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PERFORMANCE DEJA VU -- Southeastern
Louisiana University voice professor Joy Ratliff is no stranger to the
Pottle Music Building Auditorium stage. As a Southeastern music major in
the 1966, she was in the cast of “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Today,
as vocal coach for the Southeastern Opera-Music Theatre Program, Ratliff
is preparing students to sing on the same stage. Ratliff is pictured
second from right.
FROM “THE COACH” -- Southeastern Louisiana University voice professor and
opera vocal coach Joy Ratliff works with the cast of “The Medium,” one
of two Gian Carlo Menotti operas that will be presented by Southeastern’s
Opera-Music Theatre Program Oct. 24-26 at Pottle Music Building Auditorium.
From left, are Thomas Cannon of Killona, Davida Karanas of Mandeville,
Wendy Kinchen of Ponchatoula, Jacquie Brecheen of Ponchatoula and Ratliff.
REHEARSAL -- Rehearsal pianist Hristo Birbochukov accompanies Ratliff as
she works with the cast of “The Medium,” the Southeastern Louisiana University
Opera-Music Theatre Program’s contribution of Fanfare, Southeastern’s annual
arts festival. The opera will be performed Oct. 24-26 at Pottle Music Building
NEW MUSIC PROFESSOR IS HOME AGAIN IN HAMMOND AND ON
HAMMOND -- When back-to-back
bouts of bad weather headed Hammond’s way earlier this month, colleagues
and students popped their heads into Joy Ratliff’s office in Southeastern
Louisiana University’s Music Annex to make sure the new voice professor
was prepared to weather the threatening storms.
They didn’t need to worry. She
may be a newcomer to the music faculty, but Ratliff is no stranger to either
hurricanes or Hammond. By way of Germany, Maryland and West Virginia, she’s
come back to the city where she was born and raised and to the campus where
she began her musical career.
Southeastern is as much “home”
to Ratliff as is Hammond, since she literally grew up on campus as a student
for nine years at the Southeastern Lab School. Back in the 50s and 60s,
the school was located in today’s McClimans Hall, not far from the Pottle
Music Building where Ratliff now teaches 11 voice students and is vocal
coach for the Opera-Music Theatre Program.
She has just finished working
with the young singers cast in the Gian Carlo Menotti operas, “The Telephone”
and “The Medium,” which will open for a three-day run at the Pottle Music
Building Auditorium on Oct. 24 during Southeastern’s annual Fanfare celebration
of the arts.
Ratliff has enjoyed preparing
students to perform on the same stage where she once had roles in productions
such as “La Bohème,” “The Tales of Hoffmann” and “Hansel and
Ratliff said she entered Southeastern
after graduating from Ponchatoula High School, where her mother taught
music, with no idea of majoring in music.
“I took piano lessons all my
life,” she said. “My mother insisted I take piano lessons until I graduated
from high school. I did it sort of kicking and screaming. I regret not
having practiced more, because I need my piano skills for accompanying
my students and I wish now that I could play better than I do!”
At Southeastern, Ratliff did
join the Concert Choir and also sang with her church choir at the Woodland
Park Baptist Church. Southeastern voice professor Ralph Roberts directed
“In April of my freshman year,
the Woodland Park Baptist Church and the First Baptist Church did a combined
concert for Easter. There was a little short alto solo and someone in my
choir suggested that I do it,” Ratliff recalled.
“I didn’t have a very spectacular
voice,” she said. “I had just sung alto in chorus all through high school.”
Roberts, however, gave her a
shot at the solo and an impromptu voice lesson in his Southeastern office.
“He said, ‘You know, I think there’s some voice there. You probably ought
to have lessons.’ I decided I would change my major to music on the spot.”
Within a year, Ratliff was soloing
with the Concert Choir and performing in operas and musicals. “My mother
always thought I should major in music, so she was overjoyed,” Ratliff
“I would say that Ralph Roberts
changed my life,” she said. “He believed in my ability as a singer. He
introduced the idea that I might go to Germany and sing and that’s what
After graduating from Southeastern
in 1968, then earning her master’s degree from Northwestern University
in Illinois, Ratliff began an operatic career in Germany, where she performed
leading mezzo-soprano roles such as “Carmen,” “Cherubino,” “Hansel,” and
“Orlofsky.” She married a German baritone and had a son and daughter, Bart
and Vanessa, who are now in their early 20s. Although her career was mainly
on stage, she also taught for several years and discovered that she like
teaching as much as performing.
But, after 15 years, home beckoned.
“I was homesick for the States,”
she said. “Suddenly, it became clear to me that I would be a foreigner
the rest of my life. I really missed being in America and being around
Ratliff moved with her family
to Maryland, where she earned her doctoral degree at the University of
Maryland. She obtained a job at Marshall University in West Virginia and,
following a divorce, settled into the dual jobs of single mother and teacher.
“I just started thinking about
Hammond a lot,” she said. “I would come here on vacations. I have dear
friends here, including a cousin, Virginia Adelmann. I thought it would
be really neat (to come back to teach at Southeastern).”
“I’m surprised that I would have
ever wanted to come back to Hammond, because I wanted so
badly to leave when I was in my 20s,” Ratliff said, smiling.
When Ratliff saw the advertisement
for a voice professor at Southeastern, “I just knew my name was written
all over it,” she said. “That’s not to say that I was sure that I’d be
offered the position, but I was sure I wanted it!”
Now, she is both thrilled to
be back on home ground and to be involved in the university’s acclaimed
“When I saw that my teaching
load would include vocal opera coaching, I was delighted,” Ratliff said.
For “The Telephone” and “The
Medium,” Ratliff’s job was to see that the casts were musically prepared
when they went into stage rehearsals. She’s enthusiastic about the young
singers, the “wonderful” Menotti operas, and Southeastern’s opera program
itself. She also makes it clear that she feels privileged to be taking
over the vocal coaching reins from her colleague, Scharmal Schrock, who
headed the Opera-Music Theatre Program from 1981-2002.
“Southeastern is incredibly lucky
to have Scharmal Schrock. She built up this opera program,” Ratliff said.
“For a school this size, Southeastern has an amazing program. Super!”
Ratliff also thinks “The Telephone”
and “The Medium” will be another Southeastern Opera-Music Theatre crowd-pleaser.
“The Telephone,” a comedy, is
performed by two singers and has “just wonderful music,” Ratliff said.
“The Medium,”she added, “is very creatively done. I think the audience
will enjoy it.”
Curtain time for “The Telephone”
and “The Medium” is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for
adults, $5 for senior citizens, non-SLU students, and Southeastern
faculty, staff and alumni. Admission is free for Southeastern students
with university I.D.
Tickets are available at the Columbia
Theatre for the Performing Arts box office, 220 E. Thomas Street, 985-543-4371.
Box office hours are noon to 5 p.m., weekdays. Tickets also are available
online through TicketWeb at www.ticketweb.com.