Talk of the Town - Home is where the hearth is February 10 2005
Atlanta composer celebrates history at home and on the stage
Despite a tremendous voice, there are no shattered glasses or broken windowpanes in the home of opera singer-turned-composer Sharon J. Willis. Two full-length operas and three sets of what she calls "petite operas" have been created in her log-cabin-style Fayetteville hideaway. Her musical passion is immediately obvious to those entering her home: Surrounded by stacks of sheet music, her well-loved upright piano is one of the first objects to greet guests.
The chair and liberal arts coordinator at Morris Brown College, Willis has been creating and directing operas in the city for five years. Currently, she is presenting her third operatic creation, "The Candlers of Callan," at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center on Sat., Feb. 12. The prolific composer also is completing two petite operas.
In her work, Willis endeavors to spotlight the part that everyone's ancestors have played in history. This concept reaches beyond her work, also acting as a foundation in her personal life.
Creative Loafing: What do you consider to be the centerpiece of your home?
Willis: My fireplace, where our family portraits pay homage to our ancestors. When I look at these photos, it tells me who I am and where I came from, and that my life is not my own. My life is part of a course and I am running that course right now. This is the hearth of my home.
Would you say Atlanta has an opera scene?
Not a large one. There is the Atlanta Opera, who usually does very elaborate and phenomenal operas with hundreds of people making up their casts. And there is also the Capital City Opera, which has been around for 30 years. They are similar in size to my company but they do very contemporary works. My niche is a smaller, more personal audience.
Would you say your operas have a goal or a message?
I use the stage to teach history and I want everyone - not just black people, but all Americans - to know how we all have truly overcome important struggles. I also attempt to inspire people to find out more about their history.
What challenges do you face as an opera composer?
Getting someone to produce your piece: You have to have someone produce your work because you want your dream to be materialized tastefully and respectfully. But sometimes I just have to rely on faith and friends.
What types of music have you used in your work?
I have used and infused practically everything-opera, classical, country western, gospel, irish folk and popular music. That way I can include the musical interests of as many people in the audience as possible.
That is a wide range.
As a composer, you cannot shut yourself out of other genres of music. You have to be able to mix things together respectfully. Otherwise you run out of ideas. I love all music and it all inspires me.