Jessye Norman and friends perform in concert to benefit her school

Friday, July 31, 2009 10:17 PM
Last updated Saturday, Aug 1, 2009 7:13 AM
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A concert with a concept, the Jessye Norman and Friends performance, featured wildly disparate performances all bound by a single unifying theme – inspiration.

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Jessye Norman, right, performs with pianist Mark Markham at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Augusta Friday evening July 31, 2009.  Michael Holahan/staff
Michael Holahan/staff
Jessye Norman, right, performs with pianist Mark Markham at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Augusta Friday evening July 31, 2009.

The event, a benefit for the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, was held tonight at St. Paul’s Church. It featured performances by opera legend Jessye Norman, Jazz at Lincoln Center alumni Damien Sneed and Wycliffe Gordon, Broadway actress De’Adre Aziza, pianist Mark Markham and vocalist Lawrence Hamilton. Although each found fame on the international stage, several of the artists, including Ms. Norman, Mr. Sneed, Mr. Gordon and Ms. Aziza, have ties to Augusta.

“The talent here is incredible,” said new Symphony Orchestra Augusta music director Shizuo Z Kuwahara, making one of his first appearances on the Augusta music scene. “This is so great.”

The concert opened with a performance of the Sound of Music standard Climb Every Mountain. The song, which featured a virtuosic display of Ms. Norman’s singular talent, also served as something of a mission statement. The performances that followed – Ms. Aziza’s monologues punctuated by smokey jazz classics, Mr. Gordon’s ode to Ain’t Misbehavin’ – all revolved around the things that initially brought each artist to music and those things that continue to inspire them. Throughout the evening, Ms. Norman preached the gospel of both the concert and the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

“It’s so important that these children know that they have this inner voice,” Ms. Norman said. ‘It’s a voice we want to hear when they sing for us. A voice we want to hear when they dance for us, when the paint and perform for us. It’s so important.”

Just as Climb Every Mountain set the tone for the first act, Ms. Norman sent a clear message with the first two numbers of the second act, You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel and Somewhere from West Side Story. She followed the anthems of self-worth and realization with a plea to the audience to support the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

“It’s easy to see something like this being done,” she said. “It’s easy to watch, to observe. But we need to help them, help these students, help this school.”

The performance also featured a light-hearted duet with Ms. Norman and baritone Lawrence Hamilton. The evening wrapped with a full ensemble version of Amazing Grace with Ms. Norman singing the lead.

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