By ANGYE MORRISON
Dr. Tamara Harper will be the next artist to grace the stage in the ONE Series at the Averitt Center for the Arts.
A native of Ohio, Harper is best known in the Boro as one of the directors of the Statesboro Youth Chorale. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Ohio State University, and later a Master of Music at the Boston Conservatory, and a Doctor of Music from Florida State University.
Harper has taught on the collegiate level at Angelo State University, Georgia Perimeter College, Reinhardt University and Georgia Southern University. She is also an accomplished choir director and is currently Director of Music at Sylvania First United Methodist Church.
Opera is Harper’s favorite genre, and she says she loves learning about the characters and their lives, and telling their stories through song. She has performed in title roles in “Madame Butterfly,” “Cendrillon,” “Les mamelles de Tirésias,” “The Magic Flute,” “The Seven Deadly Sins,” “Hansel und Gretel” and “La voix humaine.”
Harper has also had solo engagements with the Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra, San Angelo Symphony and the Panama City Orchestra, and closer to home, the Statesboro-Georgia Southern Symphony.
In addition to performing, Harper is a director, and has some impressive directorial credits, including Peach State Opera’s “Madame Butterfly,” “The Elixir of Love” and “Carmen and Friends.” She also staged the opera vignettes seen in Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls.”
Harper smiles when you ask when she realized she could sing.
“I look at singing like a life journey, one which I am still on. I’m still discovering how to sing,” she said. Her biological mother was a singer, she adds, and began teaching her to sing around the age of 8.
“It wasn’t until I had a solo in the middle school choir and (the director) told my parents that I had a wonderful voice that I started to think about singing more,” she said.
Harper says there are many singers that she has enjoyed listening to, including Luciano Pavarotti, Anna Netrebko, Whitney Houston and Nat King Cole. But her greatest encouragement has come from her husband, Dr. Steven A. Harper. The couple has a son, Dean, who is a senior at Statesboro High School.
“(My husband) has always believed in me and encouraged me to sing and perform,” she said.
She also gives credit to the many wonderful teachers who have “given me the courage to believe in my singing and performing.”
“Michael McConnell was one who I always felt loved my voice and performing and always encouraged me. Every time I sing, I get to connect with a different character and tell a different story,” she said. “It’s fascinating to study these people and discover/create these detailed life stories.”
Although she loves performing, teaching has also become a big part of who Harper is. Teaching others to sing, she said, is not about notes and rhythms or how to shape a vowel.
“It’s about filling up an empty space in your soul; becoming complete,” she said. “It’s about discovering humanity and telling these beautiful life stories. I truly love watching my students explore all these facets of being a singer.”
Harper’s ONE performance at the Averitt will be a comeback of sorts, as Harper will be returning to the stage after a terrible car accident in 2020. She and her son were in the accident in Macon, Georgia, and she suffered an injury to her hip that greatly impacted her singing.
“I had a surgery this past spring that has helped a great deal with the pain from the accident. So this is really my first recital back since the accident. I have truly enjoyed falling in love with singing again this summer. I’m going to bring back some sings that I have loved for years, and some that I think the audience will know,” she said.
Harper says she is at a place where she feels God is really guiding her to give love “through it all,” and her performance will reflect that.
“In the valleys and on the mountains, give him the glory and send as much love as you can in this world,” she said.
She has invited two of her students to join her on stage for the performance, and they will sing duets with her that she says come from a place of love in her life. Those students are Russell Watkins, director of the Vocal Department at Savannah Arts Academy, and Emma Charles Townsend, a 10-year-old performer with the Country Tonite Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Harper admits she is a bit nervous about the performance.
“I have never done anything like this before. I’m quite a complex person, I would say. I hope that people will see how God has brought me through many difficult times. And, I hope that people will hear through my words and music, that it’s OK. It’s OK to be broken. Learn to love yourself and others through it,” she said.
Harper says she is humbled to have been asked to perform in the ONE Series. She is inspired, she said, to sing by her love for God, joy, sadness and self-expression. She is hoping to convey all of this on stage.
“I feel sometimes like I experience all of life with gallon-sized emotions. Singing sometimes gives me the freedom to experience that and be myself,” she said.
Harper, accompanied by Michael Braz on piano, will take the stage on Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, and can be purchased at www.averittcenterforthearts.org or by calling (912) 212-2787.