but filled with newness. I still think of how Shakespeare is presented in this time, it’s rare to see the work with actors in an Elizabethan wardrobe. Shakespeare is often set in a modern setting to make it relatable and bring in new audiences. So The Sound of (Black) Music is a way to bridge what is now while also nodding to the past.

LC: What do you hope individuals take with them from the performance?

KL: I would say a fuller appreciation for Black music, jazz, afrobeats, etc., and the deep contribution that Black Roots music has and continues to have on our collective Joy, our life, love, and our entertainment. I hope everyone leaves with a sense of Joy and Healing in their hearts.

JG: Amen.

LC: Okay, lightning round. What’s everyone’s favorite song from the show?

KL: Oh, that’s going to cause problems! I can’t have a favorite out loud! Well, since there are two in one song — the Lonely Goatherd is special and so much fun — featuring great vocalists Chareene Wade and Brianna Thomas.

JG: Yeah, this one is hard, because the show continues to keep me on the edge of my seat for each song, and there are no favorites! But I will say I love the impact and depth of “Edelweiss” (as long as I have a tissue in my pocket).

LC: Any future projects on the horizon for The Sound of (Black) Music team?

KL: We are searching for a home to spend a good full two weeks (or more!) with The Sound of (Black) Music to take it to the next stage and experiment with getting it to a full musical adaptaion.

JG: Always so much moving at Electric Root! We are continuing to deepen and expand our partnership with performing arts organizations to envision new approaches to uniting, uplifting, and celebrating communities across the nation.

THE SOUND OF (BLACK) MUSIC
November 11
Hartman Lawn @ Long Center

This event is outdoors — blankets & lawn chairs encouraged.

Join us for the show on November 11 out on the lawn and the new 3d-printed pavilion stage. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets and prepare to be inspired! The Sound of (Black) Music kicks off at 7pm. 

Special thanks to Six Square and the rest of our community partners, Austin Area Urban League, Austin Justice Coalition, Austin NAACP, Black Leaders Collective, Origin Studio House, and Saffron Trust.

If you attended The Drop-In this summer, chances are you ran across our friend, Tater, and his dad, Jo! In this Mid-Week Intermission, get to know this dynamic duo, what they love about Austin, and why they love being Long Center Members.

Photo by Brynn Osborn
Woof woof! Greetings, dear friends!

My name is Tater, and I’m one happy, long-haired mini dachshund with a heart full of love for my wonderful city of Austin. Although I was born on the sunny shores of Corpus Christi, life took an exciting turn, and now I call Austin home. I live with my dad, Jo, who I must say is the best dog dad a doxie like me could ever ask for.

Dad and I became a team right at the start of the COVID era, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. It was a time when we all needed a little extra love and companionship, and we found that in each other. Dad’s not just my human; he’s my partner in adventure.

One of the things I love most about Austin is exploring the Hike and Bike Trail. There’s something magical about strolling along those scenic paths, with the wind in my long hair and the sights and sounds (and sniffs) of the city all around. Saturdays are extra special because that’s when I get to hang out with my doxie friends and their humans. We run, play, and chase our tails until we’re all tuckered out.

Photo by Brynn Osborn

But the real excitement for Dad and me happens during the summer at The Drop-In at the Long Center. It combines everything we love about Austin! You see, Dad is a huge fan of live music and a strong supporter of the Austin arts scene. His favorite show at The Drop-In this year was THEBROSFRESH, and I must admit, I really liked them, too! The music, the energy, the crowd – it was all so exhilarating!

Photo Courtesy of Jo

We’re proud members of the Long Center, and Dad says it’s vital to support nonprofits like it. The Long Center brings so much joy and culture to Austin, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it. Being there, surrounded by the Austin community, enjoying fantastic music, and supporting the arts – it’s what makes our hearts sing!

So, if you ever see me out and about in Austin, come say hello! I’m always up for meeting new people, just like Dad. If not, then I’ll see you next summer at The Drop-In or during any of the Long Center’s wonderful events the rest of the year!

Love,

Tater 🐾🎶🎨

KEEP IN TOUCH

At the Long Center, we’ve always got a new partnership or something cool we know you’ll want to check out! Find and follow us @longcenter on your social media platform of choice, and we’ll see you real soon.

You probably know by now that creativity is our favorite thing, especially when it’s the creativity of our own staff and volunteers! Look no further than Long Center’s Michael Gaona, Director of Facilities. Read on in this Mid-Week Intermission to learn about his origin story and wide range of super creative hobbies. Meanwhile, we’ll busy ourselves with some of the home-baked goods he brought to the office this morning. 🧁

Micheal stands high up in a harness with the Long Center ring beam behind him.
This is Michael 👆
Heya folks!

My name is Michael Gaona and I am the Director of Facilities here at the Long Center.

I’m originally from San Antonio and moved here in 2009. I live in South Austin with my wife Luna, daughter Milu, and two dogs, Rascal and Gizmo.

My oldest daughter lives in San Antonio with my three beautiful grandkids. Yes, I’m a PAPA, as they call me!

I grew up in a family that loved music! It seemed to be part of everything we did. From barbeques to birthday parties, and even ritual Sundays when my mom and aunts would clean their houses. I remember being at my grandmother’s when I was younger, watching her cook and clean listening to Sunny Ozuna, Augustine Ramirez, and Little Joe, dancing while she dusted… I do the same to this day.

I guess this is where my love of music came from. I listen to pretty much everything, but my faves are punk, rockabilly, new wave, old soul and R&B. As a teen, I was drummer and lead guitar for a couple of going-nowhere bands — we played covers from AC/DC to Metallica and a lot of ’80s hair bands. I was also in a MISFITS cover band. The experience of performing in front of an audience made it all worth it.

The music thing never took off, so I joined the NAVY right out of high school in 1991 where I was a GM (Gunner’s Mate) on the John F. Kennedy until 1996. Soon after, I began my career in Multifamily Housing. I attended San Antonio College where I received my Bachelor’s in electrical engineering with emphasis in Commercial and Residential construction, which brought me here to Austin in 2009 to work for a Multifamily Residential builder.

I also attended Everest Technical College here in Austin and received my Universal HVAC License, where I graduated with honors and was class valedictorian in 2011. After graduation, I was asked to become an evening and weekend instructor for the HVAC and Electrical program there, but that ended when the school closed in 2016.

I started to dabble in tattooing and costume & prop making for a couple of friends I met here, which blossomed — my creative spark was lit again!! After others had seen what I had made, I was commissioned to create post-apocalyptic outfits for others who frequently attended a festival called Wasteland Weekend, held in Edwards, California, around September-October. It’s a fully-immersive festival where people dress and live in a post-apocalyptic setting.

In doing these, I was introduced to someone who worked on films here in Austin. I was asked to help with a few low budget films and then worked on a couple of shows and movies that were being filmed here as well. All this was happening while working my day job as a Maintenance Supervisor and raising my daughter Milu, born June 1, 2013 — she’s 10 now. After a couple of years, I had to make the tough decision to stop and focus my spare time on her. I still create costumes and props in my free time, though.

Since 2016, I’ve had the opportunity to work for some amazing companies, wich gave me the experience and knowledge I have now. Sadly, COVID hit, and I was laid off from one of the most amazing positions I thought I would ever have. I took to baking to cope with the stress of the job loss and pass the time until I was back on my feet, and I actually became pretty good at it. I found a position with a company that didn’t last through the crazy snowstorm of 2021, and then after that, I found myself here at the Long Center, working alongside amazing people with lots of talent.

The venue and atmosphere here are beyond belief. Being part of an organization that puts on some of the most amazing shows, from ballet to orchestras, as well as other kinds of events, AND gives so much to the community is awesome! My favorite experience after joining the Long Center team was standing on the edge of the Ring Beam looking over the Austin skyline. Thinking back to that moment, I can now say it’s the best place to work and I have the best postion I could ever have.

Can’t wait to see you in the audience…

— Michael

KEEP IN TOUCH

At the Long Center, we’ve always got a new partnership or something cool we know you’ll want to check out! Find and follow us @longcenter on your social media platform of choice, and we’ll see you real soon.

Year-End Gift 2023 | Long Center
Your Support Today, Transforms Tomorrow

We’ve made it our mission to support creativity in all its forms, and we hope this season you’ll join us and do the same. Your donation doesn’t just support our work, it’s a declaration that creativity belongs to everyone