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Arts & Culture

An Opera Student’s Curbside Concerts

Back at Home, Singer Performs Weekly for Passersby

By Dan Novak M.Jour. ’20

Esther Atkinson sings on driveway

Screengrab via Facebook livestream; photo with sign by Wendy Atkinson

Esther Atkinson performs while her dad plays the piano and her mom flips pages. Below, Atkinson poses with her “Curbside Concert” sign.

When the pandemic is over, Esther Atkinson hopes to sing opera in a packed concert hall with perfect acoustics. But for now, the master’s student studying opera performance in UMD’s School of Music is gladly settling for sharing her powerful mezzo-soprano with neighbors standing at the bottom of her parents’ driveway.

Every Friday evening for over a month, Atkinson, accompanied by her father Stephen on electric piano, has been performing a range of musical styles for listeners passing by the cul de sac in Arkansas. She likes to start off her shows with some opera, maybe an aria from "Carmen" or "Faust," she said, then some Broadway tunes, “to give them their meat and potatoes before I spoil them with the dessert of some Disney.”

Esther Atkinson crouches by side that reads, "Curbside concert. Opera, Disney, showtunes."Since she ended one performance with “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen,” children have been showing up in costume, ready to sing and dance along as they pretend to use Elsa’s ice powers. Adults in the small crowd have told Esther and Stephen how much they enjoy the music, some of which they’d never heard before.

“I like to think that I’m helping a little bit with contributing more arts and exposing people more to different genres that they wouldn’t think to listen to,” Atkinson said. “People think opera is a dying art, when really people just don’t know much about it.”

Growing up, Esther often practiced with her dad, who plays piano as a hobby but has also taken pleasure in assisting in Esther’s recordings for her professors while she’s been studying at home. Eventually the two thought it would be fun to put on performances in the neighborhood as a feel-good respite from the monotony of the quarantine.

After putting up a couple posters around the neighborhood and some advertising on Facebook, their curbside concerts have become a weekly occurrence, sometimes drawing up to 30 fans. Weather permitting, the Atkinsons plan on continuing their concerts, which are broadcast on Facebook Live to friends and family as far away as Australia and Northern Ireland.

“Anybody who loves music wants that love of music to be shared and wants it to be contagious,” Stephen said. “So growing that virus of the love of music has been a bonus as well.” 

Each week they end their concert with a hymn, both as a testament to their faith and as a way to remember the millions of people around the world suffering from the pandemic.

“Even through the storm that we all face, to give some comfort and give some wisdom in the storm … is highly appropriate,” Stephen said.

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College of Arts and Humanities

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