By Claire Salinas
During the summer of 2012, local pianist Evan Roider and composer Jake Heggi had a meeting in Los Angeles that spurred the ignition of a project aimed at giving amateur and professional artists in the Baton Rouge area the opportunity of attending a master class.
Heggi will make an appearance in Baton Rouge the weekend of June 12 through 13 alongside Sister Helen Prejean, whose story is the subject of Heggi’s famous opera, Dead Man Walking.
Throughout the weekend Heggi and Prejean will offer critiques to local artists performing in the opera of Dead Man Walking, which according to Roider is, “the number one most performed opera in the world by a composer who is currently living.”
The opera is based on the real life story of Prejean, who is a prominent opponent of the death penalty. Prejean was born and raised in Baton Rouge, and after joining Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, she spent time doing prison ministry, which eventually lead her to counsel death row inmates in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. There she founded Survive, a victims’ advocacy group in New Orleans. Most recently, Prejean has gained attention for counseling and testifying for Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Roider is the founder the Louisiana Concert Movement, which aims to improve the local art scene.
“What I’m sort of aiming to do is connect a lot of different organization in the arts,” said Roider. “It seems like a lot of local arts organizations in Baton Rouge don’t work together.”
Roider explained that he was inspired to bring Heggi and Prejean to the Baton Rouge area because he realized Prejean is from Baton Rouge and all this music she and Heggi have collaborated on had never been performed in the city.
“We’re just trying to introduce it to the community,” said Roider.
Roider was pleasantly surprised when not only Heggi, but Prejean jumped on board with the project.
“I didn’t expect her to do it because she doesn’t do travel, residencies or speaking during the summer,” said Roider.
According to Roider, all the performers had already been rehearsing prior to Heggi and Prejean’s arrival.
“They will both arrive Friday and that night we will rehearse with them for number of hours and then there’s a concert at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. the next day,” said to Roider.
The events of the weekend will kick off with a Q&A session with Prejean at the Manship Theatre, and a showing of Dead Man Walking afterwards. Saturday afternoon there will be a 1 p.m. performance at University United Methodist Church and a 7:30 p.m. show featuring performers from Opera Louisiane and the New Orleans Opera, as well as mezzo-sopranos Brandy Lynn Hawkins and Gwendolyn Jones at the LSU Shaver Theatre. Tickets for Friday night can be purchased online at https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/MANT/?prod=DEADNU.
Both Saturday concerts are free of charge with a suggested $10 donation to distribute among all the artists donating their time, and to help cover the cost of travel for Heggi and Prejean. Event details can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/1393053834351291/.