Rhea Olivacce | WMUK

Rhea Olivacce

Chris Ludwa

Dr. Chris Ludwa got tired of waiting for change. So, with the help of co-producer Dr. Everett McCorvey, a fellow voice professor (University of Kentucky), the Kalamazoo College professor and leader of the Kalamazoo Bach Festival Chorus updated a beloved Bach cantata, "Wachet Auf," with words of inspiration to marginalized communities and people of color. 


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On Sunday, Aug 16 at 4 pm, Concerts in the Park will go virtual with a live-streamed concert by the Knific Quartet with guest vocalist Rhea Olivaccé. The Knific Quartet features Tom Knific, bassist and professor emeritus of Western Michigan University, Renata Knific, violinist and professor emerita of WMU, Gene Knific, pianist/arranger (Tom and Renata are Gene's parents) and Brad Crossland, drums. The livestream will be hosted by the Arts Council website.


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Western Michigan University's Live and Interactive series continues at 7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb 19 with a performance by guest artist John Wesley Wright. A tenor who can switch between opera, Broadway, and American styles, he will be joined by WMU voice faculty and student ensembles for a concert called Spirituals: From Ship To Shore

In an interview with Cara Lieurance, also including Dr. Ken Prewitt, a professor of voice at WMU, Wright talks about working with Western students in his residency, and teaching them to perform spirituals without sheet music. Wright and Prewitt preview some of the concert's highlights, and Wright talks about how his desire to be a performer began in childhood, when he saw the television series Fame. A member of the American Spiritual Ensemble for 14 years, he credits Ysaÿe Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock and singer Linda Tillery as personal and professional influences.


C. Lieurance

A group of prominent local musicians will gather to present a program called "The Reason Why We Sing: A Free Lecture-Recital Advocating for the Recognition and Inclusion of Black-American Sacred Music" at 2 pm on Saturday, Oct 26 at Portage United Church of Christ. It was the idea of Monica Washington Padula, who grew up performing in her Lansing church from the age of 7. Washington Padula has a master's degree in music from Western Michigan University and is a versatile performer of keyboard, saxophone, and voice.

Along with requesting participation from singers Rhea Olivacce and Carmen Bell, pianist Rufus Ferguson and the Lansing-based Earl Nelson Singers, Washington Padula reached out to Dr. Romeo Philips, the respected Kalamazoo College professor emeritus of music and education. Now 91, he remembers hearing stories from his great-grandmother, who had been enslaved on a Mississippi plantation. A trumpet player before his academic career, Dr. Phillips became interested in the sacred music of Black America by attending choral concerts presented by black colleges that visited his Chicago hometown. Later, he joined the Umbrian Glee Club, and the National Association of Negro Musicians. When he received a professorship at Kalamazoo College in 1968, he and his colleague Clarence Small, who formerly sang with Wings Over Jordan, founded the Afro-American Chorale.

In the Takeda studio at WMUK, Washington Padula and Phillips perform several examples of spirituals, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "Wade in the Water," "I'm Gonna Tell God All of my Troubles," "Give Me Jesus," and "No More Auction Block For Me." The significance of Black American sacred music to American culture cannot be overstated, according to Washington Padula. She explains that the preservation of this music, which has come close to being lost and forgotten at times, requires as much care and attention today as before. But Padula Washington and Phillips agree that the music has always adapted to the times and informed and reflected other Black American styles that came along. Phillips says that in the beginning, spirituals were sung for three main purposes: for worship, for emotional support, and for signals to escape enslavement. All will be demonstrated at the event on Oct 26. 


rheaolivacce.com

The Kalamazoo Bach Festival will present lyric soprano Rhea Olivaccé in a solo recital called "The Many Facets of Love," this Sunday.

Ms. Olivaccé is a newcomer to west Michigan. A graduate of the University of Michigan, she tells Cara Lieurance about her Caribbean upbringing and her musical family.