Senior Recital Raises the Bar
The second event of Black History Month, John Harper’s senior voice recital packed Kulas Recital Hall on Saturday, Feb. 9. The accomplished baritone’s performance was accompanied by pianist and Conservatory senior Hee-Seung Lee and presented quite a varied program, opening with four songs by Henri Duparc. The program’s second half was comprised of stunning spirituals, songs with libretti by African-American authors (including Langston Hughes), as well as other works pertinent to Black History Month.
Harper performed a polished set with apparent ease, and his versatile dynamic contrasts mingled with an energy that can only come from live performance. The performance flowed gracefully without hesitation or any outward signs of apprehension, using adrenaline to take it to the next level rather than hinder the performer with anxiety.
Following the Duparc, Harper sang three pieces by Carl Loewe, “Kleiner haushalt” (A Small Household), “Tom der Reimer” (Tom the Rhymer), and “Odin’s Meeresritt” (Odin’s Sea Ride). This fanciful German work moved quickly, requiring substantial facility.
Harper’s diction remained crisp and clear despite the considerable tempo and syllabic pacing. Every bit the performer, Harper stayed completely in character and brought a theatrical presence to the poems, making them understandable even to audience members with no knowledge of the language.
After the recital’s intermission, he opened with a lively rendition of “The Boatmen’s Dance” arranged by Aaron Copeland. Lee, who deserves credit for having already worked her way through two demanding song sets, displayed notable ensemble skills in matching Harper’s fluid musicality, tempo changes and breath pattern.
Singing as though he savored each note, Harper masterfully executed “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Margaret Bonds. “Ma Curly Headed Baby” by G. H. Clutsam highlighted Harper’s beautiful, controlled vibrato. Harper ended his set with “Clearwater” by Nadine Shanti.
The final set was a more lively collection of traditional African-American songs. The first song, “I Bought Me a Cat,” blossomed under Harper’s animated performance, gestures matched perfectly to the text. The following song, “I’m Goin’ to Thank God,” arranged by R. Nathaniel Dett, sent chills through the audience as Harper gently used the piece’s spaciousness to his advantage.
Hall Johnson’s arrangement of “Ride on King Jesus” made for a joyous finale to a spectacular concert. The audience lept to its feet only moments after Harper completed his final note, causing him to return for multiple bows as enthusiastic cheers rang through the hall.
Even audience members who admitted that they were unlikely to attend voice recitals claimed to enjoy Harper’s performance. Well-attended by voice majors, Conservatory professors, College professors and College students, this event was not only a successful senior recital, but also a wonderful event to start off Black History Month’s calendar.