Singing songs of the silenced Soprano Millicent Scarlett returns home for Winnipeg première of compositions by African-American women
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It’s a doubly special performance.
Winnipeg-raised soprano Millicent Scarlett is returning to the hometown stage for the first time since 2004, performing what will be the Winnipeg première of a musical program written by African-American women.
In Plain Sight: Compositions by African-American Women
● Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
● Salle Pauline Boutal in Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain, 340 Provencher Blvd.
● Tickets: $35 for regular admissions, $25 for students at eventbrite.ca
“Growing up, I had never heard of any Black woman composers, so the fact that I get to present their compositions at this time in my career means a lot to me as a singer, and as a Black woman,” Scarlett says.
Flipside Opera & Art Song Collective’s In Plain Sight: Compositions by African-American Women features works by women such as Florence Price, B.E. Boykin, Margaret Bonds, Rosephayne Powell and Undine Smith Moore.
Scarlett, the award-winning soprano who is the adjunct professor of voice and the facilitator of voice at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., says that while she has sung some of the pieces before, she was not familiar with all of them.
“The program consists of quite a few new ones for me, and composers I had not been acquainted with before,” she says. “I am not sure I have a favourite one at this point. Each one has its own place in my spirit right now, and most remind me of my family in some way.”
Flipside Opera & Art Song Collective is a non-profit organization that aims to “tell stories of everyday experiences though low-barrier, classically sung performances.”
“As singers and teachers, we are interested in broadening our knowledge of repertoire for ourselves and our students,” says general manager Lisa Rumpel. “As women we are also interested in these composers writing captivating works that have yet to receive as much acclaim as some of their male counterparts.
“This recital is giving the audience an ever so slightly fuller picture of the depth of music and talent that has been hidden in plain sight,” she says.
Audiences at tomorrow’s one-night-only performance will be guided by recorded spoken notes from Marcia Porter, a professor of voice at Florida State University College of Music.
Flipside Opera say this approach will help audiences to understand the composers, poetry and music, while staying immersed in the concert experience.
Traditionally, the classical music arena is not known for elevating varied voices. Lists of great composers rarely include non-Caucasian names, and women of colour are still largely absent from the conversation.
What can be done do to ensure diverse voices are given a chance to be heard in this particular arena?
“Continue programming the repertoire,” Porter says. “Yes, have programs that highlight specific genres and culturally diverse music, but also program this music alongside music generally associated with the mainstream canon.”
Long considered an inaccessible genre for Indigenous, Black and other artists of colour, Porter believes the first step towards change is for funding to be increased in schools.
“Realize that there is not only one kind of art and that there are many ways to make art, not only one,” she says. “Children need to see themselves represented in the arts and need to know that the art of their culture/heritage is also valuable. When a child (or adult) who only sees what society deems as valuable, that is a problem.”
For Scarlett, the opportunity to perform in her hometown is one she relishes. She will be accompanied by pianist Darryl Friesen, an instructor at Desautels Faculty of Music.
“It is an honour to be asked to participate in a concert like this, especially in my hometown,” says Scarlett. “I have not worked with Darryl before, but I am excited to collaborate with him and see what kind of magic we can create together with these pieces,” she says.
Although she hasn’t performed in Winnipeg for years, the singer, originally from the Crestview area, was in the city last Christmas visiting family and friends.
She credits the support of her family — who still live here — and her two voice teachers. “I have had some wonderful people in my corner who prepared me for the longevity I have had in the singing business,” she says. “Rita Schmidt (in Winnipeg) and Sylvia Richardson (at Brandon University) were my two voice teachers that were most instrumental in helping me prepare my voice for this career.
“My family has always been supportive, and I can’t thank my parents enough, especially my mom who has been there every step of the way with me,” she adds. My siblings took me to my lessons, and never complained. I don’t take that for granted. They say it takes a village; well, I had the best one.”
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AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.