Faith found a joyful voice Music: Janice Chandler's career as a soprano came to a screeching halt when she refused to sing on the Sabbath. But the Lord works in mysterious ways.

December 04, 1998|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN STAFF

The last time we caught up with soprano Janice Chandler, she was just getting back on track after what seemed like a self-inflicted career disaster.

Four years ago, Chandler, a devout Seventh-day Adventist, had run afoul the first rule of show business -- "The Show Must Go On" -- by refusing to sing opera on Friday and Saturday evenings, her religion's Sabbath. It was a tradition she had faithfully observed since her childhood in Brandywine.

The music business, always more interested in business than in music, did not take kindly to such scruples, however. Its retaliation was swift.

Chandlers' concerts were canceled, her calls dried up, and soon the soprano found herself sitting at home with nothing to do.

At that point, a less conscientious believer might well have been tempted to bend the religious strictures that denied her gainful employment.

But Chandler, whose pure, silvery voice has been compared to that of Kathleen Battle, didn't flinch through the adversities that followed. She told friends and family that she could never betray her God-given gift -- to do so would risk losing it.

So she just waited on the Lord. And eventually, faith found a way.

Sunday, Chandler presents a program of art songs and spirituals in the Shriver Hall Concert Series at Johns Hopkins University. It will be her first solo recital in Baltimore since the storybook resurrection two years ago that has garnered her a full calendar of 35 to 40 concerts this year.

"I've found that you don't have to sing opera in order to have a concert career," she said in a recent interview. "Maybe it's essential for fame, but success and fame aren't the same thing. To sing well and continue to maintain my integrity -- that's really what I'm concerned about."

Chandler's amazing comeback began in 1995, when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hired her as a soloist in Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras No 5." Audiences loved her, and critics praised the "radiance" of her sound.

A few months later she was called back to the BSO to substitute for a suddenly indisposed singer in Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, under the baton of guest conductor Robert Shaw. Her magical performance in that work so impressed Shaw that he immediately engaged her for a series of concerts with the country's top orchestras. Suddenly, her career took off anew, this time as a highly sought-after orchestral soloist.

Call it a lucky break or divine intervention, but Chandler is convinced that her faith has been vindicated.

"I've seen God work on my behalf," she says.

In Sunday's recital, Chandler will be joined by two old friends from the BSO, pianist Eric Conway and trumpeter Langston Fitzgerald.

"We've put together a program that we think is interesting on many levels," Chandler said. "It includes traditional works by Handel, Poulenc and Strauss, and also works by the African-American composers Margaret Bond, Adolphus Hailstork and John Carter."

It should come as no surprise that the music Chandler has selected has a strong devotional character. Music and religion have been the two touchstones in her life since she began singing in church as a teen-ager.

In the past couple of years, as her career has blossomed again, Chandler has been engaged as soloist in Brahms' "Requiem," Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Mahler's Symphony No. 2, Poulenc's "Gloria" and Handel's "Messiah," all works deeply imbued by faith.

She's even continued to perform opera, though on a much more selective basis. Her most recent appearance was in a concert version of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Bobby McFerrin.

But she is careful not to fall back into the trap of allowing opera's inflexible schedules to get in the way of her religion. When McFerrin decided to bring "Porgy" to New York's Avery Fisher Hall for an appearance with the New York Philharmonic, for example, Chandler respectfully declined, since one performance was scheduled for a Friday evening.

"I know some people may think I'm giving up a lot," she said. But this is a faith walk for me. I'm working, my voice is intact and I'm doing well in my own eyes. So I feel God is still blessing me."

Recital

Who: Soprano Janice Chandler

Where: Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus

When: Sunday at 7: 30 p.m.

Tickets: $23; $12 students

Call: 410-516-7164

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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