Music fills Natchez Festival of Music house tour

Published 12:03 am Monday, November 7, 2011

Nocole Zema | The Natchez Democrat — Bass baritone Will Earl Spanheimer performs for the audience at Briarvue, located on the bluff as part of The Briars at the Natchez Festival of Music’s Musical Tour of Homes event. Donna Schaffer accompanies Spanheimer on piano.

NATCHEZ — Only the blazing Mississippi River sunset dared to compete with Will Earl Spanheimer’s booming baritone as he serenaded guests of the Musical Tour of Homes at The Briars Sunday.

The renowned opera singer, accompanied by local soloist and singer Donna Schaffer on piano, sang a music book-full of familiar songs from productions ranging from “Phantom of the Opera” to “Carousel” and the “Barber of Seville.” The pair performed on The Briars property Briarvue, a venue overlooking the river.

Nicole Zema | The Natchez Democrat — Musical Tour of Homes participants applaud Will Earl Spanheimer’s performance at Briarvue, which is located on the property of The Briars in Natchez.

The Musical Tour of homes took guests through three other Natchez houses for intimate concerts earlier in the day.

Burnley Cook played piano at Petrie House on Orleans Street. Violinists David Troutman and Dwayne Traylor played at the Bahlmann House on South Wall Street. Classical and jazz violinist, and Alcorn music student Anton Zholondz played at Ravenna on Ravenna Lane.

Spanheimer said he loves coming to Natchez for various Festival of Music events. He said Natchez is a charming place to sing.

“It’s a combination of the people, the spirit of the town and the great sense of community,” Spanheimer said. “People say it’s a small town, but really it’s very sophisticated. People here really appreciate and support the arts.”

Paul and Hanneke Kelly live in Chicago, but will soon be relocating to Natchez. They wanted get a taste of Natchez’s musical offerings, as well as visiting Natchez’s historic houses.

“We loved it,” Hanneke said. “And this was our first exposure to Southern homes. It was interesting to see — I had a different vision in my head — and real life was better.”

Kenny Jones and his wife Dona-Marie Geoffrion, both musicians who recently moved to Natchez, visited the concert at Ravenna and the finale at The Briars.

“We came just out of our curiosity and interest in music,” Jones said.

Jones said he worked in the music industry in Nashville.

“We appreciate good music,” Jones said. “Anytime Natchez has good music, we want to support it. I would like to come to more of these events.”

Geoffrion said the music was as exceptional as the venues.

“The setting was just beautiful,” she said.

Rena Jean Schmieg, festival guild president, thanked the homeowners for opening their houses for the concerts. She said all funds raised through the event will be applied to the budget of the Natchez Festival of Music.

Schmieg said planning is under way for the festival’s 22nd year next spring.