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UMOJA in Ohio

10 Nov

I finally have found the chance to take a break and catch up with this blog.

UMOJA Men's Chorus CD

UMOJA Men’s Chorus CD

I always wanted to work with a prison population and, lo and behold the opportunity presented itself. Last summer, I was invited by Dr. Cathy Roma, a friend of Ysaye Barnwell, to teach workshops at Ohio Prisons. Dr. Roma is a Professor of Music at Wilmington College in Ohio. As a part of her music ministry, she founded and directs UMOJA Men’s Chorus at the Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio. Recently she started the UBUNTU Men’s Chorus at Madison Correctional Institution in London, Ohio and she also directs the World House Choir in Yellow Springs. Dr. Roma says that new spirituals are being written behind bars in today’s prisons that reflect the continuing repression of African-Americans in our society.

The African-American Spiritual tradition has always captivated and inspired me. The opportunity to witness a revival of that tradition was irresistible to me. I should add that Dayton, Ohio is the home of my 95-year old mother and Yellow Springs is where my dear NPR friends, Neenah Ellis and Noah Adams live. So the decision to go to Ohio was an easy one.

My first workshop was held at a women’s prison in Dayton. The participants were unbelievably attentive and respectful women. One of them was a Gospel singer. I don’t know why she was in there.

The next day I coached the World House Choir in Yellow Springs, Ohio on the Antioch College campus. My dear friend Neenah Ellis sings in the choir and Dr. Roma conducts it. We met at the Coretta Scott King Center. It was the perfect place for us because Coretta Scott King was a voice major at Oberlin and got her Master’s degree in Education at Antioch. Because it’s such a large group, the men and women rehearse separately. I led the women’s rehearsal which was held in a church nearby. There was a huge group of women at the rehearsal. I worked with them to refine their diction and I taught them some wonderful chants. It was really great!

The next day, I worked with the men of the World House Choir, and the day after I conducted a workshop at the UMOJA Men’s Chorus at the Warren Correctional Institution, a men’s prison in Lebanon, Ohio. Dr. Roma had sent me an incredible CD of the UMOJA Men’s Chorus performing songs that the inmates had written. I had high hopes and I was not disappointed. The men had beautiful, unbelievable voices. It was a mainly African American group. Participants were of all ages, from teens to septuagenarians.

The following day I went to Madison Correctional men’s prison in London, Ohio that was much higher security – barbed wire everywhere. It’s strange when they lock doors behind you and you find yourself behind gates and barbed wire. You walk through all of these doors and you come out into a green, beautiful campus. Rehearsals were held in the chapel. They’ve stopped educational programs in the prisons but they allow Dr. Roma to continue her music programs. The men in Madison were a more racially diverse group than in the other prisons. European or African-American, I believe these men are going to be different people when they come out because they have music in their lives.

Dr. Roma is doing such wonderful work. She said to me when we left the prison, “Charles, I could do this every day.”


Mother to Son

26 May

A belated Mother’s Day Tribute.  Tom Teasley accompanies as I read the Lanston Hughes poem, Mother to Son.

Singin’ in the Rain

19 May

Doing the Rain Dance!

Our recent wet weather brings to mind one of the silliest and most fun gigs I’ve ever had.

Austrian television’s Dagmar Koller Show hired me to reenact Gene Kelly’s iconic rain dance and song from the film Singin’ in the Rain.  They had two suits on set, and I changed into the dry one after every take. There was water all over the studio! It was fun.

Luckily, I got to sing the song in English because I had to focus all my attention on keeping my balance — tap dancing and singing while being drenched with gallons of water is very challenging!


13 Jun

More Honors for Einstein on the Beach

2012 Addition to the Library of Congress’ National Recorded Sound Registry

In an earlier post I told of how Einstein on the Beach, the Philip Glass Opera I’m appearing in, won England’s coveted Olivier Award.  Now the 1979 recording of Einstein joins iconic American recordings such as Artie Shaw’s Begin the Beguine (1938), the Original Cast Album of South Pacific (1949) and Chubby Checker’s The Twist (1960) in the Library of Congress’ National Recorded Sound Registry.

The National Recorded Sound Registry was established by Congress to preserve America’s legacy of music, spoken word and natural sound.  The oldest recordings in the collection go back to the earliest experiments in sound recording in the mid-nineteenth century.  The collection is designed to showcase “the diverse beauty, humanity and artistry” of American recordings in every genre from field recordings to classical music to hip-hop.  Einstein+on+the+Beach+disc+3+frontcover

A Night to Remember!

18 Apr

It was an amazing performance in an amazing space. 

Mt. Lubentia

Mt. Lubentia

Last night I enjoyed a wonderful evening listening to my friend Brian Peters perform English folk music at a house concert at the home of Sondra and Andy Wallace in Upper Marlboro, MD.

The Wallaces are the only people I know who have their house listed in Wikipedia.  Their house, Mt. Lubentia, predates the American Revolution. I don’t know if George Washington slept here, but he and Martha were frequent visitors. I could go on and on about this space – there’s something about its elegant simplicity and high ceilings that makes a person feel a bit larger than life.

The performance space was at the bottom of a grand central staircase that just begged for Scarlett O’Hara or Carol Burnett — remember her hilarious “Gone With the Wind” sketch —  to come sweeping down.

Before the show started, I found that I knew just about everybody there so I had a good time connecting with old friends that I’d met at Vocal Week in Augusta.

Brian Peters

English Folksinger extraordinaire Brian Peters

Brian Peters was phenomenal.  He combines a clear, compelling singing voice with immaculate diction, flawless musicianship on a variety of squeezeboxes and guitar, and deep, scholarly insight into his material.  He’s also tells some hilarious stories about the adventures of Cecil Sharp, Maude Karpeles and the other pioneers of British folksong collecting.  He sang some wonderful traditional ballads; some were unusual versions of very familiar songs such as “Barbara Allen” and “The Golden Vanity” with tunes that weren’t the standard folk revival ones. (Re: “The Golden Vanity,” Brian said that the ship’s name has been “folk processed” in a wide variety of ways, his favorite is “The Turkish Roving Canoe.”)

He played rousing dance tunes on the squeezeboxes and also sang some of Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-room Ballads.  Brian held the audience for two hours and they begged him to keep going.  Finally he had to beg them to let him stop.

It was a rare night.  Seldom in life do you find such a perfect gathering!

Don’t Blink…

9 Apr

Or you’ll miss me!

I’m sitting right behind Liza Minelli in this Youtube clip,

Einstein On the Beach Has Been Nominated for an Olivier Award!

9 Apr

Bronze statue representing Lord Olivier. Will Charles and his fellow cast members bring one home to America?

Einstein on the Beach has been nominated for an Olivier Award in the category “Best New Opera Production.”

The Olivier Award, which was first given in 1976,  is the most sought after award in London Theatre.  The list of past award recipients is an honor roll of England’s greatest actors: Lord Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Paul Scofield, Joan Littlewood, Joan Plowright, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, Peggy Ashcroft, Harold Pinter, Peter Hall, Judi Dench, Alan Bennett, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alan Ayckbourn; Maggie Smith, Alan Howard, Penelope Keith, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Miller.

The Olivier Awards ceremony will be held at England’s Royal Opera House on April 28. You can listen to live coverage hosted by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville on BBC Radio 2.

Announcing The Charles Williams Endowed Scholarship for THEARC

30 Oct A Night to Remember!
Birthday invitation

A Night to Remember!

Charles’ 75th Birthday was the occasion for a gala celebration sponsored by the Levine School.  The event featured reminiscences and performances by Charles’ students and friends including playwright Ken Ludwig, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Rosa Lamoreaux, Tom Teasley and more.  Scrumptious gourmet food was provided by Gepetto Catering .   The evening ended with a wonderful surprise birthday present – Peter Jablow, the Levine School’s President and CEO, announced that the Levine School, in partnership with Charles’ fans and grateful students and their parents, was establishing an endowed scholarship in his honor, The Charles Williams Endowed Scholarship for THEARC.

THEARC, a.k.a. Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus  is an alliance of eleven Washington, DC nonprofit agencies, all of which share the goal of helping disadvantaged DC children and adults reach their full potential.  The Charles Williams Endowed Scholarship for THEARC will be used to fund music training for talented children who will carry Charles’ legacy to the next generation.

If you would like to donate to the Charles Williams Endowed Scholarship at THEARC, please e-mail Stanley Spracker,the Levine School’s Vice President, Development and Planning, for information on how to contribute.

The Global Youth Village

24 Aug

I woke up the other day in Berkeley Springs with this on my mind:


They came from many places and lands to form this Global Youth Village. They came from Iraq, The Crow Nation in Montana, Kurdistan, Northern Virginia and Nigeria. They came, these 14-18 year olds. They came to learn about living in peace, about conflict resolution, about mutual respect, about accepting, and learning about other cultures. They shared their cultures with each other.

It was an honor and pleasure to be a guest artist in residence in this village. I was privileged to share my knowledge of how the human voice can produce healthy and pleasant sounds. I also talked about The American Freedom Riders, and their songs. I shared with them some of the poetic treasures of The Harlem Renaissance, and taught them songs from Africa, The US, and The Apache Nation. I taught a group of young men from Iraq to do The Hambone — that rhythmic game played on ones’ own body. They performed The Hambone on the final evenings sharing concert with great success, and announced that they would teach it to their friends when they returned home to Iraq.

They came, they bonded, they learned, they became one, brothers and sisters. They came and they formed a peaceful Global Youth Village.



Home at Last!

20 Aug

Vocal Week at the Augusta Heritage Festival was a blast! 
The best ever!

I did the morning vocal warm-ups which I thoroughly enjoyed and I led two classes on care of the voice.  I love little babies and this year there was an army of cute little baby girls.  With all that feminine energy, I don’t see how our warring ways can continue much longer!  I’m off to unpack and do laundry.  I hope to tell you more about Augusta soon.

We’re entering the dog days, here’s wishing you a happy, restful and above all, cool, summer!

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