by Michelle Sonsino
Last month, Germantown Friends School Upper School music and theatre students enjoyed a unique opportunity to experience the excitement of the performing arts and hear firsthand from professionals in the field during a memorable day in New York City.
After a morning tour of the Juilliard School, students gathered in front of the Revson Fountain in Lincoln Center on their way to see the final dress rehearsal of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” which opened the Metropolitan Opera season. Beyond the bold red carpets and massive columns of the opera house, students enjoyed viewing the emotion of the vocalists and seeing the detailed set move as the story progressed. They also noted the complexity of the story, its relevance today and importance in musical history, as it served as the first performance of its kind to feature a cast of classically trained African American singers.
After the performance, students participated in a Q&A with the singers and writers, gaining insight into artistic storytelling directly from the professionals. Senior Lisa Lu asked Eric Owens, who played Porgy, “What is the significance of the opera’s ending for Porgy?” After taking time to collect his thoughts, Owens answered that Porgy had to “search deep into his soul to understand what he wanted. He had to listen to and follow his heart, no matter what others thought.”
In the evening, students were joined by GFS alumni for a reception at the Lincoln Center featuring singer-songwriter and alumna Madison McFerrin, Class of 2010. McFerrin is known for her captivating, unique and soulful take on a cappella. She spoke about her deep connection to “Porgy and Bess” – her grandfather’s voice can be heard on the soundtrack of the film with Sidney Poitier. McFerrin, who is also the daughter of singer Bobby McFerrin, shared that she is “honored to carry out my family’s musical legacy” and proud of her grandfather’s position in African American history.
“If you read anything about opera, my grandfather is in the books,” she said.
McFerrin also performed an original song from her upcoming EP , “You + I,” and inspired students and guests with her captivating vocals and songwriting. She encouraged them to pursue their passions even when faced with adversity.
Together, students, faculty, parents, alumni and friends enjoyed a day connecting over a love of the performing arts, and many left motivated and excited to play on.
“I have played cello for 10 years,” said freshman Mae Brockman. “Not only did I enjoy seeing the acting and hearing the music, but I was able to watch the cellists and view each musician’s technique and expression. I hope to incorporate that into my own playing back at home. It was an amazing day.”
Michelle Sonsino is the director of communications and marketing at Germantown Friends School.