The Art of Democracy:
Singing Down the Barriers

Conversation #3 (June 2020 Series)

The Art of Democracy: Song in America
Conversation #3: “Singing Down the Barriers”

June 25, 2020 at 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific (20h Central European)

Special Guests:

(Please click on guest names to view their full bios below.)

Conversation #3 (June 25, 2020)

"The Art of Democracy: Singing Down the Barriers"
with special guests: Dr. Caroline Helton, Kaswanna Kanyinda, Dr. Stephen Lancaster, and Dr. Emery Stephens

Musical excerpts from this conversation:


“Sounds Like Pearls”
Music by B. E. Boykin
Text by Maya Angelou
Kaswanna Kanyinda, mezzo soprano
Lydia Qiu, piano

“Mother to Son”
Music by Hall Johnson
Text by Langston Hughes
Caroline Helton, soprano
Kathryn Goodson, piano

“This Little Light of Mine”
Spiritual Arrangement by John W. Work
Emery Stephens, baritone
Kathryn Goodson, piano



Thomas Hampson

Founder & Director, The Hampsong Foundation

Thomas Hampson, America’s foremost baritone, hails from Spokane, Washington. He has received many honors and awards for his probing artistry and cultural leadership. He enjoys a singular international career as an opera singer, recording artist, and “ambassador of song,” maintaining an active interest in research, education, musical outreach, and technology. Comprising more than 150 albums, his discography includes winners of a Grammy Award, five Edison Awards, and the Grand Prix du Disque.


Mark Clague

Associate Professor of Musicology, University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs; Director, U-M Gershwin Initiative; Co-Editor-in-Chief, MUSA; Associate Professor Entrepreneurship & Leadership; Song of America Curriculum Initiative Master Teacher & Advisor


Guest Biographies:

Caroline Helton, soprano, joined the voice faculty at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance in the fall of 2000. She is an artist who enjoys the entire gamut of classical singing, but has a special affinity for art song and new music.

Dr. Helton’s recent concert performances feature newly rediscovered repertoire by Jewish composers whose lives were affected by World War II. Along with pianist Dr. Kathryn Goodson, the duo has recorded three compact discs, the last two of which contain rare song repertoire by Italian Jewish composers from the first half of the twentieth century, including Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Vittorio Rieti, Leone Sinigaglia and Guido Alberto Fano. American Record Guide had this to say about their CD entitled L’Infinito: Songs from a Lost World of Italian Jewish Composers:

“For the purposes of bringing recently discovered, historically significant music into the public consciousness, this recording should not be missed…. For aficionados of Italian music, opera or song, as well as people with an interest in music of the Holocaust or Jewish composers of this time, this recording is a must.”

Helton and Goodson have performed recitals of this repertoire in Italy as well as all over the U.S. In January of 2014 they were featured on a program commemorating International Holocaust Memorial Day at the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, which was followed by a performance of the same program on the Shenson Recital Series at Stanford University. The duo has since recorded two more CDs of rare Songs from a Lost World of Italian Jewish Composers, the most recent featuring first recordings of song repertoire by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, which was just released and is now available from Blue Griffin Records and iTunes, among other outlets.

At the University of Michigan, Dr. Helton is in demand as a voice teacher of both classical and musical theater styles, and her pedagogical interests include research into the healing power of song. She has been collaborating with Dr. Emery Stephens on a project called “Singing Down the Barriers” since 2004, and together they have published articles in the Journal of Multicultural Teaching and Learning as well as the NATS Journal of Singing about their work using art songs and spiritual settings of African American composers as a means of facilitating difficult racial conversations with groups of voice students from diverse backgrounds at universities all around the country. Their newest publication, a chapter on African American Art Song, was included in Randy Jones’ performance guide entitled So You Want to Sing Spirituals, published by the National Association of Teachers of Singing in 2019. Dr. Helton is also a master teacher with the Song of America Foundation, an organization founded by world-renowned baritone Thomas Hampson for the purpose of exploring the use of art song as an educational tool for literature, history and social studies in K-12 schools. In her other teaching, she is a member of the voice faculty of the Atlantic Music Festival, a summer program at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Dr. Helton is an Associate Professor of Music (Voice) in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance as well as an Affiliate of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. She received BM and MM degrees in Vocal Performance from UNC-Chapel Hill and a DMA degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Mezzo-soprano, Kaswanna Kanyinda, has been praised for her dramatic presence, vocal warmth, and as a “talent to keep a sharp lookout for.” Last season, she won a Wilde Award for her performance as the Mother in Opera MODO’s 2019 production of The Consul. Prior to that, Kaswanna joined Pittsburgh Festival Opera as a member of their 2018 Mastersingers Program, won the Opera Guild of Charlotte competition in 2017, and earned her masters’ degree in 2016 from the University of Michigan, under the tutelage of George Shirley. There she was featured in the workshop premiere of Bright Sheng’s The Dream of the Red Chamber, and was honored to represent Michigan in performance at the Kennedy Center. During her undergraduate studies at UNC Chapel Hill, she was cast in La Clemenza di Tito, Highway #1 USA, and Gianni Schicchi, and had the opportunity to perform the national anthem for President Barack Obama. A North Carolina native, she currently resides in the Detroit area, and studies with Dr. Louise Toppin.

Described as “a fine storyteller” (American Record Guide), baritone Stephen Lancaster engages audiences through diverse repertoire in concert, recital, and opera. Winner of the Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition and The American Prize for men in art song and oratorio, he has been featured as a soloist in venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall, and Centro Cultural de Belém.

A passionate recitalist, Lancaster has performed programs in New York, Paris, Berlin, and Gstaad and for Musique dans le Grésivaudan, Festival Musique d’Uzerche, Atlantic Music Festival, and Brooklyn Art Song Society. He has recorded two albums of art song: Le Menu des Mélodies with Martin Katz (Centaur) and Sacred Song with Kevin Vaughn (Albany); his recital on the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series was broadcast live by WFMT Chicago.

Concert credits include the Fauré & Duruflé Requiems at Carnegie Hall presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY); Carmina Burana with Lisbon Summer Fest and with Oakland Symphony Orchestra at the Max M. Fisher Music Center; Le bal masqué with South Bend Symphony Chamber Orchestra; Five Mystical Songs with UMS Choral Union at Hill Auditorium; Ein Deutsches Requiem with Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra; Belshazzar’s Feast with Holland Symphony. Operatic appearances include roles with Eugene Opera, Apotheosis Opera, and Arbor Opera Theater and creating the role of Jaques in As You Like It by Roger Steptoe.

Born and raised in Canada, he holds degrees in music from the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame and serves as Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Notre Dame.

Emery Stephens, baritone, joined the music faculty at St. Olaf College in 2019, where he teaches Voice Performance Studies. Praised by the Boston Phoenix for his singing “with ringing suavity and articulate intelligence,” he enjoys performing diverse vocal repertoire, from traditional to contemporary. A versatile and charismatic singer, Dr. Stephens has collaborated with the Abridged Opera of Ontario, Wilmington Symphony, Carolina Ballet and members of the North Carolina Symphony, Arbor Opera Theater, Michigan Philharmonic, Ann Arbor Symphony, Boston Lyric Opera/Opera New England, Michigan Opera Theatre’s Community Education Programs, and the Detroit Jazz Festival in a revival of Dave Brubeck’s The Gates of Justice with renowned jazz pianist Jason Moran and his trio, The Bandwagon. He has performed works by contemporary American composers, such as True Witness: A Civil Rights Cantata by Jodi Goble; The Passion of John Brown by Jesse Ayers and Paddle to the Sea by Andre Meyers with the Michigan Philharmonic; JFK: The Voice of Peace by Dan Welcher with the Handel and Haydn Society, and jazz-inspired Sweet Music in Harlem by Andy Kirschner, based on a children’s book, commissioned by the Ann Arbor Symphony.

The Boston Globe wrote, “As Mel in Michael Tippett’s opera, The Knot Garden, Stephens disappeared entirely into his character.” As a singing actor, he has worked with innovative stage directors – Simon Target, Elkhanah Pulitzer, Dorothy Danner, Kay Walker Castaldo, Will Graham, as well as with noted choreographer Bill T. Jones. Additionally, he sang supporting roles in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with conductor Andrew Parrott, lutenist Paul O’Dette and the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra in Sanders Theatre at Harvard University.

An enthusiastic advocate for music education and inspiring communities through vocal music, Dr. Stephens is a teaching artist for the “Song of America” project through the Hampsong Foundation, which explores the diversity of classic American songs as an interdisciplinary lens in teaching K-12 students. His past engagements include lecture-performances at Carnegie Hall/Weill Music Institute, Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture sponsored by the Spokane Symphony. Additionally, his workshop presentation, “Mirror on the Wall: Self-Care and Modeling Healthy Vocal Habits in the Classroom,” was launched at the 2017 All-State Conference of the Arkansas Music Educators Association.

A 2014 Africana Artist-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Dr. Stephens has presented at conference sessions for the International Congress of Voice Teachers, International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Garth Institute for Music Research, National Association for the Study and Performance of African American Music, and the African American Art Song Alliance. He has been collaborating with Dr. Caroline Helton from the University of Michigan on the “Singing Down the Barriers” project since 2004, and they have published articles in the Journal of Multicultural Teaching and Learning and the NATS Journal of Singing. Their latest publication is a chapter on African American Art Song in So You Want to Sing Spirituals: A Guide for Performers by Randye Jones, published for the National Association of Teachers of Singing by Rowman and Littlefield.

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Dr. Stephens earned degrees from Gordon College (BA), Boston University (MM), and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan. He sang in masterclasses for Nico Castel, Martina Arroyo, Darryl Taylor, and composer Robert Owens, and has completed summer workshops at the Eastman School of Music, Westminster Choir College, David Jones Teacher Mentoring Seminar (New York), and with Los Angeles vocal coach, Lisa Popeil, on the pedagogy of contemporary commercial technique and vocal styles (Voiceworks Method).  Dr. Stephens is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), College Music Society, Musical Theatre Educators’ Alliance, and is a frequent adjudicator for the George Shirley Vocal Competition and state and regional auditions for NATS.

More "The Art of Democracy" Conversations


The Art of Democracy
(Summer 2020)

Part of

Classic Song Research Initiative