En Masse:

Music takes over the park, bandman style

Marching bands rock! That’s if composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain has his way. When En Masse takes over Discovery Green park April 20, the UH Cougar Marching Band will turn convention on its head. “I see a marching band as something that happens during the halftime show at a football game. And I see composers as dead white guys. I think this project is uniquely qualified to change those perspectives, those connotations,” he tells us.

The Haitian-American composer was invited by the UH Mitchell Center to write original music for the project. A large-scale, outdoor performance will span an entire afternoon and include about 160 members of the UH Cougar Marching band in a typical processional. The performers will then disband into smaller groups, allowing the audience to experience the music on a more intimate level. “We often work in an intimate setting. This is the opposite. This is big, this is loud, this is brash, kind of crass, even. I’ve always been interested in oscillating between both of those worlds: tradition and non-tradition, convention and innovation. I like that. It prevents me from getting bored,” explains Roumain.

Also on board is a frequent collaborator of Roumain’s, Oakland-based writer, choreographer, performer and educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph. “I think it’s the first time a marching band works with a Haitian-American composer and a Haitian-American director. I think that’s significant,” he says.

The name En Masse (French for “in a large group”) is a nod to Roumain’s Haitian heritage. “It doesn’t matter if people don’t get the name. In fact, sometimes that’s a better thing. The (Grammy®-winning) band Bon Iver is a good example. We name things to identify things. I was looking for something convenient to accurately describe this project. And this notion of a lot of people coming together to do one thing made sense. So the title was convenient and imaginative,” he explains.

Imagination is key for this composer, who spends two hours composing every day, without exception. “If I want to go longer, I don’t. Sometimes you can get fatigued and not realize it. That can happen with your imagination, too!” he says.

Often relegated to composing in airplanes – en route to his next project – Roumain has been quite prolific. “My career is expansive and boundless. I’m doing different things with a lot of different people: dancers, photographers, filmmakers, writers. I make a good living as a composer,” he reveals. This is a major point of interest when the PhD-educated composer visits music schools. “Questions used to be about my music and their music. Now, inevitably, every question and comment is based on career,” he tells us. His advice is rather practical. “Somebody said, ‘You should never have a backup plan.’ I thought that was right. In America, you may have a dream but you’re often funding and educating yourself in something else. That’s a backup plan,” he explains. And if all goes according to plan, you’ll get to hear DBR’s music this month. And, it’s free.


En Masse Studies and Etudes Discovery Green Park April 20, 2013

By Nadia Michel | Photography by David A. Brown