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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Clemmons Gives New Life To Timeless Tunes

Author: Kate DeForest

When Francois Clemmons took the stage in Mead Chapel on Thursday, a voice in the back of the crowd called out, "Diva!" Whoever that person was, he or she had certainly seen Clemmons perform before.

He turned, spreading his arms wide so that the full effect of his performance dress, a hand painted, hand-embellished and tailored tuxedo jacket, boisterously sporting colors that brought to mind Florida, flamingos and happiness, could be taken in by the audience. Sparkling as he moved, Clemmons, referring to the audience's generous applause, said, "What's all this about? This?" "This" could have either meant the jacket or the man himself, but the distinction was beside the point. The jacket and the personality it encased were both deserving of the warm welcome.

The concert was nearly as much commentary as music,including words on music, and life both past, present and future. One got the sense that for Clemmons, everything can be related to music, any event or idea has its place in the innumerable melodies flying around inside his head. "I hope this music will linger in your hearts and your mind, too," he said.

His program, running a little over an hour, encompassed a wide range of songs, from an eclectic base of musicals, including but not limited to "The Fantasticks," "Guys and Dolls," "Porgy and Bess" and "South Pacific." One of the binding themes, besides being able to classify them as love songs, excepting maybe the two of the last three from "Porgy and Bess," was that many of them had traditionally been sung by females.

"It dawned on me one day, though it's no surprise to you [the audience], that I was singing all the ladies' parts," Clemmons said, of the types of songs he tended to hum or sing throughout his day.

Yet to hear the songs translated through Clemmons' resonant tenor was to hear them renewed and seemed to apply them to life in a broader sense, it was not only the lady lamenting her love, but the lover's empathetic reply, not only the mother's soothing tones, but the father's timbre as well.

The title of the performance, "From Broadway With Love: The Clemmons Consort," barely hinted at the emotional range explored throughout the evening. Love, throughout the concert, was "not only passionate love, but the memory of love," Clemmons said in reference to "Try to Remember."

The song, about the "hurt, pain and rejection" that one needs to experience alongside love, opened the show and was soon followed by the musical translations of parental, romantic, lost, unrequited, everlasting and ephemeral love.

The other part of the Clemmons Consort was pianist Johannes Wallman, who, despite being dressed all in black, managed to make his presence known.

His playing was able to reconcile the paradox of playing to the whim of Clemmons' vocals, all the while standing on its own merits in respect to the notes on the page.

Throughout the instrumental segments of "Summertime," Wallman sustained the emotional value of the vocals, speaking as eloquently with the ivories as Clemmons had done with his powerful voice.

The Clemmons Consort, the project through which Clemmons and Wallman have come together, is just one of many projects for both men.

In addition to being the founder and director of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, Clemmons is the conductor of the Middlebury College Choir and the Twilight artist-in-residence at the College, among other artistic appointments.

Wallman, like Clemmons, has a well-developed background in both performing and recording, including with his own Johannes Wallman Group, which put out a self-titled debut in 1998.

Hopefully, the concert will be, as Clemmons promised, "the first installment to embark upon the journey," hinting at performances to come, exploring his love for and mastery of the Broadway melody.