Against the backdrop of our current tumultuous social and political climate, I was privileged to reach thousands of junior high school students with a message of hope, singing the title role in The Diary of Anne Frank, with Long Beach Opera's Education Outreach program. As artists, we are messengers and communicators, and I believe it our duty to share discovered truths, good and bad. I remember being one of those students, myself, in junior high, reading about the Holocaust through Anne Frank's diary. My rural, hometown Kansas community's board of education made it possible for the 8th grade class to attend the theater performance of The Diary of Anne Frank in a nearby town, only 4.5 hours drive each way. It was also then I saw Schindler's List (1993 film) for the first time, and glimpsed the atrocities Man is capable of committing against another - as well as the selflessly extended hand to help those in need.
Later, during my undergraduate studies at USC, I was part of an unforgettable class simply called, "The Holocaust." My professor taught us the complexity of political events in the millennia eventually leading to the Nazi regime that contributed to the rise of Hitler and the ideology he represents. She sparked probing conversations among the students to consider our current world-views and assumptions, and how easily, "ordinary men and women" may be swept up in political emotionalism and dogma before realizing they are headed toward a treacherous cliff. She urged us to think critically about our own ideologies, their roots, and engage in respectful and tough conversations toward a more peaceful and equal world. She may never know the impact she had on my life.
So in May 2016 came one of my life's true full-circle moments. After every performance, bringing Anne's luminous spirit to life through Grigori Frid's beautiful compositions, the students would have an opportunity to ask me questions. "Why are you singing her story?" they wondered, and, "Isn't this all over and in the past; why does it matter?" And in those moments and brief conversations, I urged them to think critically about what they see and hear in the world around us all. I encouraged them to recognize when Fear is the undercurrent, and to respond compassionately, as Anne Frank advised. My work as an artist became much more meaningful, because sharing a wealth of knowledge with these young people will impact who they grow into, and how our future world will grow, as well.