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Kyle Berkley, belching an impressive tenor, performs Mozart's "Il mio tesoro" as well as compositions by Robert Owens at a recital in November 2018.

OU School of Music to host recital celebrating African-American composers

The Ohio University School of Music will celebrate Black History Month with a recital featuring works by lesser-known African-American composers.

The recital will take place in the Ohio University School of Music Recital Hall on Sunday at 4 p.m. Kyle Berkley, an adjunct professor of voice, will sing alongside Athens Community Music School piano teacher Wendy Blackwood.

“I knew that I always wanted to do an art song recital that showcased the music of minorities,” Berkley said. “As a singer and teacher, I really wanted to have a diverse repertoire, therefore I wanted to dive into this lesser known music.”

The performance will be the second recital given to celebrate Black History Month. Berkley organized the first one last year to showcase the music of minorities. 

“For me as a minority, I really wanted to highlight another minority, and in today's society, I also felt that it’s more important than ever,” Berkley said.

The program will include classical music, art songs and spirituals all by African-American composers. The recital will also debut a new art song by Gwyneth Walker. Walker had a residency last year at OU in the School of Music. 

When planning the recital, Berkley reached out to Walker to see what kind of music she had available. Her response pleasantly surprised Berkley. 

“I just reached out to her and asked, ‘What type of music do you have that would relate to the subject?’ and she just said, ‘Well, let me write you a piece for tenor and piano’ and that's how that came to be,” Berkley said. 

Over the course of her two-day residency, Berkley got to know Walker well.

“I got to know her so well, and she was here, and I thought it would be a good idea to showcase a living composer that also showcased African-American poetry that was written by a woman,” Berkley said.

Choosing what songs to perform during the hour-long recital was difficult, Berkley said. There was a lot of music to go through before finding pieces by lesser-known African-American composers. 

Berkley has always been dedicated to not only singing and teaching popular composers but also the less popular ones.

“I'm just really passionate about showcasing these lesser-known music but its still wonderful, beautiful melodies and compositions that are not performed as often as they should,” Berkley said.

Kenna McWilliams, a graduate student studying voice performance, believes the best way to help minorities get recognition is to showing up to events like the recital.

“I think that people are interested then they should dedicate their time and energy,” McWilliams said. “It makes all the difference.”

McWilliams wrote her undergraduate thesis on how to eliminate elitism in an artform that is known to be elite. 

“Just by giving representation to black composers and classical musicians of color, and so it's a really big deal that the School of Music is doing this,” McWilliams said.


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