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Damien Sneed Teams Up With Lyric Opera and Chicago Urban League Youth Program

Celebrated singer, songwriter, conductor, and virtuoso Damien Sneed joins Empower Youth a collaborative effort between the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League to assist inner city high school students in the creation and presentation of a fully staged, youth-centered opera based on real life experiences.

Using storytelling, music, drama, and dance, Empower Youth! will amplify the students’ life experiences through immersive arts programming, directly addressing the issues they face from their own perspectives. Participants will be exposed to careers and mentors in the arts, while sharing their stories about navigating life in Chicago. These stories will become the basis for the libretto of the new work, which will be presented as a culminating event of the program’s first year on May 31, 2018, in a public performance at the Lyric Opera House. More details will be announced at a later date. The second year of the program will engage a new batch of students who will receive mentorship from the first-year participants.

Beginning October 4, program participants will meet weekly after school at the League to begin the creation of their opera. They will work with prominent artists, writers, composers, and opera singers, and become familiar with basic performance skill sets to help them determine which area of the artistic process they would most like to pursue. EmpowerYouth! will include leadership development, weekly rehearsals led by professional teaching artists, and exposure to careers in the arts including marketing and promotion, wigs, makeup, wardrobe, lighting, stage management, and performance.

Participants will collaborate with teaching artists to share their individual stories as they begin to bring the various elements of a stage performance together, spearheaded by composer Damien Sneed and librettist Patricia Smith. They will receive training in the creation of musical elements and the development of theatrical scenes, and will come together for group rehearsals combining these various performance aspects.

EmpowerYouth! students will also work alongside local artists to gain new artistic skills leading up to their final performance. They include Tanji Harper, choreographer, teacher, and Artistic Director of The Happiness Club; Miguel “Kane One” Aguilar, visual artist, educator, and founder of Chicago’s Graffiti Institute; Melissa Foster, Senior Lecturer in Voice at Northwestern University and vocal coach for several Broadway shows in Chicago and nationally; and Chicago singer-songwriter, Daryn Alexus.

“What a wonderful opportunity for creative collaboration between our two organizations, all in support of the students it will serve,” said Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president & CEO. “And what exciting opportunities EmpowerYouth! will provide for the participating high-school students — through education, exposure, engagement, and experience. We greatly look forward to supporting their journey of discovery — of opera as a revelatory form of expression, and even more important, of themselves as creative individuals and collaborators with unlimited potential.”

“The League is ecstatic about the innovative artistic opportunities that will ensue as a result of our partnership with the Lyric Opera through EmpowerYouth!,” said Chicago Urban League President and CEO Shari Runner. “The prestige of Lyric Opera and its constituents will undoubtedly impact our Project Ready students in transformational ways, affecting both their professional and personal development. We are delighted about the multiyear project and look forward to witnessing their journey.”

Damien Sneed is a multi-genre recording artist who is widely admired for his range of musical talents and extraordinary achievements in his burgeoning career. A 2014 recipient of the prestigious Sphinx Medal of Excellence Award, which is presented annually to emerging Black and Latino leaders in classical music, Sneed has garnered attention in a wide range of musical genres, including gospel, jazz, pop, and R&B. A pianist, organist, conductor, composer, producer, arranger, vocal coach, and arts educator, Sneed has worked with jazz, classical, pop, and R&B legends such as Wynton Marsalis, Jessye Norman, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Carlos Santana, and Ashford & Simpson. Sneed is an Artist-in-Residence at Nyack’s Christian College in New York City.

(Courtesy Lyric Opera Press Release)

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