By Kip Tabb
Someday, when Tshombe Selby is a household name, the 200 or so people gathered at All Saints Episcopal Church on Sunday to hear his recital will be able to say, “I heard him perform before he was famous.” Accompanied by Violetta Zabbi on piano, his performance of An Afternoon of Spirituals and Arias created a memorable afternoon of music at its finest.
Growing up in Manteo and beginning his career on the Outer Banks, Selby has performed locally in the past. He has always had a rich, powerful and beautiful voice. Now, however, that power and beauty has been harnessed and turned into a musical instrument of subtly and nuance.
With almost 20 selections over the course of the recital, it’s difficult to choose one performance that stands out. However, the interpretation of Verdi’s De miei bollenti spiriti seemed to highlight many of the elements of Selby’s skills.
An aria from La Traviata, it is a love song, the title translating to Wild My Dream of Ecstasy. The triumph that Alfredo, the male lead, feels in being with his love, was wonderfully portrayed by Selby. What made this particular piece stand out, though, was the interplay between the vocals and piano.
The arrangement Selby and Zabbi presented created a feeling of a duet, as though the piano was the second voice. The blending of piano and voice created the image of joy and passion that made the aria feel alive.
Certainly Selby’s ability to convey the meaning of the songs through facial expressions and body language was a key part to understanding what was happening. His aria selections were invariably in foreign languages—Russian, French and Italian—and his expressive manner of enacting his selections told much of the story.
It is apparent that Selby is fascinated with American spirituals. Some of that may be a way to pay tribute to his early musical roots, although the reason may not be a important as the result.
Spirituals have survived as part of the everyday language of American music because the tunes are catchy and easy to sing.
When interpreted by someone as skilled and caring as Selby, they seem to take on a life of their own.
A classic song like Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child becomes a voice calling out against the troubles of life, and a search for meaning and purpose.
He had some fun with the spirituals as well, working with the audience to get them clapping along to You Better Mind.
He ended the printed portion of his recital—there were two encore songs—with Make Them Hear You—an interesting and thought-provoking selection.
From the musical Ragtime, it is a clarion call to action, “Go out and tell our story, Let it echo far and wide…” and a summoning to fight for justice, “… I could not put down my sword, When justice was my right…”
Selby’s interpretation began as a powerful voice crying out, perhaps, against injustice and never letting up.
It was a rousing and perfect way to end an exciting adventure in music.
Tshombe Selby will be making a return visit to the Outer Banks when he takes on the title role in La Traviata at First Flight High School on September 15. Part of the Bryan Cultural Series and presented by Elizabeth R and Company, the performance will be free to the public.
Next up for the Bryan Cultural Series is the Four Seasons Chamber Music Series performance at All Saint's Epicopla Church in Southern Shroes on May 5 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available online. For local ticket sources and more information visit the Bryan Cultural Series website.
Photos by Kip Tabb