Saturday, October 28th at 7pm
On Saturday, October 28 at 7pm Milton Community Concerts presents “Embracing Coretta”, a celebration of the 70th anniversary of Coretta Scott King’s graduation from the New England Conservatory in Boston. This free benefit concert will take place at First Parish of Milton, 535 Canton Avenue. It will feature singers Sarah Joyce Cooper, Melissa Joseph, Daon Drisdom, Neil Nelson, and pianist Timothy Steele. Proceeds from a free-will offering will go to support the League of Women for Community Service.
Coretta Scott King was an accomplished singer who studied at New England Conservatory from 1951-1954, during which time she met and married Martin Luther King, Jr. Her life story will be told through a series of narrations, art songs, and spirituals, which will highlight the ways in which she supported the Civil Rights Movement through her singing, as an activist, and as a wife and mother.
“Embracing Coretta” will feature a rich diversity of art songs and spiritual arrangements by Black composers and Black poets. It will include the world premiere of “Dear Coretta”, a song by J. Jakari Rush based on a love letter MLK wrote to Coretta in 1952. There will also be an opportunity to hear a piece by Cuban composer Amadeo Roldan which Coretta herself sang on the Jordan Hall stage at NEC 70 years ago.
This Milton Community Concert is made possible through a collaboration with Embrace Boston and the NEC Office of Cultural Equity and Belonging. It is partially funded by a COVID Recovery Grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and a grant from the Milton Cultural Council. Admission is free; visit miltoncommunityconcerts.com. This concert will be repeated on Monday, October 30 at 7:30pm in Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory; free admission, but tickets are required and can be reserved at necmusic.edu.
Artist Headshots and Bios
Praised for his rich tone and incredible stage presence, tenor Daon Drisdom’s classical credits include performances in the baritone and tenor repertoires. Portrayal’s ranging from Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute to Fritz in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz are performances to his success.
He has been a featured soloist with notable names such as John Bucchino and jazz trombonist Wycillfe Gordon, as part of Wycliffe Gordon and Friends for a holiday performance on Georgia Public Broadcasting Radio in 2016. He can be heard on Funmilayo Ngozi’s Unconstrained album as a background vocalist and as soloist on the track Faith. Drisdom also has made notable contributions with YouTube inspirational group Trey McLaughlin & the Sounds of Zamar.
Currently, he is a J. P. Hunsaker soloist at the First Parish in Milton and serves as the new chorus teacher at the Boston Latin Academy with efforts to build a strong music program at the esteemed school.
Haitian-American soprano Melissa Joseph made her debut as Musetta in La Bohème at Opera Philadelphia this spring. Most recently, she returned to OTSL as a Gerdine Young Artist covering the titular role in Treemonisha (by Scott Joplin and reimagined by Damien Sneed) and sang Mrs. Gleaton in Floyd’s Susannah. Last year, Ms, Joseph made her debut with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as Lily in the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s opera Awakenings in their 21-22 season. Cover roles that season included Ruth (Awakenings) and Micaëla (Carmen). Melissa was the District Award Winner in the 2023 Minneapolis District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. As a graduate of Georgia State University with a Bachelor's and Master’s of Music in Vocal Performance, her roles included Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Micaëla (Carmen), and Pamina (Die Zauberflöte). Previously located in Boston, her debuts included White Snakes Projects, Mass Opera, New England Conservatory Summer Opera Workshop, and New England Opera Intensive. With the virtual transition of programs and competition, Melissa remained an active performer and competitor. She was featured in virtual recitals, the most notable being one curated by Angel Blue highlighting artists internationally. Melissa also performed in the Fort Worth Opera masterclass series for Jennifer Rowley and Martina Arroyo. As an avid competitor, Ms. Joseph’s competition achievements include 2022 district win in the North Carolina Met Opera National Council Auditions, a semi-finalist in the 2021 Annapolis Opera competition, and most recently, the Hibbet-Savoca award from the TCO Next competition, and was awarded a Resident Artist position where she debuted the role of Sally in Mark Campbell’s Stone Soup.
Soprano Sarah Joyce Cooper has been hailed for her “meltingly beautiful” (Opera News) singing and “alluring” (Don & Catharine Bryan Cultural Series) stage presence. This spring, Ms. Cooper looks forward to making her debut with Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY as a resident artist. She will appear as Clorinda in Rossini’s La Cenerentola and as Sally in the new opera Stone Soup, by Joe Illick. She will later appear with the Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. In addition to several other solo recitals, Ms. Cooper looks forward to returning to MassOpera to perform in its Mirror Cabaret show, featuring scenes from Little Women and Roméo et Juliette.
Previous performances include La Charmeuse in Thaïs (Maryland Lyric Opera), Juliette in Roméo et Juliette (Opera Western Reserve), Violetta in La Traviata (MassOpera), Mimì in La Bohème (Opera Theater of Cape Cod/ Boston Opera Collaborative), Micaëla in Carmen (Prelude to Performance), Zerlina in Don Giovanni (Boston Opera Collaborative), Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, and Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro (Savannah Voice Festival). Ms. Cooper has also appeared as a soloist with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Maryland Lyric Opera Orchestra, and the Radcliffe Choral Society at Harvard University. In 2019, she was invited to perform as a soloist with the Du Bois Orchestra in the historic world premiere of Florence Price’s long-lost cantata, Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight. Ms. Cooper was also recently invited to join the roster of Convergence Ensemble, an organization of established musicians and performers committed to “exceptional quality music experiences for audiences… throughout New England.” In 2020, Ms. Cooper performed as a soloist in A Concert for Equity in the Arts, a critically-acclaimed, live-streamed benefit concert for the Sphinx Organization, hosted by world-renowned bass, Morris Robinson.
As a competition winner, Ms. Cooper earned first place in both the Coeur d’Alene Symphony Young Artists Competition and the Westminster Choir College Voice Scholarship competition in 2016. In 2018, she earned first place in the The American Prize Competition for Opera and Operetta and second place for Art Song. That same year, she made her Carnegie Hall debut as a top prize-winner in the Talents of the World International Competition, performing arias alongside soloists from the Bolshoi Theater and La Scala Opera in the Talents of the World International Festival. Ms. Cooper has also received encouragement awards from the George London Foundation and Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was nominated for a study grant from the Sarah Tucker Foundation. Most recently, she was awarded first place in the 2021 International Rocky Mountain Music Festival, based in Toronto, Canada.
As a premed, Ms. Cooper completed her Bachelor’s Degree in French at Princeton University, where she first began to develop the foundation for her “mastery of French style” (Opera News) while conducting research for her undergraduate thesis on sacred themes in the mélodies, romances, and cantiques of Gabriel Fauré. She earned her Master of Music Degree in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College, where she received the Gwynn Moose Cornell Endowed Award, given to the student who shows the most promise for a career in vocal performance.
In addition to performing, Ms. Cooper serves as volunteer Executive Assistant for Help!ComeHome!, a 501c3 organization dedicated to meeting the needs of under-served communities throughout the US in Jesus’ Name. Ms. Cooper is a regular volunteer with the organization, offering both her musical and administrative skills to further its mission. In June 2018, she planned, programmed, and performed in A Nod to Our Neighbors, a benefit concert and the first major fundraiser for Help!ComeHome!
In her free time, Ms. Cooper enjoys gardening, playing cello, and being active outdoors. A former competitive gymnast, she was awarded top prizes at the annual Massachusetts State Championship meet while competing for the Gymnastics Academy of Boston.
Aurora Martin is quickly becoming known throughout New England for her colorful, full soprano. She recently joined the ensembles of Boston Baroque and Boston Lyric Opera. Aurora collaborates regularly with Odyssey Opera, The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Emmanuel Music, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra the Arlington-Belmont Chorale, Opera del West, and Opera on Tap. Aurora recently won 2nd place in The American Prize in Vocal Performance Professional Opera Division 2023. She was named a semi-finalist in the prestigious Partners for the Arts 9th National Opera Competition. She joined Opera Company of Middlebury as a 2021 Young Artist, covering "Agnès Sorel" in The Maid of Orleans. Solo concert performances include Haydn’s Harmoniemesse Hob. XXII/14, Satie’s Socrates, Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn, Beethoven’s Mass in C Major, Mozart's Coronation Mass, Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio, and Fauré’s Requiem. Operatic highlights include Pamina, Micaëla, Dalilah, Second Lady, Miss Silvertone, Noèmie, Liesgen, and Mieke. Aurora holds a MM from The New England Conservatory and degrees in Music and Chemistry from Virginia Tech.
Since graduating from The New England Conservatory of Music with a degree in music performance, Neil Nelson has performed operatic roles domestically and abroad with prestigious companies such as Tatarstan Opera Theatre and Ballet (Kazan, Russia), Florida Grand Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Palm Beach Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Orlando Opera, Opera Naples and more. Although he loves the drama of opera, Neil also has a passion for oratorio and concert singing. He has appeared as a featured soloist in concerts with several prestigious symphony orchestras. Some of these include the South Florida Symphony, Orchestra Miami, the Lynn Conservatory Orchestra, the Ocean City Pops, the Southwest Florida Symphony, and the New England Conservatory Orchestra. His recent engagements include singing the roles of the Sacristan in Puccini’s Tosca and the emperor Claudio in Handel’s Agrippina with Florida Grand Opera. Mr. Nelson also recently appeared as the Dark Angel in Kurt Weill’s Road of Promise with Orchestra Miami and as the bass soloist in Bruckner’s Te Deum with the South Florida Symphony. Most recently, Neil accepted the position of director of the Studio Artist Program at Florida Grand Opera. He now resides in South Florida with his wife and two daughters. When he is not singing and producing operas, Neil can be found fishing, spending time with his family, or working with young men in his community as a mentor and a football coach.
Soprano Deborah Selig’s voice has been described by the press as “radiant,” “beautifully rich,” “capable of any emotional nuance,” and “impressively nimble.” Ms. Selig performs repertoire spanning baroque to contemporary in opera, oratorio and art song across the United States. Passionate about teaching and mentoring the next generation of singers, Ms. Selig currently serves on the voice faculties of Wellesley College, Brown University and the summer Boston University Tanglewood Institute. In addition, Ms. Selig joined Boston University’s faculty in Fall of 2022 as Lecturer in Music (Voice) to teach a graduate-level course in Performance Techniques for the Singing Actor.
Operatic highlights have included Micaëla in Carmen with Dayton Opera; Sybil Vane in Liebermann’s The Picture of Dorian Gray with Odyssey Opera; Pamina in The Magic Flute with Boston Lyric Opera; Musetta in La Boheme and Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Central City Opera; Rose in Street Scene with Chautauqua Opera; Curley’s Wife in Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Kentucky Opera; and Bella in Tippett’s A Midsummer Marriage with Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
Concert performance highlights have included Brahms’ Requiem with Buffalo and Dayton Philharmonics; Bach Cantatas 36, 92 and 97 with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society; Handel’s Messiah with Rhode Island Philharmonic; Amphytrite in Purcell’s The Tempest with The Henry Purcell Society of Boston; Mozart’s Requiem with Brown University Choirs; Strauss songs with Wheeling Symphony Orchestra; C. Herbert Parry’s Invocation to Music with Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus; Orff’s Carmina Burana with Fairbanks Symphony (AK); Haydn’s Creation with Harvard University Choirs; Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 with Kentucky Symphony; and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore with Masterworks Chorale.
Recordings include Marcia Kraus’ Three Fairy Tales for Soprano, Oboe and Piano with Centaur Records and both Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts and Paul Moravec’s Blizzard Voices with Boston Modern Orchestra Project and BMOP Sound.
Ms. Selig earned an Artist Diploma in Opera and MM in Voice from Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and BM/BA in Voice Performance and English from the University of Michigan, all degrees summa cum laude. Apprenticeships included Chautauqua Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Ravinia Festival Steans Institute and Tanglewood Music Center.
A native of Philadelphia, Cynthia Harmon moved to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory where she earned her Master of Music degree in classical voice and a Graduate Diploma in Opera from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. For nearly two decades, she sang with the New England Spiritual Ensemble whose mission was ‘preserving the art and tradition of Negro spirituals’. She draws personal strength from her faith in the power of music to soothe the soul.
In addition to her musical pursuits, Ms. Harmon is an educational leader and lifelong learner. For twenty-three years, she worked at The Park School in Brookline, MA, where she held a variety of positions: from classroom teacher to Interim Head of School. She holds a Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship from Harvard. Ms. Harmon’s belief that all children deserve to be known, challenged, championed, and loved in school communities that encourage them to take risks guides her practice.
Ms. Harmon is thrilled to participate in this evening’s celebration of Coretta Scott King. This tribute spotlights her vocal talents and her determination to bring Negro spirituals and art songs from Black composers to concert stages. In her own way, Mrs. King used her voice to encourage, uplift, and inspire audiences and congregations.
Timothy Steele is an active vocal coach, collaborative pianist, and conductor, and is currently in his thirty-first year on the opera faculty at New England Conservatory. He has conducted for outreach tours with the Boston Lyric Opera (more than 200 performances for school children) and is a former music director for Opera Providence. He has served as conductor/pianist for more than 200 operatic productions with 33 companies, including Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Wolf Trap Opera, Central City Opera, and Opera Maine. For workshops and rehearsals, he assisted with the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera MADAME WHITE SNAKE in productions in Boston and Taiwan.
He has played for thousands of opera auditions and competitions, assisted as recording producer for two award-winning recordings, and as a vocal coach has worked with both young singers and seasoned professionals. He is currently the producer of Milton Community Concerts and is the music director/organist at historic First Parish Church in Milton, MA. In Boston he has performed with Emmanuel Music (where he played for a decade of weekly Bach cantatas), the Handel and Haydn Society, and the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, among others.
A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Timothy received his Bachelor of Music from Drake University and a Master of Music from the University of Southern California, where he studied collaborative piano with Gwendolyn Koldofsky.