Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows


Steven M. Allen


Cast of Characters

Paul Laurence Dunbar – Bass Baritone
Four Boys – Cambiata
Matilda Dunbar {Paul’s mother} – Mezzo
Major James Pond {Paul’s Manager} – Tenor
Alice Ruth Moore – Soprano
Leila Wright {Alice’s Sister} – Soprano
Patricia Wright Moore {Alice’s Mother} – Mezzo
Victoria Matthews – Mezzo
12 – 16 Mixed Voices {Party Guests}
Booker T. Washington – Bass
W.E. B. Dubois – Tenor

Instrumentation flute, clainet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, violoncello, double bass, piano

Duration: 2:25

Act I

1. Prelude
2. A Boys’ Summer – {ensemble}
3. The Majors and Minors’ Review – {trio}
4. A Letter to Alice – {arioso}
5. Do You Call That a Mistake
– {duet}
6. Violets and Other Tales – {arioso}
7. Sister, Sister – {duet}
8. Victoria Darling – {quartet}
9. Yours Very Truly – {aria}
10. A Lyric – {duet}
11. I Am Sincerely Yours – {aria}
12. A Poem for Alice – {trio}
13. I Could Learn to Love Him – {aria}

Act II

14. Till The Wind Get’s Right – {aria}
15. News From London – {duet}
16. When Malindy Sings – {trio}
17. Matilda’s Aria

18. Dear Child, Just Leave it to Me – {trio}
19. The Party – {ensemble}
20. The Poet – {aria}
21. In The Parlor – {trio}
22. We Wear The Mask – {trio, chorus}
23. The Engagement – {duet}
24. I Could Learn to Love Him – {aria}


The setting is a beautiful and sunny day in Dayton, OH, June 27, 1896. The 24th birthday of Paul Laurence Dunbar was one he’d never forget. Dunbar worked as an elevator operator at the Callahan Building, located in downtown Dayton. It was there where he continued to write poems and other stories with the hope of one day finding success.

Paul’s life changed suddenly when he is met at home by Major James Pond, his manager. Major Pond delivers the news that William Dean Howells, the foremost literary critic of the late nineteenth century, has reviewed Paul’s work, Majors and Minors (1896), in the prestigious Harper’s Weekly Magazine. As with Dunbar’s earlier work Oak and Ivy (1895), the larger “Majors” section contained what Paul considered his most serious work, poems in standard English. The smaller “Minors” section contained his verses written in dialect. Though the review of the work was to make Paul an instant national success, Paul is distressed to find that Howells has praised only the works written in dialect, referring to them as “darky poems.” The critic has expressed astonishment at the idea that such well-written verses were “from someone who appeared to be of pure African blood… black skin and thick rolled-out lips.”

As fate would allow, the same evening, Paul stumbles upon a photograph of Alice Ruth Moore and a review of her book, Violets and Other Tales (1895), in the Boston Monthly Review Magazine. Astonished at her beauty, Paul decides to write her a letter.

Within six months of corresponding, Paul finds himself uncontrollably in love, while Alice contemplates the promises of an incredible fairy-tale romance. Then, Paul again receives life-changing news. Major Pond had become a welcomed guest in the Dunbar home. This time he bears news of Paul’s reading tour in London. Of course, Paul is ecstatic at the thought of being recognized as an American Poet, and “not just some darky with the gift to rhyme.”

Sharing the joy with his mother, Matilda, he asks her if she will sing for him. Listening to her sing, Paul pens the poem “When Malindy Sings,” in devotion to his mother.

Biographical Information

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, 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 encompass a variety of genres and styles that range from Symphonic Works to various collections of Spirituals and Art Songs for voice and chamber ensemble. Most noted are: Jacob’s Ladder, set for voice, violoncello and piano, Invictus, written in commemoration of the centennial celebration of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., consisting of male voices, brass and percussion and When My Mother Sang, a collection of the chamber settings of gospel hymns for voice, oboe / clarinet and piano. Today is also arranged for a cappella chorus. Steven’s opera, Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows: An Opera based on the Lives and Love of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore is to featured in The Life and Times of Paul Laurence Dunbar, produced by Frederick Lewis, 2016. This is the first PBS documentary on the life of Dunbar. From the larger work, he’s developed two vignettes. In honor of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s birthday and the opening ceremony to the newly renovated Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Washington, DC, The Poet: A Chamber Opera of Life and Times of Paul Laurence Dunbar was premiered. 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. As an ethnomusicologist, Steven’s extensive research and innate passion for the music and cultural practices of the African Diaspora has influenced the text and curriculum guide: Babylon’s Harps: The History of African-American Music from Civil War to Civil Rights. As well, the research exists in an Orchestral Suite inspired by The Harp, a Harlem Renaissance Sculpture by Augusta Savage. While a member of the faculty at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, DC, He revised the choral music program to include a diverse group of performing ensembles. One of which he conducted is the esteemed Chamber Singers and The Dukes of Ellington. The ensembles have collaborated with the PostClassical Ensemble, conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez, on such projects as H.T. Burleigh meets Antonin Dvorak and Bach and the Divine featuring Kevin Deas, bass-baritone, Soprano, Angela Brown in Opera from A Sista’s Point of View’s, the Stephen Newby and Ja Jahannes’ musical work, Montage for Martin, A Musical Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., narrated by the National Medal of Arts recipient, George Shirley. In addition to his work at Ellington, he developed a computer music technology component to the composition division. This allowed many of his composition students to creatively explore the medium of electro-acoustic composition. As a result, many of his students are currently scoring for dance, film, commercial media and various other genres. Former Chief Musician at the Historic Metropolitan Baptist Church, Washington, DC, Steven serves on the National Music Committee of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. He’s a member of the American Composers Forum, ASCAP and the National Association of Negro Musicians.

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