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Second Season of White Snake Projects’ Community Engagement Initiative, Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voices, Moves Online (May 13)
Source: White Snake Projects

Creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs and her activist opera company, White Snake Projects, are proud to announce the second season of the community engagement initiative Sing Out Strong, fostering the creation of new songs on themes arising from the company’s mainstage operas. Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voices will complement and add context to Jacobs’s new opera, Cosmic Cowboy, composed by Elena Ruehr, which explores the subject of colonization. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this season’s edition will take place on Zoom on May 13 at 8pm, with a particular effort made to capture as much as possible the social aspects of live performance. The performance is free, but donations are encouraged to support the work of the Boston International Newcomers Academy, a public high school catering to new immigrants, which boasts five of the event’s lyricists among its students. Cosmic Cowboy premieres, with selected songs from Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voices as a curtain-raiser, at Boston’sEmerson Paramount Center, Robert J. Orchard Stage on September 25-27.
White Snake Projects’ commitment to being an activist opera company extends well beyond the creation of operas with challenging themes. Jacobs’s vision is not only to promote discussion and give a platform to underrepresented voices, but also to create an ecosystem to benefit the entire art form, from developing new technologies and new audiences to cultivating rising librettists and composers. Sing Out Strong is in the vanguard of that mission, as it reaches out to the Boston and wider Massachusetts communities to source stories of relevance to the theme of the mainstage opera. A panel narrows the submissions and the selected composers choose the texts that most resonate with them.
The composers and writers for Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voices come from all over the world – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cape Verde, Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the multicultural melting pot of heritages in the United States, including the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Nipmuc Tribe of Massachusetts – as well as from diverse socio-economic, age, gender and racial backgrounds. Five of the writers are students at Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA), a public high school devoted to recently arrived immigrants that was also an important partner for last season’s Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices. BINcA’s Writing Room is staffed by educators and volunteers from 826 Boston, a nonprofit youth writing and publishing organization. Toni Jackson, BINcA’s Coordinator for Extended Learning Time and Strategic Partnerships, says:
“My partner throughout the work on Sing Out Strong has been Richie Wheelock, the lead educator in our 826 Boston Writers Room. He chose the students to be involved each year and he and I encouraged the students to participate. Along with two students, we both attended a Sing Out Strong community performance in the summer and the opera performance in September. Once Richie and I saw the whole arc – the gathering of submissions, the community performances and then the professional full performance of the opera – we were more able to steer the right students to participate and we were/are so eager to get the students to continue their involvement. We are so grateful for the richness of Cerise’s work and the depth of her commitment to the school.”
While it was originally planned for BINcA also to host one of the several planned community performances of Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voices, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the necessity for an alternate venue. The collaborative songs will therefore be presented in a Zoom concert hall on May 13. Thanks to the generosity of Mount Holyoke College, which has agreed to host the concert on its Zoom platform, up to 1,000 audience members can be accommodated. Jacobs elaborates:
“Technology has not been developed for fully live streaming performances with musicians spread over different locations. To navigate this hurdle, we will prerecord the piano and cello parts. Our singers will perform live to this accompaniment. The audience will be muted during the performance of each song, but unmuted when it ends so they can clap and cheer, just as in a concert. Clapping for workers on the front lines has become a communal catharsis in some communities. Let us make this occasion one where we clap together to applaud our artists and all who work to keep us fed and safe. And there’s an extra bonus – the audience can live-chat during the performance, something that can’t be done in a concert hall!”
Performers for the event include soprano Brianna Robinson, a second-year emerging artist with Boston Lyric Opera; mezzo-soprano Jaime Korkos, praised for her “winning and beautifully balanced voice” (San Francisco Classical Voice); pianist Timothy Steele, a vocal coach and collaborative pianist at the New England Conservatory; and cellist Agnes Kim, described as a “hair-raising performer” by the Boston Musical Intelligencer. Key collaborators in this new venture are Music Director Tian Hui Ng, Orchestra Director and Associate Professor of Music at Mount Holyoke College; Grammy Award-winning audio engineer Antonio Oliart; and videographer Kathy Wittman. The Zoom performance will also feature the writers and composers of the songs, each of whom will briefly introduce their work before it is performed.
Cosmic Cowboy itself, to which selected songs from Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voiceswill serve as a curtain-raiser, is an ambitious story that draws on a palette ranging from Sumerian mythology to science fiction to ask serious questions about colonization, human nature and human responsibility. More information about the opera can be found here.
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