Most people think of classical music as a rather serious endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be, says Randolph College music professor and pianist Emily Yap Chua.
“I always think of [planning a concert] as trying to plan a meal,” she says. “You’ve got your main course in the middle. You’ve got your appetizers that get you warmed up, and you get the fun stuff at the end.”
Take, for instance, Evan Mack’s song cycle “Preach, Sister, Preach,” which will be among the featured works at the college’s upcoming Guest Artist/Faculty Recital this weekend.
It features quotes from famous women like Ellen DeGeneres, Lucille Ball and Daphne du Maurier and offers something Yap Chua says is a “little lighter.”
“The songs [in the cycle] are short, quirky, funny, moving and, most of all, distinctly from an organic woman’s perspective about love,” says opera singer Katherine Jolly, the guest artist who will perform alongside Yap Chua, on piano, and Andrew Gabbert, on cello, during the concert, set for 3 p.m. Saturday.
“… Emily and I have laughed and loved working on and recording this cycle.”
Yap Chua says Jolly’s voice also defies expectations of a typical opera singer. It’s not heavy-sounding or dramatic, she says, but bright and lyrical.
“She has a really flexible, really agile kind of voice,” Yap Chua says. “… She just makes it sound so easy. She has terrific command of her technique. She’s just a really musical person. I know that sounds redundant from musicians, but as far as an artistry perspective [goes], she has a gut feeling or an understanding of the kinds of musical decisions she wants to make.”
Jolly and Yap Chua attended the Cincinnati Conservatory at the same time in the mid- to late-1990s but didn’t begin working together until years later, after Jolly — who has performed in leading roles with New York City Opera, Opera Theatre Saint Louis and Virginia Opera, among others — came to Randolph as a guest artist for the first time.
“After that concert, we just both looked at each other and said we work really well together,” Yap Chua says. “We’re good friends but it’s been a good partnership.”
The pair’s latest collaboration is a CD project, “New Voices,” something Jolly says she and Yap Chua have been “contemplating for years, as we are both passionate about performing new works by living composers.”
Set to be released this July, it’s being funded by a grant Jolly received from Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program.
Saturday’s concert will include two pieces from “New Voices” — Mack’s “Preach, Sister, Preach” and Evan Williams’ “Emily’s House,” a song cycle set to the poetry of Emily Dickinson — as well as Andre Previn’s “Four Songs,” set to the words of author Toni Morrison.
“The program, it kind of put itself together, in part because we were working on this CD project already,” says Yap Chua, who has flown out to Indiana several times over the past year to record with Jolly.
“It just so happens that the entire program sets texts by women.”
During her time here, Jolly, a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals, also will work with Randolph students and give an outreach performance for students from the Jubilee Family Development Center.
“For me, spreading my love of and knowledge/life with music is my real life’s mission, not just performing on big stages with lights and magic,” says Jolly, who was exposed to music and musical theater at a young age by her academic parents.
“The connection that one can make with students and children, or anyone truly, through the power of … music is unparalleled for me in my life.”