Singer Sasha Massey’s musical career has been paved by inspirational teachers. It started with Lerone Rubin at Lafayette Middle School in the seventh grade and then Lafayette High choral teacher Holly Grefe and, finally, Shawn Roy in the School of Music at UL Lafayette.
A private voice teacher and canter at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Massy understands the challenges music teachers face, especially with young children. “They’re laying the groundwork that the middle school teachers take up and high school teachers develop so we can have that pure choral sound,” she says.
Massey credits Rubin, who died in 2013 and often played local venues like Charley G’s on weekends, with providing some of her earliest musical training at Lafayette Middle. “When he was there, he tried his best to help us sing music that we were more familiar with, like pop tunes, but he was the first teacher to introduce us to sacred choral pieces,” she recalls. “It was nice to work with a teacher who understood the kids in the area and wanted us to have an understanding of local rich culture, but not ignore music from all over the world.”
On Sept. 26, Massey will come full circle when she sings in Lafayette Middle’s auditorium as part of New Orleans touring group Lyrica Baroque. This unique collective of artists who perform as a special kind of chamber ensemble will take the Lafayette Middle stage in what presenting organization UpStage hopes to be the first of many concerts in the historic venue.
UpStage Creative Director Jackie Lyle is no stranger to the performing arts scene in Lafayette. She founded the Performing Arts Society of Acadiana (PASA) in 1989 and, after leaving the organization in 2011, didn’t stay out of the arena for long. UpStage was formed in 2015 to assure local access to nationally and internationally known professional artists and ensembles performing dance, jazz and classical music, theater, performance art and other genres.
Lyle first heard Massey sing when Massey was a senior in high school performing in an all-student version of “Les Misérables” that PASA produced with the UL Performing Arts Department in 2003. When Lyrica Baroque contacted her in December to help them establish a bigger national presence, she introduced them to Massey.
“I believe so strongly in her ability, not just as a singer, but as an actor,” Lyle says. “She has a very distinctive voice and other people should be hearing her.”
Fast-forward eight months, and the ensemble made up of Jaren Atherholt on oboe, Gaabrielle Fischler on violin, Benjamin Atherholt on bassoon, Robert Holm on piano and Massey as soprano has a gig at one of Lafayette’s best-kept secrets.
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and mainly used for student showcases these days, the Lafayette Middle auditorium received a facelift earlier this year and can seat upward of 500 people. Lyle also cites parking, air conditioning and walkability due to the theater’s proximity to the Saint Streets neighborhood as perks.
“How many theaters can you walk to?” she says. “We’re going to test the waters and hope people see the value of being in that special space.”
The theater’s only downside is a lack of theatrical lighting, but UpStage plans to bring that in, along with a grand piano from Lafayette Music.
“It’s going to be fun to figure out what the acoustics are like,” says Massey. “It certainly looks refurbished. When I was there, the walls were peeling. It’s an old building, so it’s got a lot of historical value, but it needs a lot of love and care. I’m excited to maybe see some teachers, people that have an eclectic taste for music and also love classical and baroque pieces.”
While Massey says she sometimes has to tone down her voice as part of the choir at St. John Cathedral, she’s excited to go “full throttle” for this show. She’s also been enjoying the challenge of singing parts that were originally written for men.
“Working with Lyrica Baroque has been a very collaborative process,” says. “It’s fun really getting into music that is exciting, and some of it was written more for lower voices and for men, so being able to sing stuff that has a lot more fiery spirit to it … most music written for women tends to be more demure and doesn’t carry quite as much story. I want to sing music that is meaningful.”
This is just the beginning for Lyle, who has a five-year plan for UpStage that includes using more school venues like the Lafayette Middle Auditorium and continuing programming at the Grouse Room, Warehouse 535 and her own home where she hosts “Comfy Couch” concerts.
“All over the country, school theaters are used as public venues just like school playgrounds are used as parks,” she says. “It’s a cost savings for the government. This is not the last thing I’m going to do there.”
Massey’s goal is to inspire students to follow their musical dreams as Rubin once did for her at Lafayette Middle.
“I hope it encourages more kids in the area to explore classical music,” she says.
Tickets for Lyrica Baroque are $20 and available at www.upstagelive.org and on www.eventbrite.com.