Steven M. Allen
A composer, conductor and ethnomusicologist, 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.
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.
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. After further research into the life of the poet, Steven discovered the most infatuating romance chronicled in a collection of correspondences between Dunbar and Moore. The letters continued over two years before the couple met. Act I of the work was first performed at The Catholic University of America, 2009. The act was performed again at the Eighth Annual Page-To-Stage Festival, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2010, and by Opera North, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2011.
From the 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 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.
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