The 254

Lone Star Songs

By Kevin Tankersley

A Dichotomy of Sound

Kathleen Kelly has conducted orchestras in San Francisco, Houston, New York and Seattle. She’s co-authored an opera and performed at Carnegie Hall.

Her favorite song is “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd.

That dichotomy in what might be a surprising choice by a classically trained musician will also be present in Lone Star Songs, a series of concerts curated by Kelly and starting in September at First Presbyterian Church of Waco.

“One of the things that I want to focus on is this state,” said Kelly, a Minnesota native who is also assistant professor of vocal coaching at Baylor University. “Texas is such a big state. The population is so diverse. The history is so diverse. I wanted to find performers that had a strong connection to the state who are really sovereign in a lot of different styles.”

The first performance in the series, on September 15, will feature mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte and pianist Ana María Otamendi.

“Cecilia Duarte was kind of a no brainer to me,” Kelly said. “She’s an opera singer, she sings Baroque music, she sings mariachi. She’s got an incredible recording of 1950s Mexican pop songs that she just did, which is phenomenal. She was a member of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus for a while before she started headlining at that company. She really is this incredibly diverse, rich voiced artist who can kind of walk into any style of music and tell you some kind of amazing story.”

Otamendi made her orchestral debut when she was 12; has performed more than 300 collaborative performances around the world; teaches collaborative piano at LSU; is co-artist director of the Collaborative Piano Institute; founded the Reverón Piano Trio; and is also a geophysical engineer.

Even though Duarte and Otamendi are known for their work in the opera world, that is not what the audience in Waco should expect.

“If you have a certain kind of sound in your head that you associate with opera, that’s not the kind of sound you’re going to hear,” Kelly said. “You’ll hear a lot of different kinds of sounds on these programs.”

In the next performance in the series scheduled for the fall, Kelly, on piano, will be accompanying her longtime friend, Grammy- and Emmy-award winning baritone Reginald Smith Jr. He’ll sing a variety of pieces by Black composers, she said.

“Reggie has got such comfort in a variety of styles, and he’s bringing this whole wide community of people in on his performance to contribute as composers,” Kelly said. “He’s using his entire program to say, ‘Look at this incredible body of repertoire, all by Black composers.’

“That’s what I want to see happening in Waco. As a teacher at Baylor, I want my students to be exposed to it. Waco also has this incredibly diverse history. When it was founded in 1849, Black people were here, indigenous people were here, people who spoke French and German and Spanish were here. Everything was here from the beginning of the town. I love to be able to use these concerts in this repertoire to highlight that.”

An Opera for All

Ticket information for the Lone Star Songs series can be found at

“We’ve got a whole range of pricing options,” Kathleen Kelly said. “Our entire goal is to get people in the room to hear what we’re doing. Especially if you’re a student, it’s really easy for you to go. If you’re going in a group, it’s cheaper. It’s easy to make a Waco evening of it because First Presbyterian is not far from all kinds of good places to eat.”

The sanctuary at First Presbyterian “is just breathtaking. It’s just gorgeous,” Kelly said.