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WCW: Aryssa Leigh Burrs

Special edition - Identify: a recital concept by Aryssa Leigh Burrs

Aryssa Leigh Burrs is a Maryland based mezzo-soprano vocalist who is exploring music and performance as a catalyst for discussions about identity. She will be partnering with Phenomenal Womxn to present an original recital concept called Identify this Sunday, January 3rd at 3pm EST. Order your ticket so you don't miss out, and read on to learn about the woman behind the experience!


Here's our Q&A with Aryssa:

Q: You've created a recital concept called Identify, which we can’t wait to present on January 3! What inspired you to create this project?

A: Well, I am always working to ask myself what questions in life I would like to address using music-making and art. I could not escape thoughts in the last year about how music and comfortability seem to be such simple gateways to challenging conversations around topics such as Identity. In finishing my masters degree last spring, I also found myself really questioning the purpose behind the idea of academic recital programming. Put those two challenges together, and here we are now!

Q: What are some pillars of your identity in which you feel most at home, and why?

A: In this concert, I will be addressing my personal pillars of being bi-racial, being a musician, partnership, and womanhood. However, the first pillar I knew I wanted to address was my racial identity, having an African American father and a white mother. I have found so much comfort in recent years as I’ve particularly turned to African American musical traditions as an outlet. I love my father and all of the artistic and life lessons he’s been able to share with me from his experiences as a Black person in this world.

Aryssa's father, Leslie Burrs, is an accomplished composer and arranger. She will be premiering his re-imaginings of some beloved spirituals on the first set of this program. Learn more about Mr. Burrs on his website!

Q: Are there any pillars of your identity that you feel are still “under construction?” How do music and the creative process help facilitate that growth for you?

A: I definitely recognize my pillar of partnership as being “under-construction.” I wanted to build this set simply because of how much I have learned from the partners that have already come into my life. With that, I have chosen a set of Debussy for this pillar, as these pieces depict a character who allows herself to partner with a breadth of different humans in her life; she encounters relationships ranging from fiery, passionate, and successful, to some cold, and some lonesome. The character of Bilitis, and particularly Debussy’s depiction of her, has encouraged me to keep myself open to the different lessons I can learn from relational intimacy.

Q: Why does the world need Identify right now? What sets it apart from other music events?

A: Being that we do not yet live in a world or a society that will just allow people to be exactly who they are, I think it continues to be incredibly important to develop the spaces for conversations based in safety and support. And with that, I firmly believe that tools such as music and art are simple entranceways into said conversations. I hope Identify can create precisely one (or many!) of those spaces!


Q: You’ve utilized a variety of artistic media to create an immersive experience for your audience. What was it like bringing all those artists and creative elements together to create a cohesive presentation?

A: In spite of the communication difficulties presented in the time of Covid, this process has proven to be inexplicably fulfilling as I have met new creators, shared my idea with them, and they have then hit me back with better, and even more realized products. It is really cool to work with really cool people! Through it all, I have tried to remind myself of what I want to say with this project at its core, and with that intentionality, I hope it translates as a cohesive piece of art!


Q: Your work offers something truly unique that audiences haven’t seen before; what challenges and triumphs have you experienced in creating the space for something new?

A: I think my personal challenges with this project have also turned out to be my personal triumphs. I did not realize when embarking on this piece that it would ultimately be a “creative film/music production” journey, rather than simply a musical one. I have learned so much at each stage from at home recording, to video production, to how to rehearse new music with a new string quartet, and so much more!

Q: What would you like your audience to take away from this experience?

A: Through this production, I am hoping people will feel more supported within their own pillars of identity. Again, we can all use extra support for these often overlooked bits of ourselves, especially in a time as challenging as a global pandemic. So I hope this program can be an extra kick of empowerment through a safe and musical conversation.


Q: Pre-COVID, this project was originally supposed to be your graduate recital at Northwestern University; what’s next for you now that you’ve finished your master’s degree?

A: I am currently working as an Artist in Residence with Opera Columbus – Capital University! I spent the fall semester teaching music courses at the university, and in the spring, I will be singing the roles of Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Cinderella in our virtual children’s opera, and as a soloist at various events. I will then be headed to Colorado for summer 2021 as a Young Artist with Central City Opera!

Q: What advice would you give to young artists with big aspirations?

A: Just keep going and doing! Keep asking yourself why you want to make the art, and then make it. You don’t need anyone else’s permission when you know exactly what you would like to say and why.

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