Steven M. Allen
A composer, conductor and ethnomusicologist, his compositions possess an affinity for imbuing the verbal soul and musical vernacular of the common person with the highly crafted, vocal florid, and expressive heights of the grand opera tradition. His work is lyric yet dramatic, contemporary yet accessible to those whose soulful lives it emulates.
Winner of The Coalition of African Americans in the Performing Arts’ Opera Composer’s Showcase, Steven’s opera, Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows: An Opera based on the Lives and Love of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore began in 2007 with the setting of a poem by Dunbar. From this larger work, Steven developed two vignettes: Violets and Other Tales and The Poet: A Chamber Opera of Life and Times of Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Poet was first premiered in 2014 to honor Paul Laurence Dunbar’s birthday, and the opening ceremony of the newly renovated Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Washington, DC. The work featured the world-renown mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves-Motgomery as Maltida Dunbar, Paul’s mother. Alice Ruth Moore, the love of Paul’s life, featured soprano, Lisa Edwards-Burrs. The role of Major James Pond, Paul’s business manager was played by tenor, Daniel Noone and for the voice of whom the work was written, Gregory J. Watkins, baritone starred as Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Poet is also featured in Beyond the Mask, produced by Frederick Lewis, 2016 as the first PBS documentary on the life of Dunbar. In October of 2017, The South Shore Opera Company of Chicago performed the world premiere of the newly orchestrated work under the musical direction of Leslie B. Dunner and the artistic vision of Amy Hutchinson.
Allen’s opera is a gorgeous celebration of Dunbar, meticulously thought-out and rendered in a wide variety of musical styles attractively juxtaposed and weaved together. Dunbar’s life straddled the late Romantic and early Impressionistic periods of music, and Allen exploits this fact beautifully.
- M.L. Rantala, Classical Music Critic, Hyde Park Herald
Steven M. Allen’s versatility as a composer and ethnomusicologist is best presented in his volume of works, Rivers in the Desert. In collaboration with Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell, the body of works share new perspectives of the Spiritual and other socio-cultural influences and performance practices derived from the African Diaspora. Babylon’s Harps, written for 2 harps and full orchestra is based on Harlem Renaissance Sculptor, Augusta Savage’s, The Harp. The work is a 4-movement journey from where the Israelites placed their harps in Psalm 139, only to sustain the Negro in a strange and stolen land. Recently commissioned by StepAfrika! is an electroacoustic composition chronicling The Stono Rebellion of 1739. Drumfolk is scheduled to premiere January 2020.
As a resident composer of the Alliance for New Music Theatre, The Poet: A Chamber Opera on the Life and Times of Paul Laurence Dunbar will be presented at Dupont Underground in the spring of 2020. This presentation is to commemorate the 150th celebration of the first public high school for African Americans in the United States of America. Initially established as the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth in 1870, it was later designated as M Street High School in 1891. Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Washington, DC. was named after the poet in 1916.
Steven M. Allen began his undergraduate studies in voice and piano performance at Mary Holmes College, West Point, MS. He then enrolled at Jackson State University, where he developed an intrinsic zeal for conducting and composition under the tutelage of Robert L. Morris. Upon relocating to Washington, DC area, he studied composition and conducting at Howard University while serving as the assistant choral director. His graduate studies include: composition with Andrew Simpson and Steven Strunk at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, The Catholic University of America, ethnomusicology with Kip Lornell, George Washington University, choral conducting and pedagogy with James Jordan, Westminster Choir College and William Weinert, Eastman School of Music.