“Nightingales of the Shenandoah Valley” will unite two Waynesboro natives singing opera at The Wayne Theatre on Sunday.
Penelope Shumate, a Stuarts Draft High School graduate, grew up in Waynesboro looking up to Amy Cochrane.
Two years ago, Shumate was home in Waynesboro visiting her family, and the idea struck her to bring her soprano voice to The Wayne Theatre, which had just reopened in April 2016 after renovations. Shumate said that she performs at different places all over the world, and she thought to herself: “Why not do a recital [at The Wayne]?”
And she also thought it would be a great idea for Cochrane to join her on stage.
“I’m really excited about our concert,” said Cochrane, a 1978 graduate of Waynesboro High School who lives in Geneseo, New York and teaches voice at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Cochrane was a “superstar” in Shumate’s eyes when she was growing up, and was part of Shumate’s inspiration later to become an opera singer.
The two opera singers actually worked together when Shumate attended Radford University and was pursuing a degree in radio, television and broadcasting. However, after a professor during Shumate’s junior year of college showed her class the opera “Carmen,” and she worked with Cochrane, she realized a career as an opera singer was possible.
Shumate earned a degree from Radford in radio, television and broadcasting, as well as a degree in vocal performance.
“It was just really special [to work with Cochrane at Radford],” said Shumate. “It was special for me. So I thought how crazy after all these years to come back together and to actually sing together [in Waynesboro].”
Cochrane said she is performing “Gretchen am Spinnrade, Op. 2, D 118” by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), because of the time she and Shumate worked together at Radford.
Since The News Virginian spoke with Shumate, assistant professor of voice at Western Illinois University, in January 2018, she has performed for a 14th time at Carnegie Hall, and placed first in oratorio in The 2019 American Prize for Vocal Performance, a national competition that accepts live recordings of performances.
In July, Shumate will perform as the soprano soloist in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios for a recording of “Messiah.”
“I think the stories that are involved in the songs, we probably picked songs that speak to us as far as the story line,” Cochrane, who has performed at Carnegie Hall six times, said of the song choice for Sunday’s show at The Wayne.
Cochrane is director of SUNY Geneseo’s Spectrum Women’s Chorus, founded the Geneseo Valley Children’s Choir in 2010 and serves as the choir’s director.
Among Sunday’s repertoire will include two songs from “Susannah,” which is set in the rural south, and selections composed and arranged by black women.
After several theme ideas, Shumate and Cochrane settled on “Nightingales,” which suggests a romantic appeal, and also included the Shenandoah Valley in the show’s title.
“I think it was so important to have the name Shenandoah Valley in the title, since we’re proud of where we’re from,” Shumate said.
Both women credit growing up in Waynesboro as contributing to their love of music thanks to the musical culture the area provides.
Shumate grew up attending First Baptist Church in Waynesboro, which she considers a “huge contributor to my musical education.”
The foundation of her love for music began at First Baptist where she was permitted as a child to sing during the adult Sunday School class, and later in middle school to sing during the 11 a.m. service.
“The kindness of them to nurture that — it means a lot to me that so many of them are coming [Sunday],” Shumate said. “And when I come home [to Waynesboro], I always sing [at First Baptist], because they’ll have me.”
Cochrane said she chose some songs in her repertoire because they highlight Lise Keiter’s piano performance. Keiter is a professor of music at Mary Baldwin University.
Each singer will perform solos, and then the two will perform together.
Immediately following Sunday’s performance, which should be about 90 minutes, the audience will be invited to a reception on the second floor of The Wayne Theatre hosted by First Baptist Church.