Dark River Singalong

Mary D. Watkins, composer + librettist

 

Mary Watkins is an eclectic composer and pianist of the classical and jazz traditions, often incorporating one with the other or bringing the various styles of ethnic, blues, gospel, country, folk and pop music into her original works.  Her versatility as a composer, arranger, pianist, and producer has led her to compose for symphony orchestra, chamber and jazz ensembles, film, and theatre.

Born in Denver, Colorado Watkins began playing piano at age four.  By eight, she was accompanying a children's choir and had begun to improvise and compose short pieces.  In 1972 she received a Bachelor's degree in Music Composition from Howard University in Washington, D.C.  She later earned her living performing with jazz groups in the DC area and as Musical Director,  Resident Composer and pianist for theatre and modern dance groups.

A move to California in 1976 brought new opportunities.  She first worked as a free lance copyist and transcriber in the  music industry of Los Angeles.  Soon after, she moved to Oakland, CA and established her own jazz group, playing the Monterey Jazz Festival, Russian River Jazz Festival, major jazz clubs and many other important venues for jazz musicians.  During this time she also recorded her own first album, Something Moving  (Olivia Records) featuring herself on piano heading a jazz fusion quartet.  In 1981 a jazz performance grant from NEA helped to make possible her second album, Winds of Change  (Palo Alto Jazz), which is a live recording featuring a 42 piece jazz orchestra.  Her work then expanded as producer, arranger, keyboardist and composer.  She has produced several commercial albums and her arrangements are heard on many records spawned in the Bay Area music scene.  Her third album, Spiritsong  (Redwood Records), an evocative collection of solo piano pieces, was released in 1985, Song For My Mother (Hightide Music) a jazz trio in 1999, Who Has Not Been Touched, (Hightide Music) jazz quartet in 2004, Dancing Souls (LadySlipper) , a duo with piano and flute featuring Mary Watkins and Kay Gardner in 2000.

Since the mid eighties Watkins has also focused on composing, receiving commissions for orchestra, theater, and dance.  In 1986 she was commissioned by the Women's Philharmonic to compose a symphonic work which was premiered in April of 1987.  Also in 1987 NEA awarded Watkins a prestigious Jazz Composer's Fellowship to compose a work for symphony orchestra and jazz combo, which premiered in 1988 with her chamber jazz ensemble and members of the Oakland Symphony.  In 1988 she also completed a jazz score to the musical play Lady Lester Sings The Blues, a Lorraine Hansberry production based on the life of Lester Young and in 1989, for the same theatre company, The Bluest Eye,  based on Toni Morrison's novel which was funded by the Gerbodi Foundation.  For ten years, (1986-1996) she was the musical director and composer/arranger for the music in the dance theatre piece , The Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie.  

 

In May of 1990 The American Jazz Theatre commissioned an innovative 50 minute work  for a 12 member chamber  jazz ensemble which was premiered in 1991; funded by Meet the Composer  In November of 1992 a 20 minute choral work, We Are One  was commissioned by Redwood Cultural Works for the New Spirituals Project and premiered by the Oakland Youth Chorus of the same year.  In 1993 she was commissioned by the Sacramento based Camellia Symphony Orchestra to compose a piece, Five Movements In Color, funded by Meet The Composer and premiered in February of 1994 and recently recorded on the Albany Record Label. In addition to composing for the concert stage, theatre and dance, Ms Watkins has composed  music for many award winning documentary films, 3 of which were nominated for academy awards in 1994.

 

She has written three operas, Queen Clara, Dark River, and Emmett Till. Her most recent commissions have been composing a symphonic work, The Initiate, for The National Women’s Music Festival 2016, completing the opera, Emmett Till in collaboration with librettist, Clare Coss, 2018 which was to be premiered on October 8th and 9th in New York but has been postponed until further notice due to the covid19 pandemic.
 

Tianhui Ng, music director

 

Tian Hui Ng is the Music Director of the Pioneer Valley Symphony, Boston Opera Collaborative, the Victory Players, and White Snake Projects. Well known for bringing new music to fresh audiences, he has premiered new works by numerous composers, including Pulitzer and Rome Prize winners such as Aaron Jay Kernis, Robert Kyr, David Sanford, and Joan Tower. These include unusual firsts, like Irin Ajo, the first Nigerian opera, by Olabode Omojola and Chaya Czernowin’s ephemeral Once I Blinked, Nothing was the Same. Off the stage, Tian teaches at Mount Holyoke College as the Director of Orchestral Studies. 


 

 

Brianna J. Robinson, Fannie Lou Hamer

 

Soprano Brianna J. Robinson is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University with degrees in Vocal Music Performance and Black World Studies. She received her master’s degree in Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music in May of 2018.

 

Currently in her second year as an Emerging Artist with the Boston Lyric Opera, Brianna will make her debut as Lucy in Gregory Spears’ Fellow Travelers in November of 2019. Last season, she covered Ofgen, Moira and Jenine in the East Coast premiere of Paul Roders’ The Handmaid’s Tale. She served as a Rising Artist with Pegasus Early Opera in the summer of 2017, singing the role of Witch #1 in Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. At the Eastman School of Music, she was been involved in the production of Massenet’s Cendrillon and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea. Brianna’s Eastman Opera Theater debut as the Empress Ottavia in Monteverdi's L'incoronatione di Poppea was praised by the Rochester City Newspaper as "a true force." She was involved in the Baroque performance ensemble, Collegium Musicum, singing the title role in Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina. 

 

Her most recent project with Shelter Music Boston, singing the role of Florence Price in “Florence Comes Home” by Francine Trester, was praised by the Boston Musical Intelligencer and the Boston Classical Review.Her recent concert engagements include the Brahm's Requiem alongside the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Bach’s Ascension Oratorio and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem with the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Buffalo. Along with her work in America, Brianna has also participated in international programs such as the Berlin Opera Academy and Opernfest Prague.


 

Synthia Pullum, Soprano

 

Synthia Pullum is an American soprano and native of Jefferson, TX. With the Loyola New Orleans Opera Theatre, she sung the title role of Susannah by Carlisle Floyd and received numerous awards from competitions, such as the 2011 Classical Singer Competition where she was a district finalist and the 2012 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Gulf Coast District where she received the Encouragement Award. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she traveled to Kiefersfelden, Germany and sung the role of Donna Elvira in W.A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni with the Internationale Theater und Opern Company in Summer 2012. She sung the role of Miss Jessel in Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of The Screw and the title role in Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica with the New England Conservatory Opera Theatre, and she made her professional debut with WomenArts in the east coast premiere of Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story as Lou Ella Townsend and Victoria Gray. Afterwards, she sung the role of Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with the Delaware Valley Opera Company in their 2016 Summer Festival.  In May 2018, Synthia joined Castles of Our Skins and the Boston Lyric Opera for their concert presentation entitled “Ain’t I A Woman" and performed the Songs of Harriet Tubman by Nkeiru Okoye throughout the Boston, MA area. She holds a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Music degree from Loyola University New Orleans.

 

Emily Harmon, Mezzo-soprano

 

Praised for her “velvety mezzo-soprano voice” (Pittsburgh in the Round),  Emily Harmon recently made her debut with Central City Opera as a Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Apprentice Artist, with whom she covered and performed the role of Suzuki in Madama Butterfly. She has appeared with companies including Pittsburgh Festival Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, Beth Morrison Projects, Boston Opera Collaborative, MassOpera, the Worcester Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Masterworks Chorale. Some of Emily’s past roles include Mrs. Lovett (Sweeney Todd), Amastre (Xerxes), the Marquise de Merteuil (The Dangerous Liaisons), Dido (Dido and Aeneas), the Old Lady (Candide), and both Cherubino and Marcellina (Le nozze di Figaro).

 

In concert, Emily has performed the alto solos in Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Requiem, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and Arvo Pärt’s Stabat Mater. Emily made her Jordan Hall debut singing the world premiere of Kati Agòcs' Hyacinth Curl with Hub New Music, and later made her Symphony Hall debut singing the alto solo in Purcell’s Come, Ye Sons of Art, Z.323. She has also appeared in backup vocal ensembles for touring artists including Josh Groban and Sarah Brightman. Emily holds both an M.M. and a B.M. in Voice Performance from Boston University.


 

Aaron Reeder, Tenor

Noted as "one of greater Washington DC area's finest young talents" (The Gazette) and possessing "a voice that soars" according to The Washington Post, Aaron has performed with music luminaries from Dave Brubeck to Renee Fleming to Kristen Chenoweth. Currently, on roster of The Metropolitan Opera and Washington National Opera other select appearances include: The White House, National Institute of Health, Avery Fisher Hall Lincoln Center in New York City, National Symphony Orchestra, Liceu Studio at the Teatre Grec in Barcelona, Spoleto, productions with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Signature Theatre, and engagements with the John F. Kennedy Center, Ford's Theater, Harlem Stage, Playwright's Horizons, Studio Theatre and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

 

After working with the Smithsonian Institute, he developed "Beyond the Lights: Discovering Sammy Davis Jr." This in-gallery piece gives a unique look at the life, work and contribution of "The World's Greatest Entertainer" to American culture. Selected as an Arts Envoy with the State Department's Cultural Program Division, Aaron has traveled to speak and present projects in Ecuador, Copenhagen, South Africa and Nova Scotia. 

Would love to hear from you, visit -- https://www.aaron-reeder.com

Miguel Angel Velez, Baritone

Miguel Angel Vasquez- Dominican-American Baritone lionized for his “Ardent baritone and strong dramatic presence” (operawire) and “ Golden Voice” ( Syracuse.com the post standards). Graduate of University of Hartford’s The Hartt school of music, Miguel has been performing internationally (Europe) as well as teaching the next generation of young artists. In NYC he has Performed at Lincoln Center, most recently with NY Philharmonic at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and New York City Opera’s world premiere of Stonewall the opera at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Other venues include; Carnegie Hall, off-Broadway, Merkin Hall, les Poison Rouge, 54 Below, Symphony Space, along with a few other cabaret and concert venues. He performs in Operas, Musical Theater, screen/film, Orchestral concerts, cabarets, Jazz clubs, and sacred music in NYC, Regional theaters, and internationally.

 

Colin Britt, pianist

 

Colin Britt currently serves as Choir Director at Rutgers Preparatory School, as Artistic Director and Conductor of the West Village Chorale, as Music Director for Grace Church Van Vorst in Jersey City, and he recently completed a sabbatical replacement as conductor of the Rutgers University Voorhees Choir. Prior to his current appointments, he served on the conducting faculty at SUNY New Paltz, and directed Amuse Singers and North River Sing. He has also taught on the faculty at the Hartt School and conducted the Hartford Chorale Chamber Singers.

 

His compositions have been performed by ensembles at Rutgers, Westminster Choir College, Hartt, Yale, and Seraphic Fire, the Yale Schola Cantorum, the Yale Alumni Chorus, C4, VOCE, and the Riverside Choral Society, and by ensembles across the country and on four continents. He is the commissioned composer for the Maine Bicentennial, as well as for the 100th anniversary of the Hartt School and the 2020 ACDA Eastern Division Honor Choir.

 

Colin holds degrees from the Hartt School, the Yale School of Music, and Rutgers University. He lives in Jersey City with his wife, actress Victoria Britt, and their dog Mari.

 

Janice D. Hamlet, Scholar in Rhetoric and Communication

 

Dr. Janice D. Hamlet is an associate professor of communication at Northern Illinois University. She also serves as Senior Faculty Mentor in the Office of the Provost at NIU. Hamlet’s research focuses on African American rhetoric and culture; intercultural communication and the rhetorical impact of autoethnography. She has edited four books: Afrocentric Visions: Studies in Culture and Communication; Fight the Power! The Spike Lee Reader (with Dr. Robin Means Coleman, University of Michigan), Tyler Perry Interviews (University Press of Mississippi), and Films as Rhetorical Texts: Navigating Discussions about Race and Racism. She has published in Communication Quarterly, The Communication Teacher, The Western Journal of Black Studies, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, The Black Studies Journal, and The Popular Culture Studies Journal, New Directions in Teaching and Learning. 

 

Hamlet teaches courses in introduction to communication, intercultural communication, and rhetoric and public issues with a focus on civic engagement and social activism. Additionally, she conducts workshops on cultural competency, social activism; and various diversity-related issues.  Prior to her current position, Hamlet served as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at NIU. Prior to coming to NIU, she served as the founding director of the Ethnic Studies program at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
 

Antonio Oliart, Recording Engineer

 

Antonio Oliart Ros has been at WGBH since 1995. His training includes a bachelor’s and master’s of Music degrees in ute performance from The Mannes College of Music in New York City. He also holds a Masters Degree in Sound Recording from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

He has produced CDs for labels such as Warner Classics, Analekta Records, Centaur, and Hungaroton and has worked for Philips, Erato, Teldec, Telarc, Koch International, Deutsche Grammophon, and many other record companies as producer, recording engineer, editor and mastering engineer.

Antonio has won several awards including three GRAMMY® nominations and two GRAMMY® wins for best Chamber Music Recording and Best Opera Recording and five New England Emmy® awards for outstanding individual achievement in audio.

 

Kathy Wittman, Video Editor

 

Kathy Wittman is a documentary filmmaker, a photographer, an opera buff, a word nerd, and an auntie, usually all at the same time.

She is the founder and principal artist at Ball Square Films, a video production company specializing in documentary photo and video for the performing arts.

She designs video projections for opera and theatre companies. Highlights last year were projection designs for the world premiere of Permadeath with White Snake Projects and Audubon by James Kallembach commissioned by Chorus Pro Musica.

She lives in Boston MA with the best person she has ever met and a cat who is probably hungry.

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