As part of their fifth anniversary celebration, The Averitt Center for the Arts announced its third Statesboro Legend in the Arts recipient at a ceremony Thursday evening.
Michael Braz, a 23-year faculty member of Georgia Southern University, was humbled by the presentation, which included a letter from his now 80-year-old high school choral teacher.
“Overwhelmed. I wasn't expecting it. There's a real outpouring of warmth,” Braz said. “All of us have such a connection with the work that was done to rebuild the theatre and rebuild the galleries. That's its own reward, but it's doubly special to be honored in this theatre.”
Delia Mobley, chairman of the Legends of the Arts selection committee said nominations for the honor were submitted early in the year and the members got together a number of times over the past months to pare down the list. She explained why Braz stood out amongst the many candidates.
“Not only is Dr. Braz talented, but he is passionate about the community,” Mobley said. “The special things that Dr. Braz does (in the community) made him a stand out from the other candidates.”
Mobley said it was a challenge to pick from so many wonderful and talented people, but it was an honor to present the award to Braz in person.
“Our last two recipients aren't with us anymore,” Mobley. “It's wonderful to see him win this award.”
“Several people mentioned they thought you had to be deceased to receive this particular award,” Braz said. “That's obviously not true.”
The Averitt Center selects one Legend every other year. Local musical legend Emma Kelly was the first recipient in 2005 and she was followed by blues pioneer Blind Willie McTell in 2007.
Braz's list of accomplishments and accolades is extensive. After receiving a Bachelor and Masters degrees in music from the University of Miami, Braz went on to receive a PhD from Florida State University before teaching at Miami's Barry University. While at Barry, he penned his first opera, “Memoirs from the Holocaust,” which was inspired by a visit to the Dachau concentration camp. With more than 20 published works in print, Braz also wrote “A Scholar Under Seige,” an opera commissioned for GSU's Centennial Celebration.
Along with teaching music composition, theory and aural skills at GSU, Braz is a member of GSU's Faculty Senate and represents the senate on the university's Strategic Planning Committee. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro, teaches piano at the St. Joseph's Home for Boys and is the founder of the Statesboro Youth Chorale. He has received the Boys and Girls Club's Volunteer of the Year award, the Statesboro Herald's “Humanitarian of the Year,” and, in 2008, he was honored by Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as a recipient of their lifetime achievement “Signature Sinfonian” award.
Included in the presentation was a letter written by Joan Owen, Braz's high school choral director from Miami Coral Park High School. Read by Executive Director of the Averitt Center Tim Chapman, Owen praised Braz's talents though a series of short anecdotes.
“Many of you may not realize an unusual yet natural happening which sometimes occurs when young men are singing and their voices are in the process of change. Well, at the most unexpected moments, the voice will 'jump' from one octave to another, or, up or down a fourth or fifth not knowing into which gear it has shifted,” Owen said. “Yet, with Michael at the keyboard there was no problem. When… this 'vocal jump' happened (during performances), Michael would find the new tonality in which the young man was singing, move to that tonality, continue on and 'no one really knew' what occurred. Except, of course, Michael and I.”
Braz said Owen was a very important in his life when he was a student one year younger than his school mates and easily distracted.
“It brings back many memories,” Braz said. “I had an attention span of about three nanoseconds. She really did help direct and focus me.”
An exhibit highlighting the accomplishments of Braz will be on display on the second floor of the Averitt Center and is open to the public during normal business hours.
Other events for the Averitt Center's fifth anniversary celebration include tonight's opening reception for the exhibit of the late Edwin P. Akins, a local architect and artist from Statesboro. The reception starts at 7 p.m. On Saturday from 12 - 4 p.m., the Edwin P. Akins Tour of Homes will give folks a chance to visit five area homes designed by Akins. Capping off the weekend is a Saturday evening performance by Jeremy Davis and the Fabulous Equinox Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece ensemble specializing in the classic big band sound. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.
The Akins reception is free to the public and tickets for the home tour and the jazz concert can be purchased from the Averitt Center by calling (912) 212-2787.