John Wesley Wright
For 25 years, John Wesley Wright has served as vocal coach for men and women at various Ohio correctional institutions in addition to directing and teaching voice, opera, acting-for-singers, and leading workshops on African American song traditions. Wright is a presenter for the 2021 NATS Virtual Summer Workshop. In this show and tell/Q&A session, Wright will highlight ways to engage students and community and to address past, present, and ongoing issues through creative programming.
The Virtual Summer Workshop is July 8-10. Sign up by this Saturday, May 1 to receive $50 off the registration fee. See schedule and details.
Tell us about your session for the NATS Virtual Summer Workshop. What can attendees expect to learn and take away from it?
I know that it sounds a bit cliché, but I hope everyone who attends my session will garner out-of-the-box programming ideas, and ways to bridge community gaps and ignite conversations through creative collaborations.
Sounds awesome! As you know, the theme of this year’s Summer Workshop is “Light the Spark: Inspiring Diverse Repertoire.” Why is it important for singing teachers to branch out and explore new repertoire — especially from diverse backgrounds and genres? And especially now in light of current events?
First, I love this theme. It is a great follow-up to our Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference where folks like Dr. Eric Crawford and Dr. Lori Hicks gave inspiring, informative talks on The Gullah Geechee Origins of the Negro Spiritual and From the Black Church to the Opera Stage, respectively, and where wonderful roundtable discussions on the Spiritual took place. It is long past time that we as singing teachers explore new repertoire or repertoire that is out of our comfort zones and look for ways to repurpose, reinvent, recontextualize the rep presentation wise. It is more important than ever given current events. I think it is fair to say as musicians, the times have made us doubt our self-worth a bit. But it’s important to remember that we still have a voice and can find ways even virtually for that voice to be heard. When the events on January 6th occurred, I stopped everything, quarantined with a trio of students, and produced a concert in response to those horrific happenings. We will view some of that film during my presentation.
Wow. Very powerful. In advance of your workshop session, do you recommend any pre-reading or pre-listening for attendees?
I incorporate a lot of participatory elements into my and students’ programming—having audiences join in on call-and-response songs or insert of a word or phrase that is part of a song instead of doing it myself or having them sing the refrain of something traditionally sung solo. These are ways to engage, instill shared leadership, and create an experience versus just another concert. This can work well for all styles from Renaissance to Spirituals. I was inspired to incorporate these elements into traditionally classical concerts by my friend Dr. Ysäye Maria Barnwell, retired 30+ member of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock. I highly recommend her resource materials entitled Singing in the African American Tradition: Building a Vocal Community. The title itself says it all! 😊
Thank you for sharing those! By introducing more students and audiences to African American song traditions, do you have a favorite moment from over the years that warmed your heart, or perhaps a time when you felt like you helped expand their horizons?
I tour regularly with an amazing group called the American Spiritual Ensemble. The group/concert experience is a juxtaposition of trained opera singers and dynamic renditions of solo and choral arrangements of Negro Spirituals with a few special Broadway numbers mixed in. I have been privileged to sing hundreds of performances all over the world with this Ensemble. One notable moment occurred post-performance in Kansas City, Missouri. A lady came up to me (maybe I sang my solo particularly well that night 😉), looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I know I’m just one person, but I want to personally apologize to you for slavery.” I’m getting choked up now thinking about it as I did then. It says everything about the power of music and diverse repertoire.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you immensely for this opportunity.
Our Virtual Summer Workshop is July 8-10. Read more about Wright, fellow workshop presenters, and view the full schedule. Those who register by this Saturday, May 1 can take advantage of the early-bird registration fee for a savings of $50.
NATS is also pleased to offer the Mentored Teaching Experience as part of the Virtual Summer Workshop.
For a $75 fee, participants secure a session with one of our mentor teachers, which offers mentees a chance to gain valuable feedback and re-energize their teaching. Please note: all participants must also register for our Summer Workshop.