In second grade at the height of the mid-1980s “Thriller” era, James Rogers felt a bit out of place not knowing who Michael Jackson was.
But if his removal from popular music was unusual, so was his knowledge of Bach and Mozart, of Gilbert and Sullivan and traditional hymns, which the family sang during long car trips when he was young.
Music was a constant for the Rogers family then, and little has changed since.
James Rogers went on to graduate from Baltimore’s Peabody Institute — the oldest music conservatory in the country — and is now a semi-professional classical singer. His sister Cara Rogers is a current Peabody student, and their mother Patricia Rogers takes voice lessons with a Peabody instructor and sings in several choirs.
James, Cara, and Patricia Rogers will perform three solo cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach in a special concert at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda Sept. 17, as part of the church’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The Rogers, of Potomac, are long-time parishioners at St. Luke’s.
“We’re very happy to be able to perform together because the opportunity doesn’t arise very often,” Patricia Rogers said.
The three singers — Patricia Rogers is a mezzo-soprano, James Rogers, 29, a baritone, and Cara Rogers, 21, a soprano — will perform individually with a chamber orchestra.
The cantatas considered very challenging vocal pieces: each is about 20 minutes long and includes several movements over a wide musical range.
St. Luke's organist-choirmaster Dr. Geoffrey Simon organized the concert and selected the cantatas.
“It’s unusual to have that many people in the same family who are good enough to sing that kind of music,” Simon said. “We’re fortunate to have them at St Luke’s and I’m glad to provide them this opportunity to let people outside the church hear what they’re doing too.”
Simon said that Bach wrote the cantatas in the mid-1720, when he was a Lutheran church musician in Germany
“Lutheran services of that time, the services was about three hours long, and there was a cantata done at every service,” Simon said. Most were composed for a boys’ or men’s choir and a small orchestra, but Bach composed the solo pieces for times — usually in the summer — when choir members were on vacation.
“Now we hardly ever get to hear any of [the cantatas,” Simon said, “because, among other things, we don’t like having three hour services.”
The cantatas are in German, but St. Luke’s will provide translations in the concert program.
PATRICIA ROGERS works at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., performs in the Bank and St. Luke’s choirs and trains with the Peabody instructor Marianne Busching, who has worked with both Cara Rogers and James Rogers.
“We hope that other people in the community will come, partly to share the music and partly because we think that it’s a pretty cool church and we’d like people to know where we are,” Patricia Rogers said.
James Rogers is a Web programmer who plans to bridge to a full-time music career, focusing on opera, “One of these days soon, I hope.” He attended Beverly Farms Elementary School, Takoma Park Middle School, and Montgomery Blair High School before moving to Peabody, graduating in 2001.
Cara Rogers is currently studying vocal music at Peabody. She attended Beverly Farms, Hoover Middle School — where she was a frequent lead in the school’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan productions — and the International Baccalaureate program at Richard Montgomery High School, with a focus in music.
“She always wanted to sing, I think,” Patricia Rogers said.
Cara and James Rogers often exchange the kind of intellectual repartee of academics — debating, for example, whether the music they perform should be referred to as
“art music in the western European tradition,” because “classical” refers to a particular period.
Cara Rogers said that her older brother has sometimes been a tough critic, and joked that Peabody formerly offered a major in criticism.
“I would love to be a criticism major. Imagine telling people … You could get away with a lot more that way,” she said.
But James Rogers, Patricia Rogers and Simon all had praise for the youngest singer.
“She really is [talented,]” Simon said. “She does have the potential to be quite good.”
Cara Rogers said she is looking forward to performing with an orchestra, and performing to a home-town crowd.
“It’s the most forgiving audience in the world,” she said. “I could sing Old MacDonald and they would be so happy. Though it would lack something, I’m sure.”