Opera Star Raises Funds at SMC for Oakland School

Frederica von Stade singing with the Saint Mary's College Chamber Singers.More than 250 enthusiastic opera fans enjoyed the sounds of renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade in the SMC Chapel in a benefit concert for the St. Martin de Porres Elementary School. The evening of music also featured other talented performers, including Saint Mary's Chamber Singers, violinists from St. Martin's, soprano Christie Lee Peterson and tenor Sydney Wagland. 

The musical event was sponsored by the Office of Mission and was a fundraiser for the tuition assistance program of the West Oakland Catholic school, which serves 200 K-8 low-income students. 

Von Stade, who goes by her nickname "Flicka" and is member of the board of the elementary school, said she was happy the evening was a success and appreciated the audience members who came out to SMC to hear the music and to support St. Martin's. "I loved singing in the chapel. I think it is just beautiful and music is a natural in that lovely atmosphere," said Von Stade. 

One audience member especially delighted by the evening's performance was music professor Marty Rokeach, who said the concert featured five minutes he'll recall as a highlight in his career at the College—the SMC Chamber Singers performing “Habanera,” an aria from the opera Carmen with Frederica von Stade. "And they sounded better that any opera chorus, and when I think about where we started when I got here 29 years ago when we had no jazz band, no choir, no performing ensemble and now, to see our choir with Frederica, it was an incredible moment." 

Julie Ford, the director of the College's Glee Club and Chamber Singers, said the opportunity to prepare to work with someone who is a world-class opera singer also meant a great deal to her students. "Flicka was generous with her time" said Ford. "She talked to the group after their rehearsal about music and performing, and we don't get a chance to perform opera very often and especially with a great soloist, so her role modeling was amazing."

Maddi Larsen, a freshman and a member of the Chamber Singers, said not only was the experience of singing with Flicka unforgettable, she enjoyed being part of an evening of music that helped others. "It was awesome to be able to work with a famous opera singer, doing something that we love to do for choir and we're doing something to help out a school." 

Flicka said she also appreciated the opportunity to work with Saint Mary's students. "When you've had a life such as mine filled with the joy of music, I just adore trying to pass it on in any way that I can." She added "I thought they were marvelous and so willing and able, and they just plunged themselves in to it. Saint Mary's has two special treasures in Julie Ford and Sharon Kim (pianist and performing arts lecturer) and that combination is a very special bonus for such a wonderful program."

Young violinists from St. Martin de Porres Elementary School.A smiling Carole Swain, vice president for mission at the College, echoed her sentiments. "Over the moon! Better than I expected. I was so thrilled to see our students singing with Frederica Von Stade and see the whole church rise up with appreciation and love."

Ann Magovern, president of the Oakland school, said she was touched by the energy in the Chapel and the mix of music. "The College's Chamber Singers integrated with Flicka, our kids’ playing and the outpouring of support. We came very close to our goal tonight. We wanted to raise $60,000. I think we raised about $50,000," she said. St. Martin's overall tuition assistance fund is $390,000 and Magovern said "the fundraiser was a great step toward reaching the goal of providing more educational opportunities for our students." 

Providing more opportunities for St.Martin's students to benefit from music education has been a longtime calling for Von Stade. "Music teaches so much more than notes and rhythms. It builds self esteem, concentration, self-expression, discipline and more than anything joy. I have loved my years in trying to keep music in St. Martin's. I see every day how it helps and enriches the lives of the children who attend the school, and just being with these wonderful kids makes you just love them, care about them and want to help make a difference in their lives." 

Saint Mary’s has a longterm partnership with St. Martin's. Scores of students, and faculty have participated in or volunteered for a variety of mission-driven and civic engagement initiatives with the Oakland school, including SMC programs such as CILSA, Teachers for Tomorrow, the Lasallian Living and Learning Community’s student service site, the Lift Up Literacy project from KSOE, Math Olympiad in the School of Science and Saint Mary's Great Bay Area Service Day for Schools. For more information on the College's partnership with St. Martin's, contact Carole Swain, vice president of the College's Office of Mission, at 925-631-4695 or cswain@stmarys-ca.edu.