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Interview with Jill Lagerberg, Music Director of Ragtime

In MainStage Wing | on 04.27.12 | by | Comments ( 0 )

Jill Lagerberg is the director of Knoxville Christian Arts Ministries, a performing arts outreach ministry of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, that integrates music, drama, and dance to proclaim the gospel of Christ, primarily in prisons and inner city areas. It has 90 members from 26 Knox-area churches.

Jill loves to work with choirs of all ages and has directed children’s, youth, and adult choirs in church, college, and community settings. She holds a B.A. in music from Wake Forest University and an M.M. and D.M.A. in voice performance from The University of Michigan. She and husband Gregg are the proud parents of Carin, with whom she is delighted to be able to work in this production of Ragtime.

1. What do you like about the music in Ragtime?

The thing I find most intriguing about the Ragtime music is how wonderfully well it portrays not only the physical events of the show but also the personalities and emotions of the various characters.  Composer Stephen Flaherty has taken the ragtime musical genre and reincarnated it in amazing ways to evoke everything from the sedateness of New Rochelle to the joy of Coalhouse as he contemplates winning back Sarah, to the violence of the explosions in the city.  There are many musical motifs associated with the individual characters that recur when those characters reappear and that change as they change.  These kinds of techniques are very common in opera, and as a classically trained singer, they really resonate with me.  Plus, the show is operatic in the sheer amount of music it contains and in how it is literally carried by the music.  And of course, there are some truly beautiful lyric melodies that are wonderful to sing and an enormous amount of truly powerful chorus music.  All of these things make the show feel to me like opera with musical theatre-style music, and I connect to it strongly.

2. Ragtime is not an “easy” musical, is it? Can your cast handle it?

We are blessed to have an extraordinarily talented and enthusiastic cast – and a very intense rehearsal schedule!  It has been my experience that motivated people can accomplish what they put their minds to, and I am expecting great things from our folks.  I am looking forward to working with them and discovering what we can achieve together.

3. I understand you have some excellent musicians lined up to play this show. What would you like to tell us about the orchestra?

Ragtime is a big show instrumentally, and thanks to donor generosity, we have twelve orchestral players to bring this gorgeous music to life.  The orchestra is a wonderful mix of professional and accomplished amateur musicians and a wonderful mix of ages – from 18 to “seasoned” citizen!  This kind of mix brings great energy and enthusiasm to the playing and makes the group really fun to work with.  They are at least as excited about the show as the actors are.

4. This show has some rough language and “adult content.” People might be confused as to why Christian artists would do this show. What would you like to say about that?

As a Christian, these are issues I believe should be approached always with humility and prayer.  For me, if art is to be worthwhile, it must say something about truth.  So for me, the question is:  what is the purpose of this language or content?  Is it needlessly included just to shock or titillate, or is it necessary to portray what is true?  In Ragtime the racial epithets, oppression, and violence make us uncomfortable, but they are a true portrayal of the characters, culture, and events in the show; and on a deeper level, of our sinfulness and fallibility and utter hopelessness apart from Christ.  They are meant to expose truth and to make us think about truth.

5. Why should people come see this show?

Ragtime “works” on so many levels.  It is a visual and aural feast, with lavish costumes and set and beautiful, powerful music.  On the surface, it is a delightful peak into1906, conveying the optimism of an America entering a new century, and including historical figures Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, and others.  As we delve underneath, we find a compelling story as three diverse cultures interact, clash, and try to learn to understand each other.

At its deepest level, Ragtime forces us to confront ongoing questions about prejudice, oppression, and injustice, not only historically, but in contemporary culture as well; about what constitutes true success and happiness; and about good and evil.  It realistically portrays our humanity – our strengths and also our weaknesses – and unflinchingly illuminates how we change, for better or worse, through the ways we choose to respond to our circumstances.   I urge parents to talk about these issues with their children both before and after seeing the show.  I urge friends to use the show as an insightful conversation starter about truth and worldview.

So come and see Ragtime for its beauty and spectacle, for its thought-provoking story, and most importantly, for what it has to say about the nature of mankind and God.

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