Notre Dame College Gospel Expertise Draws International Guest Performing Artists

Notre Dame College has welcomed an international student of opera, who has an interest in gospel music expertise at the College, as a guest artist.

Andrea Soncina was born, raised, lives and studies opera in Italy, the country considered the birthplace of the classical vocal art form. But her passion for gospel music—and connection to a global expert in the genre of Christian spirituals, hymns and sacred songs who is adjunct faculty at Notre Dame—brought her to America and to Northeast Ohio to share her own virtuoso with the College.

The founder and conductor of her own Gospel Time Choir in Italy, Soncina met the Rev. Ron Ixaac Hubbard, gospel music instructor at the College, during one of his frequent trips to Europe. Hubbard conducts the Notre Dame Gospel Ensemble, which also performed selections during the Candlelight Concert. He is helping Soncina to develop, and possibly combine, her diverse interests in the two musical art forms.

In addition to drawing Soncina to the College, Hubbard is bringing his "Pastor Ron Gospel Show" to America for the first time as part of Notre Dame’s Joan Cronin Reagan #NDC Performs Series in Spring 2018. The professional ensemble, live from their tour in Italy, will perform from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday, February 3, at Regina Auditorium on the College campus. Proceeds from the event will support Notre Dame's annual international immersion trip to Guatemala, during which performing arts students help teach music to children in the Central American country.

Expertise

Hubbard periodically leads workshops, presents at conferences and conducts singing tours overseas, all in the gospel genre, rooted in African-American churches of the American South during the 1800s. He has appeared in countries like Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa and Japan, as well as Italy. Hubbard also conducts gospel music workshops at the College each semester.

“Gospel music in Italy is growing in popularity. People love the freedom of expression,” Hubbard said. “The country is home to the Catholic Church and opera. Both can be considered conservative, so to be able to relate to God expressively through music of gospel is perfect for Italy.”

He and Soncina, who is a student of opera at the Cesare Pollini Conservatory of Music in Padua, met during a gospel conferences in Italy.

“She has such incredible energy and effect, in how radiant she is and how she wants to execute gospel music effectively,” Hubbard said.

Expression

In addition to contributing to and attending courses, like in music theory and the history of rock ’n’ roll, during her week as a guest artist at Notre Dame, Soncina performed as a soloist during the College’s Candlelight Concert. A soprano, Soncina sang “Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night),” in French with operatic elements during the holiday vocal program highlight of the fall Notre Dame Joan Cronin Reagan #NDC Performs Series.

A student of voice and classical music since she was a child, Soncina said she has followed the “literal steps” of traditional opera her whole life. The classical genre, which dates back to the 16th century, is her first love, but she also is drawn to the “colorful” emotion of songs exclaiming more contemporary Christian-based experiences.

“Gospel music helps me to create a personal connection with God,” she said. “I like the power of that kind of expression.”

The repertoire of the Gospel Time Choir ranges from the traditional spiritual songs and hymns to works from famous musical films to more modern pop and light music tunes. The group, led by Soncina, has recorded and released an album in Italy.

“Gospel Time Choir is a second family that has long supported each member, encouraging him to put the soul and a bit of himself in each song,” Soncina writes, via English translation, on the choir website. “The main objective is to give voice to joy, to melancholy, to anything that is emotion, without any fear.”

Encouragement

Similar to the variety she values in and between the gospel genre and traditional opera, Soncina appreciates the differences in study between the large traditional European music conservatory and Notre Dame. She is particularly impressed with the individualized student learning and caring services at the smaller mission-based College in Northeast Ohio.

“I really love the support you have for every student,” she said.

She also noted the diversity in performing arts education between the conservatory and College. At Notre Dame, students can pursue music as academic minor, elective courses and student engagement, whereas at her academy, vocal programs are strictly a professional track.

The career guidance, in all fields, offered at the College also is more robust than compared to conservatory and other European educational institutions, according to the international student. While on campus, Soncina also spent time with April Kennedy, job shadowing coordinator at Notre Dame’s Career Services Center. Kennedy served as Soncina’s host during the guest artist’s stay in the Cleveland area.

“We don’t have help leading students from the academy to the outside world in any area of study,” Soncina said. “We are more alone without jobs and without the support of the institution.”

Empowerment

Through her visit to Notre Dame, Soncina has been inspired to consider continuing her education in America. She plans to apply to graduate programs in Northeast Ohio and would like to return to the College to help with future gospel music as well as other performing arts projects.

Despite her and Hubbard’s efforts to grow gospel music in Europe, Soncina said not even opera singers, let alone other music performers and instructors, are as “respected” in Italy as in the U.S.

“To study here could be a solution. I could find the right balance, the perfect match, with my two passions, which are gospel music and opera,” she said.

December 2017

About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master's degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Brian Johnston, chief communications officer, at 216.373.5252 or bjohnston@ndc.edu.

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