Gregory Sheppard will stage three free shows in Syracuse July 7, 14, and 21, each starting at 7 p.m.
By Reggie Seigler
A Friendly Five Columnist
Gregory Sheppard left Syracuse quite a few years ago to pursue his career as an opera singer, but he never forgot his roots.
Sheppard was raised and educated in Syracuse, lived in its public housing, and as a youngster sang in the choir at one of the city’s most prominent Black Baptist churches. He now spends his time teaching in New York City, on the road singing, or back in Syracuse at a residence he maintains here. He also sits on the board of Syracuse Opera, serving as its director of community outreach and engagement.
He is performing in the Nickel City Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville, with three productions in Western New York on June 24, 25 and 26. Sheppard knew that after the performances he would be in Syracuse for a while, so he thought to himself, “what can I do musically while I am there?”
The idea came to him. “I could present concerts and showcase the talents of artists from Syracuse and major artists from throughout the country,” he said.
He quickly got to work and reached out to a friend Stephen Buechner for assistance. Buechner is the co-chair of the St. Stephen Festival of Music and Art at St. Stephen Lutheran Church. Sheppard needed a place to present three concerts, so Buechner suggested that he do them under the umbrella of St. Stephen Festival.
“It is a wonderful space,” Sheppard said of the church at 873 Dewitt St. in Syracuse. “And it presents another opportunity to use the incredible power of music to bring people from different communities together. It breaks barriers and shows inclusion intentionally through the power of music.”
July 7, 2023, Concert No. 1: Gospel Retrospective
“The three concerts are diverse,” Sheppard continued, starting with the Friday, July 7 show, a Gospel Retrospective featuring Gospel music from through the decades, starting with the 1930s. That’s around the time Thomas A. (Tommy) Dorsey, considered to be the father of Gospel music, began writing songs.
Dorsey’s compositions totaled nearly 3,000 and included many with Blues undertones. Bits of Dorsey’s influence can be heard in many of the greats like Roberta Martin, Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and others. And their takes from Dorsey can be identified in the many who came after them, like Richard Smallwood, Edwin and Walter Hawkins, and even Sheppard himself.
Local singers who will be involved with Gospel Retrospective include Marcia Hagan, Michael Jones, Sonya Hines and Sandra Miller from the Tucker Missionary Baptist Church.
July 14, 2023, Concert No 2: All Mozart Evening
An All Mozart Evening will be the second concert on the following Friday, July 14th. It will feature Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major with Jessica King, who is a member of Symphoria and faculty at Hamilton College; and Exsultate, Jubilate, with soloist, Kearstin Piper-Brown.
“Brown’s voice was last heard in Syracuse with Syracuse Opera as soloist in The Ballad of the Brown King,” Sheppard said. Ballad was performed at Tucker Baptist Church in December of 2021. It is one of the many concerts Sheppard has presented in Syracuse in his efforts to break-down barriers and bring people together. Multiple artists will perform the Mozart evening including the Seneca String Quartet and others. David Ross wrote the arrangements for Bassoon Concerto and will be the show’s conductor.
July 21, 2023, Concert No. 3: Music of Vaughn Williams, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein
Closing the series of July Friday evening shows will be 13 singers from throughout the United States performing a variety of pieces on July 21st. The program will include the Seneca String Quartet performing Barber’s Adagio for Strings and will feature compositions by four Black composers, including two women: Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Nathaniel Dett and William Grant Still.
The three Friday evening concerts all take place at Saint Stephen Lutheran Church, located at 873 Dewitt St. in Syracuse. Showtimes are 7 p.m. and all are free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted and can be made at the door.
Reggie Seigler is a board member for The South Side Newspaper Project and writes a music column for The Stand called The Friendly Five.