THIS IS SURRATTS FOUNDATION E-NOTICE 2005-11 OF NOVEMBER 1, 2005
Here are some items that might be of interest.
1. 2005 ANNUAL CAMPAIGN CONTINUES. The Foundation's informal annual campaign continues this month. As in the past, we expect to use the funds raised during the annual campaign to replenish the Foundation's scholarship funds and to be used for other Foundation projects. Please consider making a contribution to this most worthy of causes. Remember: no contribution is too small (or too large) to be of assistance, and since the Foundation has no overhead, every dollar contributed directly supports a Foundation activity. (A donor form is available on the web site at www.surrattsville.org)
2. NEW JUNE EVENTS PHOTOS ON WEB SITE. Thanks to a number of you, there are a number of great new photos from the June events on the Foundation's web site at www.surrattsville.org. I'm happy to report that photos now include ones of the senior faculty attendee and the senior alumni attendee at the events.
3. MORE SURRATTS HISTORY. I received this email from John Curry (60): "Hi Henry: I just received a call from Tom Goodrich who is a local author. He and his wife, Debra, write and present talks concerning the Civil War and the American West. He is scheduled to give a talk to the Surratts Society sometime next April. He will probably add the information to his web sites as it becomes available (www.blackflagtours.com , www.ksjournal.com ). John"
4. SURRATTS RENAMING CONTROVERSY; SEEKING BOOK AND LOST HORNET. I received this email from Ruth Stout Maitland (72): "Hi Henry: I read the item in the e-Notice about Mr. Robinson's suggestion to change the name of the School. I think it would be a travesty to change the name. My family has five Surrattsville graduates (67, 69, 72, 74 and 76). By the way, the e-Notice mentioned a book by Bart Rhett Talbert titled "Maryland: The South's First Casualty". Might anyone know where I can get a copy of that book without paying an arm and a leg? (I've been checking and the cheapest I can get the book is USED for $88 and up.) Also, can you ask in the e-Notice if anyone knows how I can contact Donna Coppage Dove (72)? Her sister is Anne (74) and brother is Dale (69 or 67). Thanks, Ruth. p.s. 'Clinton High School' might not be such an appropriate re-name for the School, because I believe "Clinton" was the name of either Booth's horse or Dr. Mudd's horse!"
5. ACHIEVEMENT AWARD RECIPIENTS BUSY IN D.C. AREA. Surratts Parents Marge and Bill Allen (Pete 71) were kind enough to be the first to send me this info about an upcoming performance by opera great (and Foundation Achievement Award recipient) Gordon Hawkins (76): Porgy and Bess, October 29 - November 19, Kennedy Center Opera House, tickets $48- $295, 202-295-2400 or 800-US-OPERA, www.dc.opera.org. The Allens also reported that there is a nice feature story about Gordon in the October issue of Washingtonian magazine at page 35.
Evan Vutsinas (76) then sent me the fascinating additional information reprinted at the end of this email about this upcoming D.C. performance by Surrattsville's opera superstar. Evan also noted that NPR will broadcast Gordon's performance on more than 100 NPR on Saturday, November 12, from 1:30 - 5:30PM (ET) (stations and broadcast times are available at www.NPR.org/stations). NPR also will audio web cast the performance live in its entirety on its Web site, NPR.org, and the complete broadcast will remain available to hear anytime, as part of the NPR.org archive of live concerts, at NPR.org/music.
Another Foundation Achievement Award recipient, Kevin Fitzgerald (71), who also was featured in Washingtonian magazine last year, recently completed a beautiful show at The Main Street Gallery in Annapolis. Information on Kevin's paintings can be found at www.kevinfitzgeraldpainter.com (which mentions his Surratts roots).
6. FUN WEB SITE. I received this tip about a just-for-fun web site from Mark Lawrence (70): "Hi Henry: I stumbled upon Frapper the other day and thought it quite cool. I started a Surrattsville page for funsies. If you like it add yourself and spread the word. http://www.risingconcepts.com/frapper/surrattsvilleshs, Mark"
7. MORE HORNET TALES FROM THE HURRICANE ZONE. I received this email from Pat Pat Webb McArthur (70): "Good morning, Henry: I know of another Hornet who went through the hurricanes me! I live in Lafayette, LA. Here, we were affected more by Rita than Katrina. Fortunately, we had minimal damage here: tree limbs down, shingles off the roof, etc. Folks to the south and west of Lafayette weren't so fortunate. I have a dear friend who lives on Avery Island (where they make Tabasco sauce it is just 15 miles from Lafayette) whose home is under 10 feet of water. And I have relatives and dear friends who live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast who were hit hard by Katrina. Lafayette is now a temporary home to about 7,000 evacuees from both storms. Let's remember these hard-working people in our thoughts and prayers! People here on the Gulf Coast are resilient and they WILL bounce back from these storms! It might take a while, but it will happen! All the best, Pat"
(In response to the item in the last e-Notice about Glenda Gillian Schornick (70)'s loss of everything in Katrina, Kirby Hall (74) kindly offered her family his travel trailer as a temporary home!)
8. HORNET JUMPS INTO HISTORY. I received this inspiring report from Elizabeth "Lee" Gleisberg May (78): "Hi Henry: Well, we returned from California Sunday night and are happy to report that we did break the current women's world record skydive (131 women linked in freefall) on Friday with 151 women linked in freefall at one time! It took 20 attempts. We also raised close to $500,000 for breast cancer treatment and research which will go to the "City of Hope"! (http://www.jumpforthecause.com , http://www.jumpforthecause.com/blog.html, http://dev.insideedition.com/Default.aspx?tabid=1). Ashley and J.R. helped run the JFTC booth and supported me on the ground. Ashley was able to meet and spend time with Mallory Lewis (Shari's Lewis's, of Lamb Chop fame, daughter), Gregory Peck's son, Carey Peck, and some other notables. Shari died of breast cancer and her daughter Mallory took over as the voice of lamb chop and as a breast cancer research advocate. She has also written over 40 children's books.
I was honored to jump specially made "flying angels chest strap" banners in the name of my natural father, Raymond Gleisberg, and my step-Dad, Andrew Lubic, as well as a special passenger, a jump for the cause bear, for Ashley. I was also wearing my step-dad's patron saint of parachutists medal, St. Michael. There were women from Russia, Japan, Korea, France, Germany, New Zealand and many other countries represented!
Inside Edition will be featuring our success (I've heard on tonight or tomorrow's showing) and I may have a "cameo" appearance as one of the more "flamboyant" participants (of no surprise - huh?!). Hey, whatever it takes to be able to spread the word about such a good cause and outstanding way to achieve our goals right?! LOL! Thanks for everyone's support and for supporting the cause! Sincerely, Elizabeth "
Congratulations to Elizabeth and her fellow jumpers on this extraordinary achievement for a great cause!
9. GRANTS AVAILABLE. I received this interesting email from Sherie Robey: "Hi Henry: My husband Bob is a 65 Surrattsville graduate and we receive your e-Notices. I belong to the Maryland Student Service Association for Student Service Learning activities for my the county that I teach in (St. Mary's County). We send out information on grants, etc. I thought that since individuals interested in your Foundation seem to be looking for a way to help those affected by the hurricanes, perhaps this information could help the cause. Sincerely, Sherie"
The Corporation for National and Community Service today announced the availability of approximately $4 million in Challenge Grants to assist in disaster relief and recovery efforts following the recent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region. Applicants must also include strategies that engage baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, in service designed to meet the community needs. Grants will be awarded to nonprofit organizations that engage volunteers in these activities.
The Challenge Grant program requires applicants to provide at least $2 in private funds to match every federal dollar awarded. The Corporation anticipates making up to eight Challenge Grants this year, with a minimum grant of $500,000 and a maximum of $1 million. The deadline for applications is November 8.
In light of the devastation and suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, our Challenge Grant program will bring new private supporters of service to the table to support the mobilization of volunteers to assist in hurricane recovery," said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Organizations receiving funds through these grants must focus on engaging volunteers in disaster relief and recovery for the population affected by the recent hurricanes in addition to engaging baby boomers in full-time, part-time, or episodic community service. Applicants must also propose programs that will operate in three or more states. The Corporation will consider applications proposing programs that would be located in one or two states, but only if the scope of the proposed program is statewide in nature and must include one of the following states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
Nonprofit organizations, including faith-based and community-based organizations that have not applied for federal assistance from the Corporation in the past, are encouraged to apply. Since 2003, the Corporation has awarded a total of $8.5 million in Challenge Grants to 14 nonprofit organizations to recruit and train new volunteers to handle tasks ranging from tutoring children to serving in health care centers.
The Corporation expects to announce its selections by December 31. For further information, contact Marci Hunn at (202) 606-7507, or ChallengeGrants@cns.gov. The TTY number is 202-606-3471. Upon request, this information will be made available in alternate formats for people with disabilities. Visit http://www.nationalservice.gov/for_organizations/funding/nofa.asp for a detailed description on the funding opportunity.
The Corporation for National and Community Service provides opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve their communities and country through three programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America. Together with the USA Freedom Corps, the Corporation is working to build a culture of citizenship, service, and responsibility in America. For more information, visit http://www.nationalservice.gov.
10. SHARED MEMORIES OF CLINTON. I received this lovely email from Janet Goddard Sullivan (54) in response to John Curry's (60) recollections of life in Clinton that were included in the last e-Notice: "Hi Henry: Just want to say thanks to John Curry (60) for the words of remembrance about my father, Jesse Goddard. He drove the bus for almost 40 years and had the well deserved reputation of a disciplined bus. He certainly allowed no monkey business on his bus, or at home! He passed away in October 1987 and kept that reputation all his life. My brothers, Jesse, Jr (56 - deceased 1999), Charles (58), and Paul (62), and I learned a valuable work ethic from him that has served us well all our lives. Janet Goddard Sullivan (54)"
I passed that email along to John, who responded as follows: "Thanks Janet! I rode Mr. Goddard's bus for eight years while attending Surrattsville Schools. It's odd where and how you learn life's lessons if you look around. Mr. Goddard was the perfect example for me in my life at that time. I'm sure that his family has fond memories of a father who set high expectations. John"
11. BOOMERANG PLANS 50TH EDITION. I've received several nice inquiries from the current Boomerang staff at the School concerning various historical items they plan to include in this year's 50th edition. I'll bet they would love to hear some reminiscences from former Boomerang staffers especially those who might have worked on that first edition 50 years ago. Here's the email address for this year's editors: firstname.lastname@example.org.
12. HORNET RECOVERING FROM NASTY ACCIDENT. I received this email from Class of 74 ORC Lauren Foley: "Hi Henry: I was hoping you could put this in the e-Notice for November. My brother has been through so much and I think seeing some familiar faces and hearing from his buddies would really be great for him. He is doing very well and we are so thankful that he is still with us. Hope all is well with you. Take care, Lauren
On Friday, Sept. 30th a tower crane collapsed unexpectedly on the job site in Alexandria, Va. at about 8:20 a.m. My brother, Paul ("Pookie") Foley (81) was the operator. It was devastating for us. I actually saw it first on the internet and called my mom. SMC (Pookie's company) was not able to contact mom because they had moved and no one had their new phone number. The crane crashed down from 200 feet and landed on a row of town homes. Pookie was in the cab the whole time. We don't know whether he jumped from about 30 feet or was thrown from the cab after it hit the town homes but he is alive! He landed in a patch of mulch which was the only soft spot for miles of that job site. They took him to Inova Fairfax Hospital by helicopter where he was admitted to the trauma unit and then taken to the OR for surgery. He had bleeding on the brain from severe head trauma and both his ankles were crushed. I was the first one to get to the hospital and got to see him before he went into surgery. He was sedated so he didn't know I was there. They thought they might have to amputate one of his feet because his left ankle had twisted 360 degrees and the bone was sticking out. This wonderful doctor named Dr. Kibish actually put Pookie's ankles back together after 5 1/2 hours of surgery and the prognosis is very good. We think his left ankle will be good as new, but his right will require more surgery down the road because it was so severely crushed and will take some time to heel. The doctors seem to think he will walk normally again. After the surgery, Pookie was in the ICU for two weeks. That was pretty scary, but he hung in there. Talk about having the longest two weeks of your life. After he was removed from the ICU, they took him to the IMU (Immediate Care Unit) where he stayed for about 12 days. There he was finally able to be removed from the ventilator, feeding tube and the tracheotomy tube.
On October 26, Pookie was transported to Inova Mt. Vernon Rehab Hospital in Alexandria, VA, and started his rehab process the next day! He is not allowed to put any pressure on his ankles for at least four more weeks, so they will start working on his upper body strength so that he is able to get in and out of a wheelchair. They will also be working on his short term memory loss (which is totally normal with a severe head trauma). He doesn't remember anything about the accident, which is probably a good thing.
I thought I would pass along to his classmates and friends the hospital information in case you would like to send him a note or stop in and see him. I believe visiting hours are from 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. daily. Pookie is in good spirits and is very anxious to get on with his rehab and get out of the hospital. We are so lucky to still have him with us. It is definitely what I would classify as a miracle. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. Here's his contact info:
Paul K. Foley, Jr.
Here is a link to a news article that was published in the Alexandria Gazette: http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/article.asp?article=56762&cat=104
I know we all send our thoughts and prayers out to Pookie for a speedy recovery.
13. HOW TRUE. Class of 68 ORC Gerda Willkom Parr passed this cute poem along to me:
Every ten years, as summertime nears,
I'll never forget the first time we met;
It was quite an affair; the whole class was there.
The ambitious all conversed about who had been first
The homecoming queen, who once had been lean,
No one had heard about the class nerd
The boy we'd decreed "most apt to succeed"
They awarded a prize to one of the guys
They took a class picture, a curious mixture
At our next get-together, no one cared whether
It was held out-of-doors, at the lake shores;
By the fortieth year, it was abundantly clear,
And now I can't wait as they've set the date;
Repairs have been made on my old hearing aid;
I'm feeling quite hearty; I'm ready to party,
14. MORE HORNET RECOLLECTIONS. After the very positive responses I received to the Clinton recollections of John Curry (60) that were included in the last e-Notice, I asked John if he had any more to share. I received this nice reply: " Well Henry, you asked for it. Here are a couple of additional stories. It has been fun for me to dredge up these isolated incidents that for so long were half forgotten. I've decided that youth is like a proving ground, some experiments are good and some are questionable. It seems to me that it is a wonder that I'm still walking around.
The No-Body People
We had a large commercial type swing set in our backyard. It had several swings, a slide and a sea-saw. This contraption attracted a number of neighborhood children who were usually rather inquisitive especially concerning the need for air vents at the base of our house. Some quick thinking developed the fanciful story about the small people who live under peoples homes. They were dubbed the No-Body People! Several less gullible kids said No Way to our explanation. We needed some hard evidence to convince these unbelievers. We looked around for something to use and discovered an old, well-used teddy bear. It was quite large but still looked like the toy that it was. We finally selected a large plastic freezer bag that when pulled tightly over the toy distorted the bears features. Where could this prop be situated to best serve its new function? We selected a bedroom closet that was under a long staircase. This closet provided a deep, dark recess to place Mr. Teddy Bear, now transformed into the elusive No-Body Person. The cloths in the closet were pulled over to obscure our prop and we went outside to find our skeptics. There were three of them still playing in our yard so we invited them inside to help search out our mystery people. We all crept into the bedroom, opened the closet door, parted the hanging cloths and turned on the closet light. There before our eyes sat the silent apparition! Two of the victims screamed and ran out of the house but one boy just kind of ran in place by stamping his feet for several seconds before running away screaming. There was finally peace and quiet on our play equipment because the neighbor children found other places to play.
The 57 Ford
Ive always had an aversion to being told unconditionally that I can not do something when I feel justified in doing it. This personality quirk surfaced one evening while riding in the back seat of a brand new, two door, 1957 Ford Fairlane. Two young ladies were in the front and I sat in the back seat between two of my friends. We had some particular destination in mind but the driver said that she had decided we were going somewhere else. I asked her to stop and let me out in down town Clinton. She responded quite firmly for me to be quiet and that I was going along for the ride. Her sister was riding shotgun and sat sideways looking at me and laughing at our predicament. I leaned over to the guy on my left and whispered for him to quietly lower his window because I intended to jump out of the car at the first opportunity. Sure enough the driver slowed the car to make a turn, which was my queue. I quickly turned to my left, put both feet out of the open window, grabbed the cars roof and pulled myself out. It was evening and all of the lights in town were on, I remember the lights because they rotated as I exited the car. This meant that I flipped over backwards and landed upright running in a ditch next to the road. My two captive friends had agreed to follow me after I jumped but they just sat there while the driver continued to tell me exactly what she thought, unaware that I was now walking along Branch Avenue towards home. My friends related later that the front seat passenger sat transfixed and said, Hes gone while the driver continued to scold me. After they drove around for awhile they pulled next to me and said that they were going home and I needed to get in. This sounded reasonable so I got into the car and we rode home in quiet with no further mention of my abrupt exit. Now, every time I see a 57 Ford I think of that night and my adventure in Clinton, MD.
15. HORNET CONJOINED IN RARE PROCEDURE. This past weekend,
I had the distinct pleasure to enjoy a wild and extremely unique
post-marriage celebration party for Tom Shultz (71) and his lovely bride
Susan Yuhas Shultz. I know many of you know Tom and Susan well for all of
their great volunteer work on behalf of the Foundation among many other
things, Tom designed the program covers for the various events, the covers
for the events' Photo Books and the Alumni/Staff Directories, the name tags
that help us navigate reunions, the Foundation's letterhead, and so on, and
Tom and Susan always volunteer to help out at the various Foundation events.
Especially those of you who are interested in graphic arts and Tom's
unique sense of humor! might enjoy looking at the web site for the event,
Congratulations to Tom and Susan on their marriage, and on their
extraordinary event celebrating it!
I hope this e-Notice finds you well and enjoying crisp, invigorating weather!
Henry Smith (71),
JEAN WINDSOR MYERS (47), mother of Terry Myers Forsythe (88), passed away on September 11, 2005. Terry shared these items about her Mom: "She, as well as all of her brothers and sister, all attended Surrattsville: Ralph Jr. (Buddy) 1952, David (Tiny) 1955, Ronald (Ronny) 1960, Donald (Donny) 1958, Alan (Wickie) 1966, Brian (Pinkey) 1963, and Wanda (Lou) 1972. I am not totally sure about their dates, but I think I am close. Along with her children, John (Sunny) 1966, Doug 1970, Gina (attended Surrattsville but graduated from Crossland as Vo-tech), Shelley 1980, Terry 1988, Sandy 1990. As you can see, Surrattsville is a family school, because there were also grandchildren who attended. Mom was the best Mother any one could ever have, she gave even when there was nothing to give. Terry"
Steve Profilet (71)
"The Baritone's Deeper Resonance", By Jacqueline Trescott
With six older brothers and sisters trying to outdo each other during their childhood in Clinton, Gordon Hawkins had to stretch his interest.
Taking a break from rehearsals for "Porgy and Bess," Hawkins laughs at the memory and rattles off the lineup. Beverly played the French horn, Thomas and Ron the sax, Woody the oboe, Wayman the tuba and Cheryl the flute. Gordon chose the clarinet. When it came to sports, Thomas and Wayman had football, Woody track and Ron wrestling. Gordon settled on baseball.
He shakes his head at how the Hawkins family competition shaped his life.
"The less noble part," he says, was sibling rivalry. But he wanted to stand out. "Your brothers and sisters are doing something, and you have to find your own turf."
Now, a quarter-century into his professional life as a busy baritone with 20 different Verdi roles alone in his repertoire, he stands as the only internationally known singer in the family.
Beginning today, Hawkins stars in the title role of the George Gershwin classic being staged by the Washington National Opera for the first time. Gershwin premiered "Porgy and Bess" on Broadway in October 1935 and, almost from the start, the work has been accompanied by debate over whether it is truly an opera or musical theater and whether the characters are offensive caricatures or homespun folks.
And this is where Hawkins says he has made some peace. Porgy is the role that most black baritones end up singing, like it or not.
In the opera's sprawling rehearsal hall in the Takoma section of Northwest Washington, Hawkins has a glint in his dark brown eyes and a clear idea about how Porgy's manhood should be signaled. Knowing Francesca Zambello, the award-winning director, for more than 20 years from previous collaborations, Hawkins firmly believes his views will be considered. One hint of his approach: There is no goat cart pulling poor Porgy around as in most productions. He's on his feet for almost three hours, and Hawkins, imposing at 6 feet 2 inches tall and 260 pounds, pulls himself along on his crutch.
When the role of Porgy comes his way, and it has six or seven times, he aims for nuance, some way to measure the man, not the facade. "I hope it has a lot more depth, a lot more understanding of what it means to lose," he says of the current portrayal. "The first time I did it, I was 26 in Melbourne, Australia. The only thing I was preoccupied with was finishing the entire piece without losing my voice. It is a very long and physical piece to do. I think now at 46, I am more interested in what I want to say rather than the sounds I make or being perfect. I am comfortable technically, so that is not a concern. It is more of a concern of energy, endurance and focus, and more of the journey I want to make with that character."
At times, Hawkins avoided Gershwin's Catfish Row and its residents, the blessing and the bane for black singers. "The route I chose was to do more mainstream repertory," he says, and that adds up to a long list, from Bizet to Stravinsky. "It means that sometimes I wasn't earning enough money as I would have if I did 'Porgy.' But now my career and artistic palate is broader."
Since the day "Porgy and Bess" opened 70 years ago, many black artists and scholars have objected to the caricatures of loose women, murder and drugs, all in a dialect filtered through a white writer's ears. Harry Belafonte famously turned down a role in the 1959 movie, and Sidney Poitier wrote in his autobiography that his involvement in the film was something that he regretted. But "Porgy" is revived often, and the recognizable music is revered, and black artists get work.
The story follows Porgy, a crippled beggar, and his love, Bess, who live in Catfish Row, a fictitious enclave outside Charleston, S.C. A character named Sportin' Life peddles plenty of cocaine and drink. Crown is Bess's man but has to get out of town when he kills a card player. Bess is shunned by everyone but Porgy and eventually declares her love. But all of their lives are turned upside down when Crown returns and is killed by Porgy. While he is in jail, Bess decides to start over in New York with Sportin' Life.
Its initial staging in Washington in 1936 with Todd Duncan as Porgy marked the first time an audience at the National Theatre was integrated, after the singers said they wouldn't perform before a segregated house.
Hawkins says he accepted the role this time because he trusts Zambello, and he has a policy of asking the companies who want him for Porgy to find another role for him in the season. He will return in March as Alberich in Wagner's "Das Rheingold."
"I certainly think that is important. I think people will look at me and say it is a no-brainer that I can sing Porgy. I just need to make sure they know it is a no-brainer that I can sing Alberich," he says in a deliberate, warm voice. His first appearance in "Porgy" at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1989 as Jake, with James Levine conducting.
His Porgy has to have fire and flesh, he says. He's not the beaten-down cripple that some find demeaning. "Everyone makes excuses for him because of his handicap. People don't make the effort to see any deeper. He's not just a kind man, a gentle man, but a full physical being," Hawkins says. "What I care most about with Porgy is that if Crown is very demonstrative and physical, and Sportin' Life is conniving, I want Porgy to have a different tempo. He is a much stiller person, and he has a philosophy about things."
Some of that character deconstruction goes right back to the Hawkins household. Thomas N. Hawkins was the pastor of Union Bethel AME Church in Brandywine, and Edith Mae Ridgley Hawkins was a mother who was devoted to family and church. The children spent a great deal of time at the church, where they also sang. The parents allowed music at home, mostly Motown, and Hawkins remembers it had to be played "down in the basement." Now when he has his offstage choices, on the road or at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., he is a Miles Davis man. He also listens to John Coltrane and Joni Mitchell as well as Odetta and Nina Simone, and sometimes even warms up his vocal cords to Aretha Franklin.
His early interests were music, math and sports. Older brother Wayman recalls a young Gordon who "wanted to tag along. He was a stubborn kid with a heart of gold. But when he said no, he meant it."
Hawkins finished Surrattsville Senior High School in 1976 and went to the University of Maryland on a baseball scholarship. He pitched, but his career ended when he tore his rotator cuff. His participation in a vocal class caught the attention of the faculty, and once he had to drop baseball, he also shifted his academic focus from math to music. "He would baby-sit and work in my garden to get extra voice lessons," remembers Linda Mabbs, a Maryland professor. "His voice was low, deep, dark. People thought he was a bass. But he worked on it and took it higher."
Hawkins finished Maryland in 1980, and stayed to take some graduate courses. He sang locally, working with the Wolf Trap Opera Company, and then won a Metropolitan Opera audition in 1986, singing an aria from Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin."
"I was a big Tchaikovsky lover. I fell in love with Russian music. I used to think the greatest thing in the world was his 'Romeo and Juliet' until I discovered Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet,' " the music written for the Kirov Theater in 1935-1936. "There were no sounds like that."
The change, he says, is one of the things that happen to your listening ear as a singer explores, in this case, the neo-romantics. What happens, he explains, "is different colors appear."
Some circumstances of his career are described with awe, such as performing at the Met with people whose records he had collected and studied. In 1990, he sang Marcello in "La Boheme" at the Met when he was called at 10:30 a.m. for a 1 p.m. show -- the day the show was being broadcast around the world with Placido Domingo and Mirella Freni in the cast.
He has had a number of highlights already: five years in the Met's ensemble; winner of the Luciano Pavarotti voice competition in 1992; the grueling joy of doing Wagner's "Ring" cycle.
Speight Jenkins, the executive director of the Seattle Opera, has recruited Hawkins to perform Verdi and Wagner. This season, Hawkins is doing "Macbeth" for him. "He is a true Verdi baritone. He has a rich voice with a wonderful top and wonderful bottom," Jenkins says. "You've got to have an easy high G because Verdi writes you up there. And you have to have a big voice to get over the orchestra."
Wayman Hawkins says the successes have come naturally to his brother. "He is in his element. The stage is second nature to him," says Hawkins, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service.
As he discusses his interpretations, Gordon Hawkins says one of the values he appreciates is stillness. It is a trait that comes from watching people in general and also from those years on the mound, patiently working batters. His pitching heroes are from the Jim Palmer era of the Baltimore Orioles, and baseball is still his escape. He got up at 3:30 a.m. to watch the 2004 World Series on Sky TV while he was performing "Tosca" in Dusseldorf, Germany. He mourned when Randy Johnson moved to the New York Yankees. "I just can't pull for the Yankees," he says brightly.
Informed that the person interviewing him is an avid Yankees fan, he backtracks just a little, saying it is actually the team's owner and fans that drive him batty. We agree to disagree about baseball and return to Verdi. "I could sing 'Rigoletto' for the rest of my life. I just love the melodies," he says. " I think the one most like me is Simon Boccanegra because he is flawed, because he thought one thing and it took him down one path and when he got to that fork, he realized, 'Wait a second, I have to make an adjustment here.' He made that adjustment based on his heart."
When Hawkins sang "Rigoletto" with the Michigan Opera Theatre last October, Lawrence B. Johnson, a critic for the Detroit News, said Hawkins was the "production's one solid reward."
In recent years, Hawkins has been doing about six roles a season. As he matures, he finds that his understanding of how to create a rich character has matured. He was ready when he was tapped to play George in Carlisle Floyd's adaptation of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" -- a story of dashed hopes.
"For me it was the luck of timing. I was able to come to a piece like that at a time in my life when I knew what it was about. I knew the emotions of . . . the dreams that George had." Hawkins explains that he had been dealing with the failure of a long-term, long-distance relationship and that informed his approach.
When Charles Ward of the Houston Chronicle watched the production in February 2002, he noted: "As George, baritone Gordon Hawkins generally pushed his sound a lot, but he poured out the hopes and seething frustration with tremendous passion."
Hawkins says he thinks a lot about the lessons he's learned.
"I would hope at 46 I would have a good understanding of how my technique works. Now it becomes a matter of what you want to say," he says. "I am never at that place where I just want to make that sound. I am at a place where I want to say that truth. That is just where I am."
NPR to Offer Landmark Live Broadcast on November 12 Of Porgy and Bess, On Gershwin Opera's 70th Anniversary
Washington National Opera Production Features New Interpretation of Classic American Work; Program Marks NPR's First-Ever Live Opera Broadcast As Part of Its Unique World of Opera Weekly Series
Washington, D.C. Porgy and Bess, American composer George Gershwin's legendary "folk opera," will be honored on its 70th anniversary with a special new production by the Washington National Opera and the first-ever live opera broadcast from NPR.
NPR's broadcast will air on more than 100 NPR Member stations across the U.S. Saturday, November 12, 1:30-5:30PM (ET) through NPR's ongoing World of Opera series (stations and broadcast times are available at NPR.org/stations). NPR will also audio web cast Porgy and Bess live in its entirety on its Web site, NPR.org, and the complete broadcast will remain available to hear anytime, as part of the NPR.org archive of live concerts, at NPR.org/music.
Additional NPR Member stations will be airing the special in November and December. Twenty-six European broadcasters will also air the NPR production on Saturday, December 10 as part of a special "EuroRadio" broadcast from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
NPR's World of Opera host Lisa Simeone will anchor the live broadcast, which will feature interviews with cast members and others involved in the special production, including Washington National Opera General Director Plcido Domingo. It will also offer commentary and features that explore the landmark opera's history, the personalities behind it and its social context over 70 years. These include special archival interviews with the late Todd Duncan, who originated the role of Porgy in the 1935 Broadway premiere, and with William Warfield, who famously performed the title role opposite Leontyne Price's Bess in the groundbreaking 1952 revival.
"The music and the story of Porgy and Bess make up an indelible part of our American cultural fabric," said Benjamin Roe, Director of Music, NPR. "The opera marries some of Gershwin's most beloved melodies with original and powerful stage personalities. We hope that the Washington National Opera's all-new production, with an outstanding director and cast, and NPR's unique opportunity to share this broadcast with a global audience, adds another milestone on Porgy and Bess' path to acceptance as the definitive, most important American opera."
Although NPR has built a 35-year reputation for offering live music through its programming most recently, the five-hour "Higher Ground" Katrina Hurricane Relief Concert and "Silk Road Journeys" with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble a live opera is a special challenge. "There is nothing more difficult to record than an opera for future broadcast," according to Roe. "You have to worry about the sound of the orchestra, the quality and character of the solo voices which can change dramatically from night to night as well as the voices in the chorus, along with the dancing and stage movement. You have to prepare for every kind of contingency and you need to make split-second decisions." With a live broadcast, however, "All of those risk factors increase exponentially," Roe added. But we also believe that the immediacy and the power of Porgy and Bess would be most effective through the live experience and we're willing to take those risks."
This production of Porgy and Bess also marks the first time it is being presented by the Washington National Opera, which will produce it October 29 through November 19. The global cast features internationally-renowned baritone Gordon Hawkins, along with Kevin Short, Indira Mahajan, Morenike Fadayomi, Terry Cook, Lester Lynch, Angela Simpson, Dara Rahming, Laquita Mitchell and Alyson Cambridge. Award-winning American director Francesca Zambello will be directing her new conception of the work, with conductor and Gershwin specialist Wayne Marshall offering a new interpretation of the melodic score with the 58-member Washington National Opera Orchestra, including banjo and jazz pianist Eric Reed.
Porgy and Bess, a bittersweet tale of love found but then lost, made its world premiere in October 1935. It follows the ill-fated romance sparked between Porgy, a disabled beggar, and the beautiful, troubled Bess. A commercial failure during its first Broadway run, it also initially baffled critics, who couldn't figure out how to label it: an opera or simply an ambitious American musical? Instead, it was recognized for crossing unprecedented barriers not only for combining music, drama and opera, but also through its unique blend of traditional black church music, chords from Gershwin's Jewish heritage and quintessential American jazz. Finally, it secured its place as completely original and thoroughly American, and remains one of the most-performed works in the theatre. Porgy and Bess is by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin.
Led by Domingo, Washington National Opera is one of the leading opera companies in the United States and performs at the Opera House of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Cast and production information can be found at www.dc-opera.org
NPR's World of Opera is the only year-round series on U.S. radio devoted exclusively to presentations of live opera recorded around the world covering the breadth of styles, centuries and subjects that make up this lively art form. It features opera companies from around the world, including New York, Washington and Houston as well as Paris' Bastille Opera and La Scala in Milan. It is part of NPR Music's wide-ranging programming for broadcast and online, including Performance Today, SymphonyCast, World Caf, All Songs Considered, JazzSet with DeeDee Bridgewater and many others devoted to the performance and discovery of musical expression. For details, visit NPR.org
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