Welcome to the 2016 January/February issue of NOA NOTES, in which we remember
our 61st Annual Convention held in Indianapolis January 6-10! Highlights include the
20th anniversary of NOA's Legacy Initiative and the presentation of our
Lifetime Achievement Award to George Shirley (pictured above)
Enjoy the photos (by Richard Poppino), reviews and recollections below.
Professor of Music Chair, Voice Division
School of Music, Theatre, and Dance
Kansas State University
Dear NOA Colleagues,
I look forward to serving NOA as President and appreciate the opportunity to represent our organization and lead our activities for the next two years. I want to thank David Holley for his outstanding leadership and guidance as president during the past two years.
Our national convention was a tremendous success. I first want to thank NATS for their collaboration and the voice faculty (Lisa Dawson, Keith Brautigam, Jess Munoz and Tammie Huntington) of Indiana Wesleyan University for serving as hosts. The Conrad Hotel in downtown Indianapolis proved to be a terrific location for the convention. The sessions offered by NOA and NATS were excellent. Thanks to Ruth Dobson and the convention committee for their preparation and organization of events.
In this issue of NOTES, you will be reading reviews of sessions, competitions and other special events offered during the convention. This was indeed a special convention. There are so many memorable moments from the convention: “Heritage and Hope from the African American Experience” and “What’s Past is Prologue: The Legacy Continues.” Donnie Ray Albert’s Keynote Address, Esther Hinds winner of the “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Award, George Shirley receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, Collegiate Opera Scenes Competition, Vocal Competition, Scholarly Paper Winner, Chamber Opera Composition Performance, Sacred in Opera Initiative, and the Annual Legacy Gala Banquet and Awards.
From the President-Elect
Associate Professor of Voice
Director of Opera Theatre Director
The Druid City Opera Workshop
University of Alabama School of Music
I'm honored to write my first column as President-Elect of NOA. I see my new position as an exciting opportunity to learn everything I can about the organization, it's rich history, the year-long buzz of each committee, the infrastructure and even the smallest of details. I look forward to picking David Holley's brain while partnering with Reg Pittman to do all I can to support, nurture, and engage our organization. Much as my mission was as VP of Regions, I will continue to work with the officers and the board to see that NOA burns brightly between the conventions. In keeping our presence alive at the local and regional levels, we can not only attract new members, but continue to find ways to energize our current members.
Our conventions are spirited and full of relevance and ideas and passion. But truth be told? Not enough people know about us. How can that be, given all we have to offer? So here are a few more things I'll help with in every way I can: membership (I'm chair of the Membership Committee, so you'll be hearing from me very soon ... get your ideas ready!), advertising (Al Chaney and his committee have great ideas to update our visual appeal and have a regular presence in important industry publications) and convention attendance. We're in wonderful hands with Carleen Graham, our new VP of Conventions, and Ben Brecher, our local host, and I'm looking forward to helping them spread the excitement about Santa Barbara. For me, surfing lessons are going well and I should be quite good at it by next January.
But even if you don't surf, join us! Get involved. Please get to know your Regional and State Governors. Keep NOA on your front burners and get a friend to join. They'll thank you for it! Oh ... and renew your memberships if you haven't already. So with all of that said, I invite you, as always, to be in touch with me with ideas or questions. I promise a short-winded response (ha ...) Warm regards.
From the Vice-President for Conventions
Distinguished Professor of Music
The Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam
Over the years, our time together in January has become a highlight for me and so I am honored to be your new VP of Conventions. I look forward to working with the convention committee and local host Benjamin Brecher as we plan the 2017 conference to be held in Santa Barbara, CA!
The 2017 convention will be January 5-7 at the historical Fess Parker Double Tree by Hilton Resort right across the street from East Beach in Santa Barbara. The theme for the conference will be Fostering Change: Performance & Pedagogy in Opera’s New Millennium.
We invite you to begin thinking about session proposals that focus on ways in which we might address opera performance practices and pedagogy in an ever-changing era. The date for submission of session proposals is June 17 - look for the form to be available on our website soon. Be creative and think outside of the box! We are looking forward to planning events that will allow us all to recharge and reconnect, while enjoying the beautiful Pacific coast setting.
Looking Forward to Serving,
From the Vice-President for Regions
Director of Opera Studies and Coordinator of the Voice Area
Texas State University
I am so honored to be the new Vice President of Regions for NOA! As VP of Regions, my task is to strengthen the membership of NOA, identify new members in each region, and energize each member of NOA so the fun, excitement and engagement of the Convention continues throughout the year. Paul Houghtaling did such a great job over the past few years, I only hope I can match his efforts!
In the short time we have had since the Convention in Indianapolis, we have been very busy! Dr. Dawn Neely (U of West Georgia), Governor of the Southeastern Region, has agreed to host a Google Chat session for all Regional Governors to talk about all of the wonderful things she has done as Governor, and outline some ideas on ways each Region can stay engaged throughout the year. Governors, look for an email suggesting the best time for this in the coming days.
Building off of a session in Indianapolis, in the Texhoma region Barbara Hill-Moore (SMU) is working with members Rebecca Grimes (Sam Houston) and Rick Piersall (Abilene Christian) on a joint session for Texhoma NATS, where each school will bring a few students for an actual “blind date” version of Michael Ching’s and Dean Anthony’s “Speed Dating Tonight!” Blind improvisation between each school- what fun!
Are you connected to your Region, and your Governor? Go to the website (http://www.noa.org/about_us/regions.html) and contact your Governor today. Then let me know what great ideas you came up with, so we can all share them.
I look forward to serving as your VP of Regions, and chatting with all of you. Building a strong community makes each individual better, so here’s to the NOA Community!
From the Finance Committee:
Our 2016 Conference has just come to an end. It was a wonderful conference, demonstrating NOA’s commitment to excellence through all of the competitions, workshops, master classes, and performances which took place in Indianapolis. And so now, it is time for me as the chair of the Finance Committee to make my annual plea for contributions to our wonderful organization. Dues alone do not allow NOA to continue its many projects. I hope you will find it within your heart to make a contribution to our 2016 Annual Campaign. It is my hope that 2016 will prove to be a creative, healthy, productive, and prosperous year for all of our membership. I wish you the best for this New Year, and I urge you to make a tax deductible contribution to NOA in 2016.
REVIEW by Conor Angell
Assistant Professor of Music
With singers George Shirley, Thomas Young, Louise Toppin, Angela Brown, Limmie Pulliam, and Reginald Smith, Jr.
Panel Moderators: Gail Robinson-Oturu, Frederick Kennedy.
Introduction from Gail Robinson-Oturu:
Todd Duncan in 1945 was the first African American singer to sing with a major opera company in a role that was not traditionally considered a minority role (Tonio in Pagliacci with New York City Opera). For decades, this country was not ready for black performers in its concert halls. Today’s session features African-American performers who made debuts in six different decades, from the 1950s until the current decade.
First question: what was your first exposure to music that led you in the direction of opera? George Shirley was born in Indianapolis, where he and his parents sang regularly in their church. During his childhood, they moved to Detroit, where there was a strong public school elementary music program. He learned spirituals and art songs, as well as some choral music, but not opera. He sang in a Messiah production every year with his high school, alongside alumni soloists. His parents were from Arkansas and Kentucky, and they listened to Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. Thomas Young grew up in Cleveland, where George Szell and Robert Shaw were active. He attended a Congregational Church, where they did all of the great sacred works. Jazz was also very vibrant in Cleveland, and the center of Motown music was just sixty miles away. Mr. Young got to see Szell rehearse, and was always exposed to all kinds of music, although opera came later. He just kept listening and learning. Louise Toppin feels that music chose her, rather than her choosing music. Her father was a first generation American from Bermuda. They lived in NYC, and went to the Met frequently. She had a recording of Leontyne Price as Aida, and she always found it surprising that a black woman was on the recording. She thought she was going to be a medical doctor. She excelled at the piano. However, she fought the call of music, and didn’t participate in elementary or high school music, despite knowing that there were African Americans with careers in music. Angela Brown never thought she would do anything besides sing, except that she thought briefly that she might do have a career like her mother’s, in nursing or cosmetology. A native of Indianapolis, she sang frequently with all the arts organizations in Indianapolis. Her mother encouraged her in music, and she sang alto in churches. She could never “growl and grate” in the gospel choirs, but could belt, and did a lot of musical theatre. She did a 1982 musical Raisin, and had the opportunity to do an audition for Dream Girls at age 19. Limmie Pulliam is the youngest of 10 children, and the son of a Missouri preacher. When his parents weren’t around, they listened to soul records, which were not allowed. During his junior year, his teacher held him after class, and gave him a recording of Pavarotti singing “Una furtive lagrima.” Mr. Pulliam did the solo and ensemble competition his junior year, singing “Una furtiva lagrima.” A judge held him afterwards at the competition and told him he should study music and go to Oberlin. Reginald Smith, Jr. was the youngest of five children in Atlanta, and his mother was a choir director. He joined the choir in second grade. He sang a lot, and then went to an arts high school, where he majored in creative writing, and minored in music. Then he went to see Tosca at Atlanta Opera, with Donnie Ray Albert as Scarpia and Cynthia Lawrence as Tosca. This was his first opera. He was so impressed by Donnie Ray that he bought his recital CD.
Facilitator: how long after your undergraduate studies were you able to sustain yourself as a musician? George Shirley started teaching as a Detroit substitute teacher for a year after graduation, then was drafted and served two years. He studied for a year while he was still enlisted, and then started making a modest living singing after his debut in Die Fledermaus with a small company in Woodstock, NY. Thomas Young was the lead singer for The Crescents, a rock and roll group, at age 14, and he used this job to put himself through college. Then he did a national tour as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. He worked in jazz clubs and musical theatre and commercial music, which enabled him to pay for school. He drove a cab from midnight until 8AM, and had two other part time jobs. Louise Toppin started teaching music, math, and science after getting her masters. She then went to Michigan to get her doctorate, and began teaching at ECU and doing competitions and oratorios. She had a dean who believed in her development as a young singer, so she received release time to travel at times and do productions in her 30s, having gotten her first faculty job at 29. Angela Brown was studying in some kind of school capacity until age 41, when she made her Met debut. She says money is relative, in that it comes and goes, and you have to be creative in this business. Lemmie Pulliam is still figuring out how to make a living as a singer. When his grandmother died, he took a break from singing for 11 years, founded a security company, and recently sold it to try to make it again as a singer. Reginald Smith, Jr. took a more conventional route, whereby he graduated from his masters, then did some young artist programs, including Houston Grand Opera. He does narrations of the Grinch at Christmas, as an example of non-opera gigs he takes, and he thinks that diversifying ways of making money is key for him.
Question from the audience: how does the panel feel about the decision not to use blackface in Otello at the Met? George Shirley: Shakespeare made the character black – non-Italian – so that humanity’s problem with otherness could be examined. Theatre is a place which shines a spotlight on such issues. So it is ridiculous to change the character; instead, learn the lesson from the work. Composers should draw upon our society’s history. In Shirley’s view, the blacker the better. Thomas Young: sexual and racial politics are not new. It’s important that these topics are present in opera.
Question from the audience: has racism improved at all for black opera singers? George Shirley: it has improved since Marian Anderson first broke the barrier at the Met. He thinks there are troughs as well as peaks – he thinks the danger at this point is the Hollywood-izing of opera, due in large part to televised opera. Singers are often encouraged to lose weight. Opera was not created for looks, he says. He once received a review that he didn’t look like a French nobleman in Manon (because he is black). Thomas Young: you have agency in some areas of your life, such as whether you’re prepared. You don’t have control over other people’s racism. You have to know who you are and not let anyone diminish that.
Those in attendance gave a standing ovation to the panel as the moderators brought the session to a close. Many remarked that the conversation could have continued much longer.
Latin American Sacred Protestant Song
REVIEW by Albert Chaney Member, NOA Board of Directors
Presenters: Dr. Isai Jess Muñoz (Indiana Wesleyan University), Dr. Daniel Duarte (Indiana University)
A fascinating “new” topic in vocal music history and research was brought to our attention in lively fashion Thursday morning by tenor Dr. Isai Jess Muñoz, Associate Professor of Music at Indiana Wesleyan University. His lecture on Latino Protestant Sacred Song was an insightful overview of a neglected musical form. Dr. Muñoz concentrated specifically on the works of composer, lyricist and poet Juan Romero. He and guitarist Dr. Daniel Duarte, Adjunct Lecturer in Guitar at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music began the presentation by performing two of Dr. Romero’s lyrical, heartfelt songs, ‘Vision Pastoral’ and ‘Emaus’. Dr. Muñoz went on to give a fast-paced, concise and entertaining description of the rise of Protestantism in Latin America and the parallel evolution of their songs of praise, or ‘Himnos’ and little songs of praise – ‘Coritos’, the two categories of song that contribute to the music centered “exuberant pageantry” of all Protestant Latin American religious celebrations. Because these songs belong to an oral tradition, Dr. Muñoz’s interest and research have come none too soon. Dr. Romero was born in 1929 and few of his many works, or the works of others, have been notated or recorded. Dr. Muñoz has begun a project to preserve this legacy, the Latin American Protestant Song Initiative (LAPSI). If you wish to learn more about this rich, inspirational, colorful song form he may be reached at IJMunoz@earthlink.net.
Diversity Personified: The American Composition Students of Antonin Dvořák
Presenter: James Jirak
REVIEW by Dr. Christopher Pfund
Assistant Professor of Voice and Director of Opera Workshop, University of Idaho
In James Jirak’s fascinating presentation of Dvořák’s tenure as composition instructor and orchestra conductor at New York City’s National Conservatory of Music of America, Jirak explored the great diversity of Dvořák’s composition students. Jirak began by drawing on research by Maurice Peress from his book Dvořák to Duke Ellington to contextualize the state of American music education upon Dvořák’s arrival in America in 1892, and he highlighted the American Conservatory’s late nineteenth-century progressive admission policies - admitting all qualified students regardless of race, gender or disability. Jirak presented an impressive and extensive list of American composers, inclusive of their works, who were educated under the auspices of Dvořák. Highlights included Dvořák’s favorite student, Maurice Arnold, who later went on to join the faculty at the American conservatory, Laura S. Collins who was the first woman to study with Dvořák, William Arms Fisher who arranged and published the widely celebrated volume Seventy Negro Spirituals in 1926, who went on work in music publishing at Oliver Ditson, and the great American composer, arranger, and baritone Harry T. Burleigh who enjoyed a close musical relationship with Dvořák while at the conservatory.
The presentation was warmly received as evidenced by the continuing post-presentation discussions. It was also critically important in understanding the extent of Dvořák’s influence in American musical composition, and his deep reverence for the African-American song idiom. To directly quote Dvořák, “In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”
 Interviewed by James Creelman, New York Herald, May 21, 1893
Zero to Hero: Using web, new media and innovation to build an opera program, find and audience, and educate a new generation of opera lovers.
Review by Southeast Regional Governor
Dr. Dawn Neely
Drs. Ann Marie Daehn and Stella Markou's session, Zero to Hero, addressed audience building and education using web, new media and innovation. They offered best practices through their own experiences developing small opera programs at their respective universities.
The key, they said, is self-assessment. One should decide what the program's mission, vision, values, personality and core attributes are first. A director can then focus on brand identity. Next Dr. Daehn and Dr. Markou's suggested taking an assets and resources inventory to find your strengths, such as physical space. From there, a director can build on these strengths while exploring options to improve areas of weakness. For example, one might use projections instead of building a set. Non-traditional costumes can help ease a tight budget as well.
A director must also assess repertoire. What is right for his or her students as well as what will work in his or her University and community setting? Solutions for young voices or small ensembles might be non-traditional casting or "slice and dice." Dr. Markou described this solution as making large cuts to the score in order to make certain operas more manageable for young singers.
After this initial assessment, Dr. Daehn and Dr. Markou's moved on to a discussion on marketing and audience relationship building. They presented tips such as deciding on the most beneficial social media outlets and making a consistent marketing plan for one's audience and potential donor groups. Building relationships with your audience and donors is crucial. A director should learn who his or her audience is what they enjoy. Connect with them through outreach and special events. In addition, don't forget about the University community's support. A director should communicate his or her program's values and how it can contribute to the University's mission. Meeting colleagues from other departments is a great way to establish new connections and potential collaborations.
Finally Dr. Daehn and Dr. Markou encouraged everyone to forget dwelling on what you don't have. Instead, focus on your assets while being adaptive and creative. Your positive attitude will be a model for your students. This session offered great tips for any teacher/director dealing with limited resources in today's University setting.