Dr. Emery Stephens Traces the Origins of the African American Spiritual

On Friday, February 22, 2013 at 7pm at MIT’s Killian Hall, Dr. Emery Stephens, baritone and Assistant Professor of Voice in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts at Wayne State University and Pamela Wood, soprano, MIT Senior Lecturer in Music with Karen Harvey, piano, present a lecture/recital tracing the origins of the African American spiritual. The program will feature an interactive discussion. This performance is made possible by CRD, Committee on Race and Diversity at MIT, the Council for the Arts at MIT and MIT Music and Theater Arts.

Baritone Emery Stephens is an Assistant Professor of Voice at Wayne State University, where his teaching focuses on applied voice, class voice, and opera workshop. His teaching experience includes faculty positions at Eastern Michigan University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, as well as secondary music education in the Greater Boston area.

Dr. Stephens has performed with the Boston Lyric Opera/Opera New England, Boston Opera Theatre, Handel and Haydn Society, Orchestra Canton, Carolina Ballet, University of Michigan Opera Theatre, Ann Arbor Symphony, Prism Opera, Instages Theatre, Lake George Opera Festival, Boston Opera Institute and Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, among others. His operatic roles include Benoit and Alcindoro in Puccini’s La Boheme, Aeneas in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Melchior and Balthazar in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, Father in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Junius in Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, Damis in Mechem’s Tartuffe, Maximilian in Bernstein’s Candide, and Dosher in James P. Johnson’s blues opera, De Organizer.

The Boston Phoenix notes that he sings, “with ringing suavity and articulate intelligence.” Music critic Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe wrote, “As Mel in Michael Tippett’s Knot Garden, Mr. Stephens disappeared entirely into his character.” A versatile and charismatic opera singer, he has worked with a number of prominent stage directors, such as Dorothy Danner, Elkhanah Pulitzer, Kay Walker Castaldo, Leon Major, Will Graham, Peter Sellars and British/Australian film-maker, Simon Target as well as with noted dancer and choreographer, Bill T. Jones. He received a favorable review by The Boston Globe for his Boston Early Music Festival performances in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with conductor and scholar, Andrew Parrott, and lutenist Paul O’Dette at Harvard University.

As a teacher committed to the continual development of his pedagogical skills, Dr. Stephens has taken part in summer training at Eastman School of Music, working with the highly respected vocal pedagogues Carol Webber and the late William McIver. He attended several workshops at Westminster Choir College on primary and secondary vocal education in classroom and choral settings and also studied the Voiceworks Method, a concise, practical approach in the pedagogy of contemporary commercial technique and vocal styles with Los Angeles vocal coach, Lisa Popeil. Additionally, he participated in master classes with Martina Arroyo, Carlo Bergonzi, Nico Castel, Robert Owens, Darryl Taylor, and Phyllis Curtin.

As a researcher, Dr. Stephens was invited to a refereed poster session at the Sixth International Congress of Voice Teachers (Vancouver, 2005). He co-produced and presented research findings with University of Michigan faculty member Dr. Caroline Helton on his African-American Art Song Survey at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) Conference (District of Columbia, 2006) and African-American Art Song Alliance Conference at the University of California’s Claire Trevor School for the Arts (Irvine, 2007). In addition, the project was highlighted in the collaborative article, “Singing Down the Barriers: Encouraging Singers of All Racial Backgrounds to Perform Music by African American Composers,” published by Jossey-Bass for its academic journal, Scholarship of Multicultural Teaching and Learning.

An active clinician and adjudicator, Dr. Stephens is affiliated with the National Association of Teachers of Singing, Center for Black Music Research, African American Art Song Alliance, and the Afrocentric Voices in Classical Music.

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