Tuesday, April 19, 2011

'Highway to Canaan' by Jo LanYe, D.M.A., is Opera on Underground Railroad From South to Ohio and Canada

[Jo LanYe (Sandusky Register)]

April 17, 2011
Written by Kristina Smith Horn
“CATAWBA ISLAND -- Born a slave, Obadiah had long been separated from his parents and had no idea where they were. His life was one of hardship and back-breaking work, with no respect from the man who owned him. The 16-year-old had seen his best friend's mother, also a slave, banished from the farm in Kingsport, Tenn., where they were kept.

“It was then that Obadiah and his best friend, Joshua, decided they would not live out their lives as slaves. The pair and other slaves at the farm planned their escape. The pair would search for Joshua's mother. But on the night they planned to leave, their owner came to Obadiah and told him he needed to cut wood for the family's fire, immediately. Obadiah told the others to go on without him and that he would catch up. After chopping the wood, he ran off, feeling panicked and not knowing which way to head as he entered a forest. He did not know that Livella, a 14-year-old fellow slave, had waited for him. She helped him catch up with the group.

“This is a scene in 'Highway to Canaan,' an opera about the Underground Railroad set in 1851 that J. LanYe, of Catawba Island, wrote.” LanYe is an opera singer, pianist, composer and conductor. She composed her first piece of music at age 5. LanYe has a bachelor's degree in voice from the Cleveland Institute of Music, a master's of voice from the New England Conservatory of Music and a doctorate of musical arts from the American Conservatory of Music, which was in Hammond, Ind., when she was a student.

“She also has taught at Central State and other colleges around the country and boasts plenty of firsts -- first black to receive a doctorate from the American Conservatory of Music, first black to direct a major production at the Youngstown Playhouse and the first black woman to be a director of music at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. To her knowledge, she is the first person to compose an opera about the Underground Railroad and include Canada's role.”

“Although LanYe's opera begins in the South and ends in Canada, much of it is focused on Ohio. She contends Ohio had the most Underground Railroad routes of any place in North America, and that its role in the fight against slavery should be celebrated more. Some routes ended up in Sandusky, where slaves where hidden on boats and taken across Lake Erie to Canada. Part of the opera takes place in Sandusky. 'This was indeed the promised land,' she said.

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