Sometimes I feel uneasy, even sad. There seems to be a lot of wheeling and dealing, coercing and confronting going on. There are political feuds happening within close-knit families. I refuse to turn on the nightly news.
Does anyone turn on the nightly news any more? Besides politics, there has been some turmoil in my own life lately, but I’m not alone. Who doesn’t have some sadness and turmoil?
There is an oasis in the dessert, a calm in the storm. It brings me peace and joy. It is the Virginia Arts Festival. It’s not surprising that art brings me happiness and comfort. Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” I am definitely dusty. For the next couple of months, I can escape for a few hours here and there, let the music wash over me, and enjoy a great performance with other people who are enjoying it right along with me.
I went to one of these performances. I listened to soprano Kathleen Battle present “Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey” with Joel A. Martin on the piano and the fabulous Norfolk State University Choir directed by Dr. Carl W. Haywood. There are so many reasons this performance uplifted my soul and made me feel better.
I’ve lived in Hampton Roads for four years and this is the first time I’ve been in the Wilder Center at Norfolk State University. It is a beautiful theater, very elegant but welcoming. It made me happy to see so many people coming in, dressed in their Sunday best for a 5:00 concert.
Kathleen Battle is a world-renowned operatic singer. When she hit that first high note of the first song, “Lord, How Come Me Here?” shivers went right up my spine. Here is a version from a few years back:
The songs were classic spirituals, like “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” “Gospel Train,” and “Fix Me, Jesus.” In between songs, Dr. Patricia Saunders Nixon and Gregory Gardner read quotes from the papers of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both Dr. Nixon and Mr. Gardner teach at Norfolk State University. Their beautiful voices delivered uplifting messages of hope and freedom.
When Kathleen Battle and the NSU Choir sang together, it was magic. I wish I could list all 55 members of the Choir. These young women and men were outstanding. There was so much talent on that stage. Dr. Carl W. Haywood, a native of Portsmouth and a cum laude graduate of NSU is the Choir Director. I will be going back for more of their concerts. All this local talent makes me happy.
The Virginia Arts Festival pulls off remarkable levels of collaboration and cooperation each year. Last year, the VAF and Norfolk State collaborated to present the Dance Theater of Harlem. They co-present with many organizations, like Tidewater Community College. TCC and VAF are presenting the Pants Down Circus for two performances on April 8.
The Virginia Stage Company and VAF will co-present the hit of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Reduced Shakespeare Company: William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) from May 26 – 28.
The VAF works with the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Williamsburg and James City County to present performances in venues, both large and small, across Tidewater. They work closely with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and other musical organizations like the Tidewater Classical Guitar Society and the Tidewater Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
The Virginia Arts Festival obtains sponsorships from businesses, individuals and philanthropic foundations. They get support from all kinds of media outlets. They even have “restaurant partners.” There are dozens of collaborations to make all this possible, to bring art into our lives. The VAF brings outstanding talent to Hampton Roads to work with our own outstanding talent. I haven’t even mentioned a very important part of the VAF: student outreach. This year, over 18,000 students will have a chance to be involved in student outreach programs through the VAF, but we’ll save that for another day. I’ll be writing about it.
How the VAF puts together all these partnerships and sponsorships every year boggles my mind. It also gives me hope. If the Virginia Arts Festival can do it year after year and bring something great to us year after year, then it means that some of us can get along and produce something wonderful, too. Support this effort. It will make you happy.
“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.” – Robert Schumann
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