Last Friday evening, my husband and I attended Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center’s final performance of the season. It is too soon to tell, but for one little girl it may have been a life-changer.
This was the premiere performance of “Songs of the World” by renowned composer Donald Fraser. It was performed by the Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra, the Mendelssohn Chorale and the Rock Valley Children’s Choirs. It featured guest Soprano and Baritone singers from out of town.
A friend’s granddaughter sings in the Children’s Choir. She brought two of her granddaughter’s friends from the neighborhood. I’ve been around the girls and know their taste in music. It isn’t opera. A couple months ago, one sang a pop song for a talent show. She was nervous, but did well. My friend hoped the concert would peak the girl’s interest in joining the Children’s Choir. I thought it could have the opposite effect.
The girls squirmed in their seats before the concert and I wondered if they would enjoy this. They may have been wondering the same thing. As I surveyed the crowd I noted only four people were African American. One was my husband, and the other three were the girls and my friend’s granddaughter. I know it’s unintentional, but it gave the impression this was white folk’s music.
Beverly Broyles, the Executive Director did the introduction which included announcing the next season, an awards ceremony, a greeting from me on behalf of the Arts Council, and recognition of the composer. The girls looked like they wanted to go home.
The door to our left opened and the Orchestra Director, Stephen Squires, emerged with the two soloists. The girls’ mouths dropped open…literally. They looked at my friend and grinned. Both soloists were African American.
The performance of soprano, Jonita Lattimore, and baritone, Robert Sims, drew a standing ovation from the audience, and cheers of “Bravo” from my husband. We’ve been to many performances over the years but this is the first time he’s yelled that.
After the concert, the pop-singer girl said “Now I love opera.” We told her she could be up there singing someday. She laughed and shook her head, but she was smiling.
Congratulations, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center on another stellar year. And thank you for inspiring the next generation.