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Bass-baritone Joseph Parrish

Concert Preview: Bass-Baritone Joseph Parrish Prepares ‘Songs & Spirituals’ for the Crypt

Back in 2021, young bass-baritone Joseph Parrish found himself in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery singing to both the dead and the living.

The Fauré Requiem was an appropriate selection for the occasion – honoring victims of COVID-19 – and for the location.

But when Death of Classical, the presenter of those concerts and of regular performances in Green-Wood’s Catacombs, invited Parrish back, it was to perform a program of his own – this time at its Crypt Sessions series.

Joseph Parrish won the 2022 Young Concert Artists Susan Wadsworth International Auditions. He holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School. He has numerous opera, concert and recital credits to his name already. But Death of Classical’s other regular New York City venue, where he will appear with “Songs & Spirituals” on October 3 and 4, is something different.

A Natural-Born Musician

I asked the Baltimore native about his path toward these intimate concerts at the Crypt at Church of the Intercession in upper Manhattan.

Music came naturally to Parrish, he said. “I am from a family that loves good music. My earliest musical memories are of listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, the Jackson 5, and Al Jarreau.”

As an undergraduate, his father was president of the Morehouse College Glee Club and toured internationally with the ensemble. His mother grew up singing in school and church choirs in Detroit, “where she worked with Gospel greats like Donald Vails, Charles Nicks, Keith Pringle, Milton Brunson, Mattie Moss Clark, and the Rev. James Cleveland who was Aretha Franklin’s mentor and music director for many projects.”

Joseph Parrish
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez

Parrish’s brother is musical too; his paternal grandmother and aunt are church organists; and “my maternal grandmother and uncles are all gifted singers. I have many memories of family hymns after grace was prayed, before dinner, unaccompanied. My intuitive musicality is a legacy that has been passed down through generations in my family.”

Tales for the Crypt

I asked Parrish how he chose the pieces on the program and what kinds of music we should expect.

He told me of his interest in “the intersection between German lieder and Negro spirituals. Both styles of music are steeped in the heritage and culture of a ‘people.'” So he has selected pieces mostly “by African American and German-speaking composers around the themes of love and spirituality.” Though the program is classically informed, it will include music from a variety of genres – American pop as well as lieder and Gospel music.

“A special song in this program for me,” Parrish added, “is ‘My Good Lord’s Done Been Here’ by Moses Hogan. It stands out due to its steady rhythm and syncopation, which reflects the Gospel music tradition.”

Choreographing a Career

On the opera tip, Parrish has sung Spinelloccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi with Festival Napa Valley and Dulcamara in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. He also has an active concert career. I asked him about his plans for balancing opera and recitals, and whether the two formats pose different challenges and offer different rewards.

“The preparation required for each is unique,” he said, “and allows me to use my imagination in various ways.” In preparing for a recital he is “the director, the co-musical director, costume designer” – and even the choreographer, “should I feel like adding a step or two. I have full artistic autonomy and can develop a program that reflects exactly how I feel, crystallizing a moment in time.”

On the other hand, revving up for an opera, he explained, “is more like preparing for an athletic event. We have voice teachers and coaches or répétiteurs to help us prepare our roles and get into shape, and a rehearsal period where we are on our feet, staging and bringing the character to life. Fight calls, costume fittings, orchestra rehearsals, lighting and spacing rehearsals, dress rehearsals, and then, only then, does the show open.”

Doing both, he said, nurtures “the constant growth and refinement of my artistry as well as wonderful friendship and collegiality.” For the future, he aims to center his career on opera, “with sprinklings of concerts, recitals, and creative musical projects with friends.”

Shared Voices

Parrish focuses on more than his own music-making. Shared Voices is an initiative to address diversity, equity, and inclusion by fostering collaboration between Historically Black Colleges and Universities, top conservatories, and schools of music. Through working with Denyce Graves at the Juilliard School, Parrish began an affiliation with the program from its beginning. As a member, he said, “I have been afforded many opportunities to learn. This includes master classes with top industry professionals such as Melissa Wegner, Pierre Vallet, and Myra Huang.”

Shared Voices also included “Industry Days” with lectures and discussions with experts on ethnomusicology, financial planning, and professionals like Markus Beam, General Manager of the San Francisco Opera Center. It also provides access to many performances in the New York City, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. areas.

“Shared Voices is, at its core, an unprecedented opportunity for me to exchange with fellow students, professors, and active industry professionals to learn from their experiences and build networks which are essential to the development of my career,” Parrish said. “Whether being in the audience of a masterclass given by Denyce Graves or uncovering information about Frederick Thomas for a capstone project, Shared Voices means paying it forward and continuing the legacy of so many wonderful singers of color.”

Delay of Game at Camden Yards

Along with recognition as a superb singer on the rise can come some fun perks. Parrish recently sang the national anthem at an Orioles home game against the Mets. He described it as a thrilling experience – “there is nothing quite like it” – that also requires craft and practice. “During rehearsal I sang through the anthem once, with the camera, so that the audio and video technicians could work out levels and frequencies, but the audio was not pumped into the ballpark. To my surprise, when I began singing for the real performance, there was a half-second delay!”

Not to worry. “While it was unexpected, it did not throw me off. As a classical singer, I have been trained not to listen too closely to myself while singing, which helped during the performance.”

Audiences will have the pleasure of listening quite closely to Joseph Parrish when he delivers his “Songs & Spirituals” program in the intimate space of the Crypt at Church of the Intercession on October 3 and 4. A wine and cheese reception precedes the performances. Details and tickets are available at the Crypt Sessions website, where you can also find information about the full Crypt Sessions season and all about Death of Classical.

Find out more about bass-baritone Joseph Parrish’s Crypt Sessions concerts online and see his schedule for the coming months, including appearances in New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and beyond, on his website.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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