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Changing Tunes

Changing Tunes
October 2014
Colour of Music festival founder Lee Pringle works to awaken the nation to black classical music

Lee Pringle is a man with a vision: to see black classical musicians and composers recognized for their countless contributions to the genre over the last 300 years. Many of America’s classical music fans don’t even know the name of Chevalier de Saint-Georges—an African-French composer renowned in other parts of the globe for his mid-18th century works—Pringle notes. In 2013, this financial services exec, also founder and president of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra [CSO] Spiritual Ensemble and CSO Gospel Choir, created the Colour of Music Black Classical Musicians Festival. This October 22 to 26, it will for a second year bring together professional black musicians from some of the world’s greatest orchestras and conservatories for concerts, as well as symposiums, around Charleston.

Passion project: Among the top 10 orchestras in the world, black classically trained musicians represent less than three percent of the performers. The Colour of Music festival was conceived to show what it is to see an all-black orchestra (opposite of the norm), and also to help America realize we have to change the way we hire classically trained musicians. We must factor diversity into the final tally, otherwise the system will never change.

Creating Colour of Music: In the past, the CSO has been completely committed to diversity, but when I started the festival, I felt that commitment was omitted because the CSO needed to focus on core patron likes—to keeping the lights on during the nation’s financial crisis. The festival helps the orchestral community do something that is a challenge even for orchestras with budgets 10 times that of the CSO’s: showcase lesser-known works by black musicians.

Festival performance highlights: Friday’s Porgy and Bess Concert Suit; Saturday’s Charlestonia by Charleston’s black father of classical music, Edmund Thornton Jenkins; and Sunday’s festival finale, where Verdi’s mammoth Messa da Requiem will be performed by an all-black group of orchestral musicians, four choral singers, and the CSO Spiritual Ensemble.

From finance to the arts: When I founded the festival, I decided to turn my passion for classical and choral music into a career change and work as its general manager. I can only tell you that it takes a lot to learn to live like an artist—but I’ve figured it out.

Singing tenor: I consider myself to be a formidable amateur tenor singer. I didn’t study classical singing but was just gifted with a timbre in my voice that allows me to sing operatic music as well as highly arranged sacred music. And the right gospel tune—I can own a selection of that as well.

Get your tickets: Colour of Music runs October 22-26 at locations around town. Find the event schedule and purchase tickets ($45-$10) at