If it’s possible to be born to do a job, then Lee Pringle was born to create and ruThe Colour of Music Festival.
Pringle has spent the last seven years building the festival into a stunning and expansive presentation of classical music either composed or performed by African Americans. This year’s edition features a piano recital courtesy of Leonard Hayes, a clarinet quintet led by Robert L. Davis, a vocal recital from Indra Thomas, soprano, and performances by string and brass ensembles. Over four days, the program that Pringle spent more than a year creating will unfold in intimate surroundings — just the kinds that the composers themselves might have envisioned these pieces being played in.
“This year’s program is the first time we’ve created an intimate setting that features a very robust chamber presence,” Pringle says. “We’ve done the grand masterworks with chorus and orchestra, but we have not yet really showcased the original form of classical music from the baroque period. So by having these intimate concerts at the Edmondston-Alston House Salon or the Murray Center Salon, it gives the audience a chance to experience not only exquisite classical music by extraordinary instrumentalists, but they get to hear it in a setting that it was conceived to be heard in.”
Pringle himself has the perfect background to create and promote a festival like this. In addition to his own skills as a tenor vocalist, he’s produced more than 150 orchestral and choral concerts along with solo recitals and served as a consultant to the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. But he’s also led his own marketing and production firm, Buster-Elsie Productions, and he has an extensive background in corporate finance. All of that experience essentially allows him to execute events like this from start to finish, and he’s done so not just in Charleston, but in Nashville, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh as well.
“I don’t have the multimillion dollar budget of something like Spoleto,” Pringle says, “but I have the background of executing marketing strategies. Most people see how we’re doing things and they think we’re a multimillion dollar outfit, but we’re just using our money wisely.”
Pringle says that he’s learned over seven years that the best way for The Colour of Music Festival to compete with events like Spoleto is not to.
“We initially modeled ourselves after the Spoleto Festival,” Pringle says, “which of course has had more than 40 years to cultivate an enormous international patron base. But our model has since become a portable model. It’s a very unique model, because we can go wherever someone is willing to write a check. We have a lot of options to explore, and we’re finding that people really enjoy the chamber performances as much as they do the masterworks series.”
Pringle says that he’s come up against many challenges over the festival’s history, both from Mother Nature and from an oversaturated marketplace. The time of year that the festival was held has changed from fall to mid-winter after inclement weather became an issue, and sometimes getting people’s attention in Charleston has been difficult.
“I would say the biggest surprise for me is that as cosmopolitan as Charleston may be on the outside, there are still very deeply-rooted ideas of what represents high classical art,” Pringle says, “and because Spoleto and the Charleston Symphony both have an extensive history, it’s very difficult for other entities to weave out a spot, particularly when it’s something as focused as what we’re doing, giving black classical musicians and composers a platform.”
Part of Pringle’s job is planning ahead; the typical Colour of Music Festival program is in the works long before anyone else hears about it.
“The programs are usually conceived a year in advance,” he says. “What we deployed this week was conceived last year, and 2021 is already in the works. A lot of it has to do with artist availability, finding top quality artists. But this year’s program was built around the concept.”
You can expect to see Pringle at each of the festival’s seven events this year, both making sure everything is running smoothly and enjoying as much of the music as he can.
“I’m still very much hands on in every aspect,” he says. “Typically, I’m able to see every performance because I’m managing the execution. And this year, since we engineered things with more intimacy, I’ll definitely be there for every performance.”