by Mark McGowan
Harold and Cecelia Kafer met as freshmen at Arizona State University, where he had enrolled to major in piano performance and she to study voice.
Although the future dean of NIU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts left ASU to complete his bachelor’s degree at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, the pair remained friends, kept in touch and eventually reunited in Tempe as they both began their graduate work. When Cecelia performed her master’s recital, it was Harold at the piano.
In August, the Kafers will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary shortly after Harold retires from his current role as deputy provost at NIU and Cecelia closes her private voice studio.
First, however, the two will reprise their popular “American Words and Music from the Stage, Screen and Heart” concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 2, in the Recital Hall of the NIU Music Building.
The concert is free and open to the public, and the room is accessible to all.
“This program is driven by a few things that Cecelia and I have felt for a number of years. In concert settings, both in this country and internationally, there is not enough American music performed,” Kafer says.
“And, obviously, being married to a singer all these years and having accompanied lots of vocal music, we both enjoy compositions that marry great music with great words. The final piece of this is that when you’re in the mature stages of your careers, you have the luxury of performing what you want. This is all music we love personally.”
Kafer says the 16 selections “bridge a large palate of American music” from classical repertoire to musical theater to popular music from Broadway, film and television.
Pieces on the program include a “West Side Story” medley, “Nocturne” by Samuel Barber, “Fair Robin I Love” from Kirke Mechem’s “Tartuffe,” “Lullaby of Birdland” by George Shearing, “Preludes for Piano” by George Gershwin and “Prelude to a Kiss” by Duke Ellington.
Stage songs will include tunes from “Sweeney Todd,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “Marry Me a Little.” Songs from the big screen include “Nobody Does It Better” – Carly Simon’s famous version provided the theme song to the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – and the classic “Over the Rainbow.”
“It’s a program I would call dessert,” Kafer says, “and it’s not terribly long. If you eat too much dessert, obviously, you end up with a bellyache.”
The couple started focusing purposely on American music in 1999 when they were invited to perform at an international conference in New Zealand.
Some of Harold’s professional acquaintances in Australia asked him and Cecelia to make a preliminary stop in the land down under.
“We wound up doing a concert in Brisbane first before the conference,” he says. “We asked, ‘Is there anything in particular you’d like to hear?’ They said, ‘Yes, do some American music. We never hear it. You always hear the standard repertoire.”
Harold and Cecelia developed this current program to perform at private affairs for donors to the College of Visual and Performing Arts, where Kafer was dean from 1995 to 2008.
After four decades of making music with his wife, he remains thrilled about the partnership.
“Musical marriages have a reputation of being either great or terrible. We’re fortunate. Ours has been great,” he says. “She can tell me if I’m playing badly and I can tell her if she’s singing badly, and neither one of us takes it personally. It’s wonderful to have another pair of professional ears in the house.”
For more information, call (815) 753-1546.