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Natchez Festival of Music welcomes new director

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Festival of Music will kick off its 2011 season on May 1 with a new director.

Jay Dean, director of orchestral activities and professor of music at the University of Southern Mississippi, is the festival’s new director.

“We are so thrilled to have him,” said Charlotte Copeland, secretary of the Natchez Festival of Music board of directors. “He is known all over for his musical capabilities.”

The Symphony Orchestra at The University of Southern Mississippi is the oldest orchestra in Mississippi. Established in 1920, it has been under Dean’s direction since 1988.

“I have a lot of interest in the kinds of things that the Natchez Music Festival has done over the years,” Dean said. “They approached me about working with them and I thought it was a good opportunity to develop the festival. We can work together to help create some wonderful things for the state.”

Dean said he sees the Natchez Festival of Music serving several purposes.

“Musical and arts events in the city create quality of life for the people who live here, as well as attract people to the City of Natchez,” Dean said. “Tourism is very important to Natchez. We can take the 21-year history of the music festival and build on that to attract people in Natchez and new people to the city, and most importantly bring people to the state of Mississippi.”

A few changes are expected for the Natchez Music Festival. Dean said anytime leadership within an organization changes, its operations will also change to some degree.

“We want to keep the wonderful things in the Natchez Festival of Music, while creating new projects that capitalize on those and create a more successful community project,” Dean said.

Instrumental events will be added and different venues will be used this year.

Copeland said the main shows will still be at Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center.

“That’s our home,” Copeland said. “We will do plantation recitals as well. Natchez is unique, and we have grand places we can perform. (Dean) is high on the amphitheatre in Vidalia, and of course he loves the wonderful room at the Prentiss Club. He said there is nothing like it in the U.S., just France.”

Dean said changes are in the works for 2012.

“And next year we want to reinstate the opera resident artist program and build on that,” Dean said.

Dean said the key change will be extending the offerings of the festival to appeal to everyone.

“Opera is great,” Dean said. “I love opera. I’m a big fan. But the general public is not really attracted to opera. What I would like to do is create an opera event and extend offerings that appeal to everyone. Whether it’s jazz, blues, bluegrass, gospel, classical or rock, offer something that appeals to everyone so the Natchez Music Festival is an event with wide appeal. You won’t like all kinds, but there will be something that you do like.”

Dean said the festival is working in partnership with Mississippi Opera in Jackson, Opera South as well as the University of Southern Mississippi and Alcorn State University to create opportunities for tourists, music professionals and students. He said a great deal of the festival is geared toward education and community outreach.

Dean said community benefit is the driving purpose behind every project to which he’s contributed .

“It has to benefit people who live there,” Dean said. “I think cultural tourism is something that is already does well, and this is another feather in our cultural tourism cap that we can proudly display, that is unique to Mississippi and unique to Natchez.”

Copeland said Dr. David Blackburn, who died three years ago, started the Natchez Festival of Music. George Hogan, a student of Blackburn’s who sang at the first festival, took over after Blackburn’s death. Hogan, a Texas resident, resigned in December after serving as director the last two years.

Copeland encouraged the community to attend the festival in May.

“I think it will be fun,” Copeland said. “And I think it will make Natchez better by enhancing what’s going on now.”

The Natchez Festival of Music Guild will present “Always… Patsy Cline” at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $20. Call 601-445-2210 or visit www.natchezfestivalofmusic.com for more information.

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