Creativity, said Augusta’s Jessye Norman, is central to growth and knowledge of oneself and of the world. And music is one way of igniting a creative spark in children that will live on into adulthood.
In that spirit, the school founded in her name, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, is bringing three lauded international musicians to Augusta in celebration and support of the school through a benefit concert at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, at the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre at Georgia Regents University.
Tickets are $40 for adults and $20 for students under age 25 with identification.
Taking the stage will be Lawrence Brownlee, a tenor whose powerful voice has captivated opera fans; Lincolnton, Ga., native Leah Partridge, a soprano who has performed in New York City, Berlin, Buenos Aires and London; and pianist Damien Sneed, coming home to Augusta to share his musical expertise across multiple genres.
“We shall be so lucky to have three exciting young talents to perform, as they do all over the country in their young professional lives, and we are so very fortunate to have them,” Norman said in an e-mail.
Along with the internationally acclaimed Brownlee, the two home-grown musicians bring extraordinary talents to bear for the evening.
Sneed’s talents as a pianist have found him working across gospel, jazz, classical, pop and R&B, and performing in Europe, Japan, the Caribbean, South America, Zimbabwe and across the United States.
He has worked with Nor-man herself, along with Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and other notables.
He is not only a performer, he’s a director, counselor and educator. This September, he begins a new role as an adjunct faculty member of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University.
Not forgetting his gospel foundations, starting back at Good Shepherd Baptist Church – where he began playing at age 5 – Sneed and Brownlee were featured this past January in the Allen Room for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook, performing music from their project Spiritual Sketches.
Partridge, lauded for her charismatic presence and exceptional talent, debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008 in Peter Grimes, followed by an engagement in Thäis; she has also appeared in Rigoletto at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, in La Traviata at the Semper Oper in Dresden, Germany, and in Candide at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.
Closer to home, she has performed with Symphony Orchestra Augusta, the Macon Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Opera.
“This is the kind of concert that one would expect to find at Carnegie Hall,” said Norman, who will serve as emcee for the event, “and we here in Augusta shall have the magnificent pleasure of their wonderful music-making.”
The beneficiary of the evening was founded in 2003, offering free arts education for talented middle schoolers who would not otherwise be able to receive tutoring in the arts.
“It is a great pleasure to witness the transformative powers of arts involvement,” Norman said. “The children find joy in the fact that other children also love learning dance movements, or working on a pottery wheel, or participating in a play.”
Having children exposed to the arts yields a type of discovery of the self: they have inner voices of their own that can be expressed through dance, words, music or visual arts, she said.
“A child’s engagement with the arts is of supreme importance in the molding and encouragement in their becoming active, participating citizens as they find that creativity equals self-awareness,” Norman said.
Self-awareness, she said, can lead to better understanding other people – leading to tolerance of others.
“What could be more important than learning to live peacefully and happily in the world with all others?” Norman said.