Christmas Concert with York River Symphonoy Orchestra at Yoder Barn

Women Composers Recital at Hampton University Museum, March 25, 2005
NANBPWC's Vocal Competition
Lorraine Bell's NANBPWC Recital

Lorraine Bell Sings with the York River Symphony Orchestra


Lorraine Bell's Faculty Recital February 9, 2003

      Inside the domed Romanesque Revival space of the Hampton University Memorial Chapel, Lorraine McFadden Bell, soprano, and three musicians treated us to an afternoon of beautiful music.

      The program opened with Dank sei dir, Herr, sometimes attributed to Handel but most likely composed by Siegfried Oches (1858-1929) and Nell dolce dell' oblio by George Frederic Handel (1685-1759). During the period of 1707-1709 Handel was living in Italy as a freelance composer. He had been invited there by Prince Ferdinando de' Medici of Florence. While there Cardinal Ruspoli of Rome commissioned some fifty secular cantatas from Handel. "Nel dolce dell'oblio" (subtitled "Pensieri notturni di Filli") for soprano, recorder and basso continuo is most likely one of this series. Here the instrumentalists were Leslie Neal Douglas on piano and Lori Shipley on flute. It was a delightful piece and very well done by all.

      Another highlight of the program was Franz Schubert's Dir Hirt auf dem Felsen (Shepherd on the Rock). This is instrumental singing, essentially a trio of voice, piano and clarinet, played here by Marvin Western, a faculty member at Christopher Newport University. This piece is a favorite of this writer and I loved the pacing of the opening by clarinet and piano. At twelve minutes long, this piece is a challenge for the vocalist as well. Schubert's song captured the freshness and joy of a spring day here in the dead of winter.

      Since I reviewed the two pieces by Rachmaninoff, Vocalise and Oh Cease thy Singing Maiden Fair sung by Ms. Bell as recently as the end of January (Issue #18), I will only say that this performance was equally well done. Then followed Ned Rorem's Lullaby of the Woman of the Mountain and his exciting Alleluia. The text is the single word of the title repeated with great variety of dynamics, timing and vocal quality, even a jazz riff slipped in a few bars from the last whiplash "Alleluia!"

      For My People. With stately music for the piano as it opens, Eurydice V. Osterman's dramatic piece is structured so that verses of the poem by Margaret Walker "For My People" are read by the singer. Here Ms. Bell's voice was a rich deep mezzo instrument of power and majesty, followed by songs in her honey soprano singing voice. The poem celebrates the work of African American people but also talks of their pains and difficulties, of dying from consumption and anemia and the horror of lynching. All my trials soon be over was the song here. On the exploitation of con men who were trusted as brothers, the pathos is expressed in the piano. From just a phrase of "Motherless Children" to a repeating musical statement "Let a new world be born" and the plaintive "Lord how come me here...wish I never was born," all added up to a powerful evocation of the experience of being Black in America over a long, long history of 400 years.

      The composer and arranger of this piece, Eurydice V. Osterman is is Professor of Music at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. She is currently the Dean of the Greater Huntsville Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and gives music workshops in the United States, Europe, South America and Africa. She is a published author on music, spirituals and Christmas programs.

Lorraine Bell Sings Christmas
with the York River Symphony Orchestra at Yoder Barn

      As we look around the Yoder Barn we see the structure of wooden supports that give the unique curvature to the roof of what once was a working dairy barn and is now a performing arts hall in Newport News. We had come to hear the York River Symphony Orchestra - a group of sixty to sixty-five volunteers who are celebrating twenty years of bringing music to their community.

      The Winter Festival, led by conductors Ann Arogdale and Eric Reiff on Sunday, December 20 & 21, 2003, presented holiday favorites in classic arrangements, some from the fifties and sixties, such as Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride and A Christmas Festival. It was exciting to hear once again the purity of these arrangements from our childhood, but what was even more intriguing was the new music by local composers Jeraldine Saunders Herbison and Adolphus Hailstork.

      Ms. Argodale, music director, opened the program with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker No. 1, which was followed by Mrs. Herbison's Three Movements for Winter: Winter Walk, Skating on a Frozen Pond and Snowball Fight. This lively, attractive holiday music was well played and well received by the audience. Readers of this newsletter will recall that Mrs. Herbison, a composer of note, has written some lovely art songs. She plays violin in the orchestra and is a lifelong music educator.

      Lorraine Bell, soprano, singing Dr. Hailstork's art song Christmas Everywhere followed. This song seemed straightforward and simple but, like most of his songs, it offered the singer subtle challenges and kept this listener intrigued throughout. Dr. Hailstork serves on the music faculty of Old Dominion University.

      Assistant conductor Eric Reiff led an excellent performance of the Prelude from Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck, with the orchestra especially polished in this piece. The program included an arrangement by Holcombe, The Festival of Hanukkah. The first half ended with the glorious sound of G.F. Handel's Rejoice Greatly, sung by Mrs. Bell, who recently completed a course in baroque music at Shenandoah University where she is working toward a Doctorate in music. Her enhanced understanding of Baroque performance, with enriched ornamentation and vital rhythmic understanding was apparent as her voice danced through this holiday favorite.

      Mrs. Bell returned to sing The Christmas Song by Mel Tormé, arranged by Tommy Newsom, after the orchestra opened with Leroy Anderson's A Christmas Festival. They followed with Frosty the Snowman. The YRSO flutes then played a set of familiar Christmas carols. After Irving Berlin's White Christmas and Anderson's Sleigh Ride and Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella (arranged by Davis), the orchestra played a holiday sing-a-long with a surprise: Lorraine Bell came out to lead us. It was a real Christmas experience, combining old and new music in a fine mix.

Lorraine Bell Sings a Women Composers Recital

      What a lovely surprise it was to step into the beautiful, marble rotunda of the Museum of Hampton University where we were welcomed by Vanessa Thaxton-Ward, Director of Membership and Community Programs and given the recital program and a catalogue of the painting and sculpture show "New Power Generation. " The all female Hampton University String Quartet was playing Mozart's Rondo from Quartet No. 4, K 157, followed by Vivaldi's Concerto, Op. 8 for two violins. We were impressed by the quality of the playing as we viewed the national juried art show which grew out of a competition of contemporary art by people of African descent.

      This was our first visit to the Museum, another architectural gem on this historically rich campus, though we had passed it many times on our way to musical programs in other venues. Humorous paintings like "America's Greatest Gladiator, Uncle Tom" (2003), "White Shoes Calhoun, Ghetto Street Preacher" (2004) and the warmly nostalgic "Beautiful Sunday Magnolias" (2004) were displayed with an assemblage titled "Auction Block" (2000) and "Urban Madonna" (2004) a digital textile collage. I've only given a sample of what is in store for the visitor to this show which runs through July 31, 2005. Call 757-727-5508 for hours.

      We were called away from the show as the musicians were moved upstairs to a gallery off the rotunda where Assistant Professor Lori Shipley played Katherine Hoover's (b.1937) Winter Spirits for solo flute. Senior students in this all female program presented Espejos by Trent Kynaston (b.1946) for alto saxophone and piano, and local composer Michael Hassell's I Want Jesus to Walk with Me for clarinet and piano.

      A freshman student played the happy, dancing Sonata for Flute and Piano by Francis Poulenc and a sophomore gave a dramatic performance of Toccata by Aram Khachaturian on the piano. The versatile piano accompanist for the chamber music and Ms. Bell was the very talented Leslie Neal Douglas.

      The occasion for this visit was the day-long "Celebrating Women Extravaganza" at Hampton University sponsored by the Department of Sociology, titled "The Global Revolution: Women in the New Millennium" and held March 25, 2005. Lorraine Bell chose women composers who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries because in their lifetimes and until recently women did not receive the attention and performance opportunities they deserved because of their gender.

      Between the chamber music and the vocal recital, Helen Butler presented "A Woman's Monologue" that highlighted outstanding achievements of black women from Harriet Tubman through Nina Simone.

      Lorraine McFadden Bell, Assistant Professor of Music, gave an introductory talk "Hear Our Song: A Legacy of Women Composers" and then she sang the music of the women she discussed.

      The piano created the mood of rippling water in Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel's (1805-1847) song Ich wandelte unter den Baumen (Under the trees with grief alone) on a poem by Heinrich Heine. Die Gute Nacht (Good night, angel) composed by the long-lived and influential Clara Schumann (1819-1896) brought to my attention what a fine flow of energy there is between the singer and Ms. Douglas on the piano. She is indeed a pianist a singer can trust. Vilanelle, that coloratura showpiece by Eva Dell'Acqua (1856-1930), finished the European part of the program. The voice soars as the swift swallows glide through the sunshine of the jasmine-scented air.

      In the American songs, Amy Beach's (1867-1944) setting of Robert Browning's poem Ah, Love, But a Day (and the world has changed) is one of over 125 songs by this romantic composer. Two songs by Betty Jackson King (1928-1994) followed. Springtime with text by William Shakespeare has a great piano introduction and is a celebration of the season. The joy of spring was captured in this fine performance. The humor of Theology pleased the audience mightily with its last line "There is a hell, I'm quite sure, for pray, if there were not, where would my neighbors go?"

      The deeply moving Watch and Pray by Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989) tells the powerful story of a slave mother instructing her daughter in how to survive being sold away from her family. On a lighter note, they presented Margaret Bonds' (1913-1972) rendition of Dry Bones with its spare accompaniment and with a propulsive but restrained joy, ready to burst forth as the bones are all assembled.

      The program closed with Florence B. Price's (1888-1953) My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord making this a rich and sumptuous feast for eye, ear and mind celebrating the creativity of women.

April 17, 2004 Hampton University

      Lorraine Bell invited us to hear "an Evening of Arias" at the Dett Auditorium where her students, many of them college freshmen, displayed their vocal and acting skills. This group of students has expressed to Ms. Bell their enthusiastic desire to learn, perform and present operas while they are working on their degrees at HU. Needless to say she is delighted and that was why we were invited to experience the joy of hearing these budding singers. We will keep you posted as things develop in the fall.

A Vocal Competition, A Tribute Recital
and Being Honored All in One Evening

      June 3, 2005, when Steve Brockman called me at work to tell me that we just had to go to Hampton that evening for a musical program I was surprised. It seems that Lorraine Bell had been drafted at the last minute to sing for a vocal competition sponsored by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Inc.

      In 1982 Lorraine Bell was the first winner of the NANBPWC's vocal competition and this year she had been asked to provide "The Musical Entertainment" while the adjudicators weighed their decisions. Steve was very mysterious about why I must be there.

      This regional competition drew together winners from local clubs and district winners to compete for prize money. First place was $1000 with at least $50 for participating. Organized for talented young African-American musicians, the regional winner will compete in the national competition in Atlanta in late July, 2005.

      Soprano Latoya Lewis was fifth place winner. We know her from Norfolk State University's Jazz Ensemble. She is a senior there and is planning to be a choir director when she graduates.

      Fourth place went to baritone Marques Lamar Garrett from Hampton University where as a freshman he began to arrange spirituals and compose original choral pieces. His opening selection was Adolphus Hailstork's powerful and difficult Slave Song. He won honors in the Virginia NATS competition this spring with this song and also sang it at the National Association for the Study and Performance of African-American Music conference in Rosemont, Illinois earlier this year. We have found him to be a passionate performer and a fun-loving young man of great charm. Shawnee Press is publishing his Poor Mourner's Got a Home at Last in spring, 2006.

      Soprano Allison Elizabeth Kelley Jones will be a senior at Columbus State University in Georgia this fall and was third place winner of a $200 prize. She sang with a winning naturalness and demonstrated acting skill, especially in her Mozart aria.

      George Thomas Allen, Jr. is a countertenor at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Recently he sang in St. Petersburg, Russia with his university choir in Porgy and Bess. Here he won second place and $300. In selections by Bach, Fauré and the spiritual Give Me Jesus he demonstrated his rarified art. His plans are to continue his education with a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance.

      The first place winner, Sequina DuBose has an undergraduate degree from Morgan State University and is currently studying voice with Patricia Miller at George Mason University where she is working towards a Masters Degree. She has been a first place winner in several competitions including Virginia NATS. She has performed in opera productions at college and summer festivals and has traveled as part of the MSU vocal ensemble to the Czech Republic, Bermuda, Martinque and Paris, France. Perhaps her greatest honor was appearing as soloist in the world premier performance and recording of Wynton Marsalis' All Rise with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

      Effie Tyler Gardner was the excellent pianist for the contest and for Ms. Bell. Ruth Winters accompanied the countertenor George Allen.

      We had the pleasure of meeting tenor Ronald Myers, long time reader of Artsong Update, who served with Lisa Relaford Coston and Margaret Clary Gray as adjucator of the contest. We also had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Gray the following Friday evening at Chrystal Williams' recital in Portsmouth where we met her mother, Inez Clary, who has been for many years a major influence on music education in Portsmouth.

Lorraine Bell's Recital

      Lorraine Bell shared with her audience her passion for art songs by African-American composers, featuring compositions by women. Her introductory talk on Florence B. Price was illuminating. Ms. Price (1888-1953), who graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1925, spent time in France studying with Nadia Boulanger. As part of the Harlem Renaissance she came home encouraged to write songs from her own culture. Syncopated rhythym, jazzy blues and gospel were incorporated into her compositions. At a party, when she told Billy Holiday that she was writing a symphony, Ms. Holiday responded, "We don't write symphonies!" But she did.

      Ms. Bell sang My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord with piano support by Mrs. Gardner that creates a feeling of grandeur and Night, a lullaby set to an intellectually satisfying text of subtlety and beauty by Louis C. Wallace. Margaret Bond's I Too (Sing America) with text by Langston Hughes tells the story of a black servant sent to the kitchen when company comes, "But I laugh and eat well and grow strong . . . Tomorrow they'll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed." Betty Jackson King's Spring Time with text by Shakespeare and Undine Smith Moore's powerful Watch and Pray followed.

      She closed with remarks on Dr. Uzee Brown, Jr.(b.1950), chairman of the Department of Music at Morehouse College in Atlanta. His song, This River (that runs through life shall never be uncrossable) was dedicated to this writer. Two years ago when I was dealing with a life-threatening cancer I explained to Lorraine that when I was plagued with worry and fear I just turned it over to the spirit. Now that I am well I can look back and be thankful.

Lorraine Bell Sings with York River Symphony Orchestra

      Titled Holiday Fanfare, the York River Symphony Orchestra presented a program that included seasonal favorites and some rare musical treats. The highlight for us was the special vocal pieces sung by Lorraine Bell on December 10 and 11 at Hampton Roads Academy, Newport News. The program began with a Baroque masterpiece, Alessandro Scarlatti's (1660-1725) Cantata Pastorale per la Nativita di Nostro Signore Gesu Cristo known simply as the Christmas Cantata (1716).

      In early fall Lorraine called to see if we had a recording of a new piece she was thinking of learning. We do have a video of a live performance of the Scarlatti cantata and she came to visit and we had a recorded music feast with our tea. She did indeed learn the piece and the performance was glorious!

      Dennis Malfatti, the guest conductor, is excellent and we were pleased with his pacing throughout the program. In Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate Ms. Bell negotiated the coloratura challenges with panache, supported by a tempo that was just right.

      Trumpeter Dick Everett was featured in Alan Hovhaness' (1911-2000) Prayer of St. Gregory. American composer Hovhaness, who was of Scottish and Armenian extraction, studied ancient Armenian liturgical music and oriental philosophy to forge his mature musical style. In the Prayer he used slow tempos creating a piece that is reflective and pensive. Long musical lines made up of eighth and sixteenth note passages within the larger structure express a mood of prayer and thoughtfulness. The symphony played well and Mr. Everett gave us a beautifully nuanced performance.

      Hampton Roads Civic Ballet did a very clever visual for L. Jessel's Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride and A Christmas Festival preceded a "Christmas Sing Along" led by Ms. Bell. B. Holcombe's Festive Sounds of Hanukah helped make the program more inclusive.

      As I understand it, this season's guest conductors are being considered for the position of permanent conductor. Dr. Malfatti was most impressive in his role on the podium. Personally, we would be happy to see him there regularly. We were also pleased with the acoustics of this hall rather than Yoder Barn. Hampton Roads Academy's hall is definitely good for a small orchestra with a vocalist.

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