Personality: Lynn Gary Atkins Jr.

Spotlight on artistic director of One Voice Chorus

6/19/2015, 5:33 p.m. | Updated on 6/19/2015, 5:33 p.m.
Dr. Lynn Gary Atkins Jr. is artistic director of Richmond’s One Voice Chorus, the interracial singing group that has been …

Dr. Lynn Gary Atkins Jr. is artistic director of Richmond’s One Voice Chorus, the interracial singing group that has been making beautiful music for more than a decade.

Its goal: To bring diverse singers and audiences together to promote racial unity.

The blueprint for One Voice was laid in 2001 by Barbara Baynham, the late music director at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Jackson Ward, which is predominately black, and her contemporary, Glen McCune of St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Henrico County, which is predominately white.

Seeking to help bridge the racial gap that has long existed in Richmond, they joined forces to have each church’s choir perform a concert in the other’s sanctuary. The collaboration sparked the formation of One Voice Chorus, which now welcomes singers of all ethnicities and promotes racial healing.

Today, One Voice is composed of more than 100 singers who perform stirring concerts each year at various venues.

“Our mission is to sing excellent choral music while providing resources to promote racial reconciliation between persons of European-American and African-American descent,” adds Dr. Atkins, who became One Voice’s artistic director in April 2013.

“It was my first professional appointment as a pro conductor, so I felt as if I had made it to the ‘big leagues,’ ’’ the 33-year-old Dr. Atkins says.

The nonprofit musical organization has two choirs — the full chorus, which is open to all singers, and an ensemble whose members are chosen by audition, he notes. The chorus practices once a week.

Since 2004, the full chorus has performed at least 45 times, Dr. Atkins says. “The ensemble has done at least 100 concerts since I have been artistic director,” he adds. “That’s a lot of performing!” 

Dr. Atkins says the racial composition of the chorus is about 65 percent European-American and 35 percent African-American.

“It is important to note that we welcome all persons regardless of race,” he says. “We would love to see these numbers change dramatically.”

Dr. Atkins takes pride in directing the chorus, which he believes is doing its small part to bring people of all ethnicities together.

“I believe, that at some point, if we as a global community want to ensure the survival of our planet, we have to start working together to make it so,” he says.

“I strongly feel that music is a language that can start that conversation, as it requires each person of the choir, as well as the accompanist and the conductor, to become part of the greater unit,” he adds. “We build a community that transcends race, and if we could focus on that … One Voice Chorus might just start helping to move Richmond toward a more peaceful existence.” 

Dr. Atkins also teaches choral music in area schools. “I teach, I create music and hopefully touch hearts and minds,” he says.

He just completed his second year teaching grades six through eight in Henrico County Public Schools. “I am excited to say that summer vacation is here,” he says.

Next school year, he will teach grades five through 12 at private Collegiate Schools in Henrico County.

Here’s a look at this week’s Personality, Lynn Gary Atkins Jr.: 

Date and place of birth: March 4 in Red Bank, N.J.

Current place of residence: Henrico County.

Alma maters: The Visual and Performing Arts Academy of Red Bank Regional High School, Performing Arts High School Diploma; Westminster Choir College of Rider University, bachelor’s degree in music-music education; James Madison University, master’s degree in music-choral conducting and doctorate in musical arts-choral conducting performance, pedagogy and literature.

Family: I’m a single guy.

What is your musical background: I have sung in choirs since I was 9. I started music lessons when I was 10 with trumpet, then singing and piano lessons at 14. I have done some quirky things within the realm of music as well. While in middle school, I played in our school’s steel band, and in college, I rang English hand bells.  

On a scale of 1 to 10, your singing would rate: Um ... maybe an 8. I think that there are so many people out in the world singing, and each of us has a unique sound. I’m just a tenor who loves singing.  

Number of chorus members: OVC fluctuates in number per concert, balancing between 120 and 150 singers. So many of our singers come in and out as they need. Since 2001, more than 800 people have sung with OVC.

Profile of members: Our members are lifelong musicians, as well as musicians who are just starting out. They are lawyers, doctors, teachers and sales clerks. They are of different walks of faith. We have different political situations. They consider their lives within different social movements like feminism and LGBT, and our members have different economic situations. The diversity in our membership is truly limitless. 

Ages of members: Our youngest member currently is 18 and our oldest member is 85 years young.

How does one become a member: Simple. Join us at the start of a concert cycle. There’s no audition for the full chorus, and anyone can find out more information about the specifics of joining us on our website, www.onevoicechorus.org. 

How many levels and short description of chorus: There are two choirs. The full chorus is huge. This group sings the three themed concerts per year. And this is where I focus my work of music education and vocal technique as my guiding goals. With the ensemble, because of its auditioned nature, I focus on high-quality performance, while still providing the same guiding goals that I use with the full chorus. 

Types of music included in repertoire: We sing major choral masterworks by celebrated composers, traditional and contemporary spirituals, gospel, jazz and choral art songs. You name it, we do it!

How often does the chorus practice: Mondays starting at 5:45 p.m. for the ensemble, and then the full chorus joins in at 7 p.m.

Upcoming events: The ensemble will be performing June 27 at CultureWorks’ 5th Annual Arts & Culture Xpo at the Science Museum of Virginia, and then we take our summer hiatus. 

Where chorus has performed: The chorus and ensemble have performed in many of the major concert venues in Richmond, but also in Colonial Williamsburg and at the Smithsonian in Washington.

The influence of the chorus upon those who hear it: People are so impressed with the high quality that is reached with a community choir. They also love the different genres represented within our concerts. 

How do audiences respond to the choir’s racial reconciliation message: It’s so positive. One of our true “gives” to the community is our “Harmony in Living Black and White” conversations that we hold 60 minutes before each of our themed concerts. These are facilitated and we discuss diversity as it stands in Richmond today. The people who leave this discussion always come away with new and different information, as the conversation is never the same — because the people in the room are never the same.  

One Voice’s foremost challenge: We are big. So it becomes a challenge whenever we take the full chorus into a venue to sing. Sitting, standing, dressing rooms for more than 100 people can be a big hassle. We get through it and the music doesn’t suffer.

What makes me tick: I’m a bit of a renaissance man. I love music and art, poetry and books. I’m also a bit of a photographer. I love biking and swimming. Now that summer is here, I am really excited to get back to these activities. 

A perfect day: Any day that I get to enjoy the beach. I’m from a small town on the Jersey Shore, and the beach is a staple in my “summer fun” diet.

A perfect evening: Sitting with my friends playing UNO or enjoying wine and chatting. 

How I unwind: I don’t think I have yet. But I do find relaxation in quiet time — naps and books, enjoying pool time and late-night car rides when I can’t sleep.

I place top value on: Honesty. 

Best late-night snack: Chocolate chip cookies and milk. I put ice cubes in my milk so that it stays cold. 

My favorite singer is: It’s so hard to pick just one so let me say that I have an “earcrush” on a classical countertenor named Philippe Jaroussky and a popular singer, Sam Smith. 

The song I sing in the shower is: Anything classical, operatic — think Luciano Pavarotti singing Verdi’s “La Donna e mobile!”

My favorite choir — other than One Voice Chorus — is: Definitely Chanticleer. They are a San Francisco based men’s group. 

Persons who influenced me the most: My teachers and mentors, especially Marj Mottola, Faith Esham, and Jo-Anne van der Vat-Chromy. These ladies truly made me sing and conduct to the best of my abilities.

Book that influenced me the most: I have been shaped by a book called “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. A really fantastic book dealing with happiness, work and what happens when we find the right balance of challenge and enjoyment in what we do daily. 

What I am reading now: I’m getting ready to read “Twelve Days” by Alex Berenson. It’s a political drama, which is a favorite conversation topic of mine. 

My next goal: Mastering the art of making sauces. I love to cook when I have the time, but I am not good with creating and getting sauces just right. I have a few weeks this summer where I can experiment and talk with my Mom about it.