Royzell L. Dillard, Baritone
Soul to Soul: A Celebration of the Art of Voice
On February 19th the lights went
down in the small performing arts theater of Armstrong Hall on the campus
of Hampton University. On the left of the stage in the low light we could
see a white-haired gentleman sitting at a grand piano flanked by string
players with drums and saxophone. Soon the conductor appeared. From the
program we later learn that the pianist is Carl G. Harris, a professor
of music and the handsome young conductor is Joshua Head, a 2003 graduate
of Hampton University. From stage-right our singer, in evening wear, enters
and sings Behold I Tell you a Mystery and The Trumpet Shall
Sound from Messiah by G.F. Handel (1685-1759). With a polished baritone
and fine baroque ornamentation, Mr. Dillard enchanted us with the quality
of his singing. When he returned to the stage his next song was It
Don't Mean a Thing If it Ain't Got that Swing from Bubblin' Brown
Sugar by Duke Ellington (1899-1974). Make Them Hear You from Ragtime
by Lann Ahrens (b.1948) and Stephen Flaherty (b.1960), and the aria When
the Air Sings of Summer from The Old Maid and the Thief by
Gian Carlo Menotti (b.1911) closed the set.
Mr. Dillard can swing as well as do Baroque ornamentation with equal facility. The accompaniment varied as appropriate but with equal versatility to match the singer. Mr. Dillard was also accompanied by four male and four female student singers, sometimes as a group and sometimes as a male or female chorus. Don't Get Around Much Anymore by Ellington and Down Home Blues by Muddy Waters (1915-1983) were examples of how effective these young singers could be in enhancing the songs.
The Little Theater at Armstrong Hall was the setting for this unusual and moving vocal arts program. When I sought the raison d'etre for this program I found the answer in the subtitle "a faculty recital production." Mr. Dillard, who is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choirs at Hampton University, wrote "
Soul-to-Soul is one of the most ambitious projects I have undertaken." By choosing such a variety of songs and mixing them, he created a vocal challenge for himself but offered the audience a program of ever changing emotional and musical character, demonstrating the diversity and pleasure possible in song. "The program is filled with a variety of song styles that bridge periods, moods, depths of textual painting and musical aesthetics. These works represent the very soul of singing and present soul music from a plethora of musical ideas all in one setting."
The third set contained most of the art songs, The Bach/Gounod Ave Maria adapted from Bach's Prelude in C was fresh with a lovely smooth tone. Three Dream Portraits, on poetry by Langston Hughes set by Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), Minstrel Man, Dream Variation and I Too Sing America are fine songs and it was exciting to hear them sung by a male voice.
Giuseppe Verdi's Di Provenza il mar, il suol from La Traviata was followed by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's Try to Remember and later, Lionel Ritchie's (b.1949) Truly. I was especially intrigued to hear O Tixo, Tixo Help Me from Lost in the Stars by Kurt Weill (1900-1950). With its story from South Africa's apartheid period, it's a powerful story with equally powerful music!
On several popular numbers Miguel Brown was the very able pianist. The singer was dressed all in white for the last set, which began with the traditional spiritual A City Called Heaven and gracefully moved into gospel music. The pianist and co-arranger with Mr. Dillard was Michael Jordan, who was impressive at the keyboard. This was a fine experience of a complex array of music showcasing the singer and also student talent from the music department of Hampton University.