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Juneteenth: Lift Every Voice and Sing!

Join us for the second annual free Juneteenth Community Concert celebrating every American's right to "Lift Every Voice and Sing!"

Though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, many enslaved people living in Confederate states were not granted their freedom right away. For 250,000 such enslaved people in Texas, freedom did not arrive until two and a half years later on June 19,1985. This day became known as Juneteenth and celebrates the right of all people in America to live free and prosper.

MaKayla McDonald, a former Cedar Rapids Young Artist with a blossoming career, returns to star in this year's free community concert on Sunday, June 19 at 2 pm. She shares her thoughts about Juneteenth, opera, and the future below!


SUNDAY, JUNE 19 | 2 PM NEWBO CITY MARKET BANKERS TRUST STAGE Tickets: FREE, and no reservations required!


1. Tell us a bit about you! Judging from your bio, you are an incredibly busy performer, instructor, and creator. What recent or upcoming projects are you most excited about? There are so many things to be excited for! We’re nearing the end of the Spring semester at BMCC and my students are so close to the finish line. I’m cheering them on! I’m currently in tech rehearsals with NYU + American Opera Project. I (along with a thrilling team of singers) have been working with graduate NYU Opera Lab students to create new works. We’ve been in the writing stage for months; final drafts were submitted and now we’re getting on stage! Just after, I’ll sing incredible ensemble music with ChamberQUEER at National Sawdust for their Pride Festival in June. I have exciting upcoming projects in the Fall… but you’ll have to stick around to find out about those!


2. How does it feel to be coming back to Iowa after attending school at the University of Northern Iowa? I am from Waterloo and moved to Cedar Falls for college. It is always such a treat to come home, I always feel welcomed with open arms! Every time I return, I feel like I’ve grown a little more. I’m grateful to share my time and my voice with the community that raised me!


3. How did you go about selecting music for this Juneteenth concert? What do you want to convey to your audience through your selections? I want to reinforce that Black classical music is so incredibly diverse, there isn’t just one African American sound. The history of Black music in America is deep and multifaceted. My goal was to create a kaleidoscope of compositional and poetic voices; to uplift the old and the new. The unifying theme circles around Black love, beauty, and joy. Juneteenth is such a joyous, yet heavy celebration. Black people in America encounter heavy all the time. We also know that through the heavy, there is buoyancy. We know that there is love. We know that there is happiness. It’s my hope that this music explores just that!


4. Do you have a favorite piece of repertoire to sing? If so, why it is special to you? Oh, this is such a fun question! I would say that as my seasons change, so does my favorite repertoire. This Spring, I’ve felt especially drawn to Dream Variations by Margaret Bonds with text by Langston Hughes. The text is so moving and Bonds’ setting basically pulls the emotion right out of you. You’ll get to hear it on the concert.


5. What is a misconception about opera you'd like to set the record straight on? That it’s all big costumes and big sets and big orchestras! Opera lives quite well in small places; in fact, it thrives in intimate spaces. I think part of the reason opera exists as it does, is because of hungry creatives. Watching friends perform from balconies in the early stages of the pandemic… recitals for friends and family over Zoom! One of my most memorable operatic moments happened in October 2020. After securing a park permit (harder than you may think!) for Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, I gathered about one million string lights, several friends, and piano tracks to share a concert called Arias Outside for a masked audience of friends and strangers. It’s moments like these that help keep opera alive!


6. How do you hope to see the opera world evolve? What excites you about the future of opera? Tradition is such a big part of our artform. We spent years in school learning just that. We learn about the history, the voices, the music. Marginalized communities haven’t always been invited to join in that tradition. I am excited to see more people of color on stage, disabled people on stage and off, more body diversity, and LGBTQIA+ stories and performers. I have many friends and colleagues challenging the tradition and for them I am grateful. To create a more equitable operatic community, we need action AND policy change both on stage and off!


7. Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself with our readers? Dear readers, I am so pleased to be joining all of you this summer. There’s nothing quite like summer in Iowa. I haven’t had decent sweet corn in months!

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