It is extremely exciting that we are returning to Benaroya Hall this Sunday, March 6th, 2022, for Women of the Baroque, our first in-person concert since February of 2020. For this performance, we are thrilled to welcome Oakland-based soprano Michele Kennedy. Kennedy is a versatile specialist in early classical and new music with two central passions: making music in community and working toward social justice.
Music has been an important part of Kennedy’s life from a very young age. She says, “My first exposure to music was hearing my grandfather play Bach on the piano as a little girl. He played every morning, and I was mesmerized by the sound.” Noting her interest, her grandfather gifted their family an upright Yamaha piano, and Kennedy began taking lessons at age three. Her parents started to notice she was often singing while she was supposed to be practicing, and she auditioned for and joined the San Francisco Girls Chorus at age eight. Kennedy credits the Chorus for guiding her to become a professional soprano, saying, “It was the Girls Chorus’ emphasis on early music that would later form the bedrock of my career.”
As Kennedy is a vocal advocate for gender equity across her field, it feels fitting that her debut with Byron Schenkman & Friends occurs during Women’s History Month, for a program centered around four women composers of the Baroque era. On this topic she shares, “Ever since my days singing in the San Francisco Girls Chorus (my first and forever musical family), I have been drawn to work written by and for and about women. This has become a centerpiece of my career, both as a performer, and as a mentor to young aspiring musicians—especially young women. I find singing to be a wonderful medium for fully embodied work: we raise our voices in service of our stories, to heal and open our bodies, and to uplift and empower one another. This is one of the many reasons why I’m thrilled about our Women of the Baroque program.”
In addition to performing as a versatile soprano soloist, Kennedy is an early music scholar and a member of more than one vocal ensemble. During the pandemic she also became Co-Director of Open Gates Project, a project of Gotham Early Music Scene that works toward engaging more artists of color on stages and growing the diversity of audiences. When asked how she felt organizations and audiences can best support these efforts she responded, “In terms of artistic programming, I think that there can be more dialogue that bridges the established masterworks and works by less historically visible composers. It’s important that that dialogue be thoughtfully curated, not just thrown together, and that we find substantive links and relatable themes that can help us to integrate a wider range of works into the repertoire.” Kennedy also pointed out that arts organizations can lead by actively seeking diverse representation at every level of governance. She acknowledges that, “Such a process can take time to realize, and that’s okay. We can all help each other by talking openly about this learning process: the more that we normalize the questions and new awareness or discomfort that arises from this work, and truly listen to each other’s answers, the more we can learn about how best to move forward collectively.”
When asked what aspects of her work with Open Gates Project she is most proud of so far, Kennedy says, “It is a vision born out of kindred spirits who want to further this work of diversifying the canon. In this case, we aim to cast early music in a more inclusive light: one that reflects the stories of each and every one of us on the stage, especially those communities who have lacked such representation historically.” Elaborating further on what is at the center of this collaboration, she added, “The one thing that my dear friend and Co-Director Joe Chappel and I always say is that [this project] is about love. Love of our colleagues, love of our audiences, and love of the craft. And deep love celebrates openness and growth and joy and the kind of risk-taking that we each feel called to deeply in our bones. At the heart of it all, that is what this work means to me.”