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Jennifer Naab

Barbara Light

Last modified: Monday, October 14, 2002

Bloomington campus and community join forces to "Sing for the Cure"

IU alumna and Grammy Award-winner Sylvia McNair featured in musical benefit for breast cancer education

Barbara Light first imagined the possibilities two years ago, after listening to a CD a friend had given her.

The CD, titled Sing for the Cure, contains an original choral song cycle, performed by Dallas' Turtle Creek Chorale and The Women's Chorus of Dallas, and narrated by the renowned poet Maya Angelou. The libretto is based on the true stories of breast cancer survivors and their families.

Touched by the beautiful arrangements and spoken words, Light, who earned a master's degree from Indiana University in 1963, wondered what it would take to share this unique musical experience with her fellow community members.

"I thought that we really ought to do this in Bloomington, with all the talent we have in the university and the surrounding community," she said.

On Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. in the IU Auditorium, Sylvia McNair, Michael Schwartzkopf and the Singing Hoosiers will join forces with volunteer instrumentalists and singers from around the Bloomington community to make Light's dream a reality. The performance of Sing for the Cure will be a tribute to Kenda Webb, who lost a battle with cancer in December 2001 after serving as co-honorary chairperson for the event. McNair also will perform a selection of American popular songs, accompanied by Charles Webb on piano.

All proceeds from the performance will be used to support Bloomington Hospital's Olcott Center for Breast Health, The G.I.R.L. Friend Fund, and the local Wabash Valley Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which awards grants for breast cancer projects that address issues of education, treatment and screening.

"Sing for the Cure gives the community an unusual opportunity to further the message of hope for all people affected by breast cancer," said Celicia Upper, the honorary chair for the event.

Light began by forming a design team of community volunteers interested in the cause. Then she met with Kenda Webb, Kenda's husband and former IU School of Music Dean Charles Webb, and their distinguished School of Music friends Henry and Celicia Upper. All of them agreed that what the performance really needed was a "core group," a collection of singers with the talent and vocal range to handle the difficult choral movements -- and move an audience -- the same way the Turtle Creek Chorale had during several live, sold-out performances in Dallas.

Enter Michael Schwartzkopf, music director and conductor of the IU School of Music's Singing Hoosiers. Since their founding in 1950, the Grammy-nominated Singing Hoosiers have delighted audiences in 26 states and 18 foreign countries. The Singing Hoosiers feature some of the finest performers in the School of Music, the world's largest center for musical training. Schwartzkopf joined the School of Music faculty in 1995 and currently serves as chair of the Music Education Department. In addition to conducting the Singing Hoosiers, Schwartzkopf teaches graduate and undergraduate conducting and music education courses at the university.

"Once Michael stepped up with the Singing Hoosiers, we knew we could pull this off," Light said. "We knew we were well on our way to a really exciting community event."

That left just one missing piece: a narrator, or, as Light explained, "someone who could draw people in the way Maya Angelou had. That's no easy feat."

The choice was Sylvia McNair, IU alumna and two-time Grammy Award-winner. Since graduating from IU in 1983, the world-renowned soprano has made over 70 recordings and appeared with major opera houses and symphony orchestras throughout Europe and the United States. During the past year, McNair, who serves as executive adviser for outreach in the IU School of Music, has been honored by Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic and the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society.

Rehearsals with community members began last week. Schwartzkopf said the group of performers he has assembled has already been moved, often to tears, by the emotional power of songs such as Who Will Curl My Daughter's Hair (The Mother's Voice); Come to Me, Mother (The Child's Voice);and One Voice: I Will Not Be Silent (Proclaiming Hope).

"This is an extremely moving song cycle that deals with all of the issues, including treatment, recovery, and the reality of not being able to recover, in an extremely emotional way," Schwartzkopf said. "The audience will be totally engaged in all of these issues by the time the performance is over."

Added Light, "I believe that music is a powerful force. It touches people's hearts and speaks when words just can't. I hope this music will touch many different people in our community."

Tickets for the Bloomington premiere of Sing for the Cure may be purchased through Ticketmaster (812-333-9955) or by visiting the IU Auditorium box office, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket prices are $22 for general admission seating and $12 for students. For more information on Sing for the Cure, see