by Anthony R. Green
Castle of our Skins mourns the loss of a great musician - vocalist Jessye Norman. I say vocalist because her vocal palette was overflowing with colors, as her fans will attest, and as is on display in the video below. I was recently traveling from Berlin to Sweden, and felt simultaneous joy and sorrow when I saw a snippet about her passing on the monitors at Tegel airport. At this moment, I already knew of her passing, but it was refreshing to see Germany - one of her many "homes" - give her this tribute with the heading Opern-Legende gestorben : deceased opera legend. That she truly was, and so much more.
When I was a grad student doing my masters at New England Conservatory with Ashe Gordon, I took a class with my composition teacher Dr. Robert Cogan, where - at one point during the semester - we compared different recordings of certain works. I remember clearly Dr. Cogan stating that the recording and interpretation of Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert was one of the best he has ever heard. Dr. Cogan is a man who does not say such things without meaning them. He played the recording for the class. I remember being absolutely floored. Who is this woman? I asked myself. Why am I just finding out about this miracle of a woman? That week, I must have listened to this opera genius's Der Erlkönig at least 50 times, each time learning something new about the piece and hearing something different about Queen Norman's voice. I still am filled with awe and joy when I hear this recording, despite the song being so dark.
What a happy coincidence it was when it was announced that Queen Norman was to receive an honorary doctorate from New England Conservatory during the May commencment ceremony! Ashe was chosen to be the alumni speaker, and gave an inspiring speech to the graduating class. Afterwards, Ashe had the opportunity to speak to this legend. Ashe told Queen Jessye Norman about Castle of our Skins, about our work, and about the legacy that we want to create. Ashe got to tell this to Queen Norman at the very place where Ashe and I met, on the very stage where Ashe and I performed together, and walked across as Masters of Music.
Many people have cried for genius Jessye this week. To pass at 74 when just a mere 5 months ago there were little signs of poor health is a shock. And while her passing would have sent shock waves at 94, 104, 114, and even 124, a passing at such a relatively young age makes the world yearn for some extra moments of beauty, grace, and divinity. Jessye Norman was a model of poise, sophistication, and brightness. Fortunately for those who have experienced her incredible character in some way, we can say that we were truly touched by an angel.
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