Arts Organizations Unite for Detroit Public School Students
Opera Star Denyce Graves Gives Master Class
Click Here to see a 9-minute video about the project.
The Margaret Garner Educational Partnership is a recent success story as acclaimed Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves conducted a Master Class on January 23, 2009 for three vocal students at the Detroit School of Arts. The students were winners in a vocal competition staged by the Partnership.
The partners included WRCJ 90.9 FM, Michigan Opera Theatre, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Chamber Music Society of Detroit, Detroit School of Arts and Detroit Public Television.
- In August 2008, WRCJ 90.9 FM brought the partners together to capitalize on the return of the opera, Margaret Garner, to the Michigan Opera Theater in Fall 2008. The opera made its world debut in 2005 at the Detroit Opera House with Denyce Graves in the title role. Margaret Garner tells the true, tragic tale of a women's quest for freedom in pre-Civil War America. Toni Morrison wrote the Libretto with music by Richard Danielpour.
- The partners decided to stage a vocal competition for students at the Detroit School of Arts (DSA), a public high school and home to WRCJ 90.9 FM, which is licensed to Detroit Public Schools. The grand prize was to be a Master Class with Denyce Graves, when she returned in January 2009 to perform for the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. The vocal competition was overseen by DSA Founder and Principal Dr. Denise Davis-Cotton, Assistant Principal Delores Wilburn, and Vocal Instructors Shiela Sipes and Cheryl Valentine.
- The first round of competition in November had seven students each singing two songs - one operatic and one spirtual from the era in which Margaret Garner lived. Five finalists were chosen:
Ciera Williams, 17 soprano
Jocylynn Taylor, 17, mezzo-soprano
Terrance Buck, 17, tenor
Jamila Davidson, 17, mezzo-soprano
Sacha Hall, 17, soprano
First round judges were Karen V. DiChiera, Director of Community Programs, Michigan Opera Theatre and Betty Lane, Community Programs Operations Manager & Singing Voice Specialist, Michigan Opera Theatre.
- In October, approximately 30 DSA students were treated to a matinee performance of Margaret Garner at the Detroit Opera House.
- In December, the five finalists competed in the vocal competition at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Judges included Dr. David DiChiera, General Director, Michigan Opera Theatre; Benjamin Pruitt, Director of Fine Arts Education, Detroit Public Schools; Stanley Waldon, Retired Administrator, Detroit Public Schools; Dave Wagner, Host, WRCJ 90.9 FM; and Lois Beznos, President, Chamber Music Society of Detroit. Three "winners" were chosen: Ms. Davidson, Mr. Buck and Ms. Taylor.
- On January 23, 2009, Denyce Graves conducted her master class at DSA for the three vocal competition winners. Ms. Graves was in the Detroit area for her appearance with the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. The students each received about 30 minutes of intense coaching. Ms. Graves also heard performances from Ms. Hall and Ms. Williams. Joseph Rush and Antonia Levin were the piano accompianists.
- The 2008-2009 Margaret Garner Educational Partnership is a pilot program and is seeking funding and additional partners to expand its mission to provide educational opportunities for young people.
For more information, contact David Devereaux, WRCJ Station Manager at 313.494.6088 or
Watch this movie about the DSA being named a Grammy School. Click Here.