Above: Paul Sánchez performs with baritone Will Liverman at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago. (Photo provided)
Paul Sánchez, director of Piano Studies and the International Piano Series at the College of Charleston, has had an illustrious career as a musician, composer and recording artist. And it just became even more renowned: At the end of February 2021, Sánchez became just the second CofC faculty member to have a chart-topping album when his collaboration, Dreams of a New Day, with operatic baritone Will Liverman, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Albums chart.
“Will and I really believe in the project, in the music and in the recording,” Sánchez says. “I am so glad that it is speaking to listeners.”
Sánchez joins Quentin Baxter ’98, an alumnus of the College and former adjunct faculty member of jazz percussion, in the upper echelons of the Billboard charts. Baxter’s Grammy Award-winning group Ranky Tanky reached the top of the jazz chart in 2018 with their self-titled debut album.
Liverman wanted to create an album that featured American art songs by Black composers both past and present, and asked Sánchez to be a part of the project, having collaborated with him on two previous albums.
“He elevated everything we did and it was very easy to sing into his playing,” Liverman told The Post and Courier.
The core of the album is a new work called “Two Black Churches” by Shawn Okpebholo, which links dual tragedies across the decades at two churches: the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 that killed four girls and the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston in 2015 that killed nine parishioners. The Washington Post music critic called the work “absolutely devastating, and one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard all year,” while The New Yorker said, “Liverman and the pianist Paul Sánchez perform the diptych with clarity, sensitivity, and barely contained heartbreak.”
Sánchez’s involvement with the project goes back to February 2019. He and Liverman were originally scheduled to record together in March 2020, but then the pandemic hit and Cedille Records had to push the recording back to June, creating some logistical issues for Sánchez, who was not only recording another CD that month but moving into a new house with his wife, soprano Kayleen Sánchez. COVID then forced a change of venue, which meant another delay till July. By then, the two had already committed, however, to performing the world-premiere of “Two Black Churches” for a live virtual streaming recital from the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, which was supposed to take place on the last day of the June recording sessions.
“During my trip to Chicago for that performance, my wife was home in Charleston closing on the sale of our house,” recalls Sánchez. “We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary over the phone after the recital!”
In the end, the delays infused the album with even more gravitas after the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter marches.
“Will and I found ourselves recording ‘Dreams of a New Day’ during ongoing protests for racial justice,” says Sánchez. “We both believed deeply in the project from its inception, and were struck with how timely the recording was, and how important it was to embody these musical voices and help share their messages with the world.”