Soprano in sorrow

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

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There was a solemnity to Sunday's senior recital by Northern Caribbean University student Sashekia Brown, held at the institution's main auditorium in Mandeville.

The recital, in partial fulfilment of her Bachelor's Degree in Music Performance and Pedagogy, was dedicated to Dr Kaestner Robertson, her mentor and former chair of the department of music at the university, who died last year.

Brown explained that the music came from pieces she was working on with Robertson in preparation for her senior recital. They paid homage to the man who was not only a lecturer but her musical accompanist, guide and friend.

“I met Dr Robertson in 2014. He was the chair of the music department. He had retired from Atlantic Union College and he came here to build the music programme. What he did, which is what we not use, is he coined a programme that is at an international standard. It is very rigorous and he also used his connections to staff the programme with adjunct personnel. Him not being here is devastating because the loss is personal because of his involvement with my growth and development as a student and performer,” she shared with the Jamaica Observer .

The soprano appeared relaxed as she delivered works from some of classical music's greats, including Mozart, Bach, Handel and Schubert. She added some American spirituals to the mix to showcase her diversity.

Despite the general sombre tone of the works, Brown opened and closed the curtains with up-tempo works — the allegro from Exsultate, jubilate K165 by Mozart and the favoured spiritual Ride on King Jesus. The latter, set to John Carter's arrangement, was a treat for the ears, thanks not only to Brown's superb vocal treatment, but the fancy finger work by pianist Stephen Shaw-Naar.

That tone was maintained throughout with Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer by Bach, Not; Anzi tu pur...Non Disperar — the aria from Guilio Cesare by George Frideric Handel; and then more melancholy with Chanson d'automne and L'heure exquise from 7 Chanson Grises from composer Reynaldo Hahn.

After singing in German, Italian and French, Brown switched to Spanish and composer Manuel de Falla's Jata and Nana from his Siete canciones populares españolas , which were shared with the small yet appreciative audience.

The mood deepened with Der Hirt auf dem Felsen by Austrian Franz Schubert. For this work, in addition to Shaw-Naar, Brown included Earlon Cornwall on clarinet. Here again, her voice was the star, as it carried the required meaning, colour and texture of the piece despite the language barrier.

American negro spirituals have that innate element to convey feelings of loss and sorrow given the historical context of their origins, steeped in slavery and oppression.

For this set, Brown chose a suite of sad song, which included I Don't Know, Motherless Child and Let Us Break Bread Together , to lament her own feelings of loss.

“I am experiencing a full range of emotion. This concert was in memory of Dr Robertson and I feel vindicated...I feel like I did something that he would be proud of, especially because the pieces are things that he and I worked on in preparation for this recital and other that the poetry had some personal meaning for me as I still process his not being here,” she said. “That suite of John Carter spirituals was one of the things we worked on and so that had extra significance, plus the themes have become all so relevant to what I was going for,” she said in her post-recital interview.

Brown favours herself as a coloratura soprano, an operatic soprano voice that specialises in music that is distinguished by agile runs, leaps and trills. As a result, the upper register of her voice comes to life in some of the pieces chosen for this recital.

“I'm working on it. I feel like it's good to have some movement in the voice. I enjoy singing those kinds of fioritura passages, as well as the longer lines, so it's something that gives me that variation in my repertoire and access to a lot more material because I am able to do both,” she explained.

Brown completes her degree in December, but is already setting her sights on continuing her training in music with post-graduate studies.


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